We’ve published various “best-X-of-2012” lists, so we thought we’d add a list of things that really weren’t the best of anything at all.
Apple created a category-defining device, and now it does a brisk business in selling ever-more-perfect refinements of it. There’s nothing wrong with that; would you ask Japan’s greatest swordsmith to make guns? But for early adopters looking for a little excitement, the temptation to cheat on iPhone with the ever-more-exotic freakshow that is Android grows with every new iPhone release.
The Casual Vacancy
JK Rowling is the bestselling author of the (past) decade, whose Harry Potter novels spawned a multi-billion-dollar franchise. And her followup, a novel for adults entitled The Casual Vacancy? Critics hated it. The New York Daily News said it wasn’t dreadful, “just dull.”
The US economic recovery
2012 saw America’s jobless economic “recovery” drag on. The housing market may have bottomed out, and the productivity of workers who still have jobs continues to climb, but the hollowing out of America’s middle class (and the rising gap between rich and poor) continues apace.
With all this quantitative easing, surely the bonanza of easy money will lead to “ruinous” inflation, said pundits. So far it hasn’t happened. Chalk this up as one area in which we’re happy our expectations weren’t met.
Mitt Romney’s technology team
Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s communications director said that Team Romney’s “project Orca,” a system for helping canvassers track down people who hadn’t yet voted on election day, would give it an edge over the technologically sophisticated Obama campaign. But in a sad coda to a campaign marred by election-day delusions about Romney’s chance of success, it turned out that Orca failed when it was needed most.
Facebook was supposed to be the biggest stock market debut of 2012, possibly the decade. But months after it hit the market, its stock was worth half its initial price. Right or wrong, Facebook’s IPO has subsequently turned into a cautionary tale about how sophisticated institutional investors take advantage of all the suckers who don’t have early access to privileged information about a company’s stock. Morgan Stanley, underwriter of Facebook’s IPO, has already been fined $5 million for doing just that.
The Lytro camera
A revolutionary new camera that captures photos in an entirely new way? Sign us up! The only problem with the Lytro camera is that it solves a problem fewer and fewer people have: images focused at the wrong depth. Sure, it’s neat to be able to click anywhere in an image after the shot was taken and re-focus it, but with the profusion of face-detecting autofocus in even the most basic cameras to help you get it right the first time, this is hardly a trick that warrants the purchase of a $400 camera.
Apple’s share price
In September, Apple’s share price hit an all-time high of more than $700 on the back of iPhone 5 fever. By November, we were calling that an irrationally high valuation, and the stock is now hovering just over $500. Managers of mutual funds who loaded up on the stock are feeling the burn of its 28% decline since the peak.
2012 was supposed to be the year of an apocalyptic implosion of the European monetary union, but hedge funds who bet big on Greek debt are seeing returns of up to 40%. Apocalypse: delayed.
Now everyone knows the former seven-time winner of the Tour de France cheated. And now the UK Sunday Times is suing Armstrong for $1.5 million, in an attempt to reverse a 2006 settlement in which Armstrong sued the paper for libel over—you guessed it—accusations that he cheated.
In September, India posted its weakest economic growth figures in a decade. Weak monsoon rains that are key to India’s agriculture, a widening trade gap with China, and policies like retroactive taxation all slowed the country’s overall growth for 2012. By October, the IMF had cut India’s overall growth estimate for the year to just 4.9%, compared to 7.4% for China. Prime minister Manmohan Singh has vowed to revive growth in 2013.
This year’s Eurovision song contest was held in Azerbaijan, “which has recently jailed human rights protesters, cracked down on dissidents, and ignored politically motivated murders,” noted Foreign Policy. Eurovision songs are generally unlistenable for those who are not aficionados of the contest, but this year’s crop was truly remarkable in its over-the-top heinousness. Exhibit A: Jedward.
China’s ho-hum sex scandal
What kind of a government corruption/sex scandal is it when China’s usually ferocious censors fail to block access to a Wikileaks-style release of a grainy video of a 54-year-old party official cavorting with women, with which a construction company bribed him? One thing we were not disappointed by was the ability of China’s central authority to manipulate public opinion in a creative new way: by allowing dissidents to highlight exactly the sort of local corruption Beijing would like to stamp out.
Nokia, Microsoft, Oracle, Intel
It was not a good year to be a tech giant attempting a reinvention on the strength of bygone glory. Nokia lost $1.27 billion in the third quarter, and may be forced to sell its iconic headquarters. Microsoft’s Windows 8 launch met with mixed reviews, and its Surface tablet failed to sell. Oracle’s cash cow all-you-can-eat contracts have CTOs heading for the exits, and potentially into the arms of cloud-based software vendors like Workday, which was founded by refugees from Oracle. Intel missed the mobile ship, and could be the next RIM (the beleaguered maker of the BlackBerry smartphone).