31 Dec Airo AV Convey: Take a Bow: The Tech That Said Farewell in 2020
For many of us, 2020 was a year of loss. Some of that loss was small in scope: daily routines interrupted; vacations cancelled; in-person gatherings reduced to squares on a screen. Others faced the loss of friends and loved ones, jobs, homes, and their own health.
So you’d be forgiven if obsessing over this year’s regular dose of tech news, from new phones to powerful graphics cards and game consoles, felt a little ridiculous. Does it really matter which smartphone takes the best photos if the only thing you’ll be photographing is the inside of your apartment? Maybe not. But that didn’t stop us from trying to make the best of lockdowns and grim headlines; we binge-watched, battled bots, tested out innovative new services, and otherwise kept each other amused as much as possible.
In Silicon Valley, time marches on. In 2020, products launched to great acclaim while others crashed and burned or petered out, just like they did in 2019, 2018, and 2017. As we get ready to welcome 2021, let’s take a look back at the technology that had its final bow in 2020.
Early in the year, we said goodbye to flight and hotel search aggregator Hipmunk. After being acquired by SAP Concur in 2016, several Hipmunk execs—including CTO Steve Huffman—made the jump to Reddit, as Inc.com reports. That, in addition to increasing consolidation in the online travel space resulted in Hipmunk’s demise. “As its approach to providing business travel solutions has evolved, SAP Concur has made the decision to retire the Hipmunk product,” the company said in a goodbye note. “As a travel metasearch, we helped travelers take the agony out of travel planning and gave SAP Concur a deeper understanding of how to develop innovations that meet the needs of today’s traveler”
IGTV Inside Instagram
Changes to social media layouts are always controversial (for a few days, anyway), but early in 2020, Instagram removed one particularly unsightly element: the dedicated IGTV icon. IGTV is still available as a standalone app, and IGTV clips can be posted to people’s feeds on the main Instagram app. But as the year went on, Instagram looked to compete more with TikTok than Facebook Live. It released Instagram Reels in August, which now feature prominently in the app’s Explore tab.
Google App Maker
Google is known for killing its apps and service willy-nilly, and one of the first to get the heave-ho in 2020 was App Maker, a low-code development tool built into G Suite. Google cited “low usage” for the shutdown, which started in January 2020. Come January 19, 2021, existing App Maker apps will stop working and you will no longer have access to them.
Google Fiber TV Service
After coming out of the gate hot, Google Fiber operations have been scaled back over the past few years. It’s tough to be a competitive ISP and video provider, even if you’re Google. To that end, the company announced in Februrary that it would ditch TV service to focus solely on internet service. Google argues that all you need for great TV service is blazing-fast internet; live TV and other streaming services fill in the gaps. “Customers today just don’t need traditional TV,” according to Google. Existing Google Fiber TV customers can continue using the service, Google said in February, but we’ll have to see how long that lasts.
Intel Nervana Neural Network Processors
Intel had a rough year, and something had to give. In February, it stopped work on the Nervana Neural Network Processor, just two months after the launch of the Nervana NNP family. Intel acquired AI startup Nervana in 2016, but it then acquired Habana Labs for $2 billion in 2019. “With two AI companies designing two architecturally very different chips for the very same markets, it was just a matter of time before one had to get axed,” Wikichip Fuse notes.
TCL BlackBerry Phones
BlackBerry KeyOne (2017)
TCL started making BlackBerry-branded phones in 2016, but announced in February that it would cease production of the handsets by Aug. 31, 2020. It will, however, provide support for existing devices until at least Aug. 31, 2022. BlackBerry superfans should keep an eye on a company called OnwardMobility, which made a deal with the BlackBerry software company to use its name and intellectual property to create a new keyboarded Android smartphone, coming to the US and Europe in 2021.
A little over two years after its launch, minimalist shopping site Brandless announced plans to shut down. Positioned as an Amazon alternative that offered organic grocery items without flashy branding, the company quickly ran out of money despite (and perhaps because of) a huge SoftBank investment, Fast Company reports. A leaner version of Brandless emerged later in the year after its assets were acquired by SEO marketing firm Ikonifi and VC firm Clarke Capital Partners. But thus far, it does not appear that Amazon has much to worry about.
Essential Phone PH-1 (2017)
Oh, Essential. The phone company emerged several years ago with Android creator Andy Rubin at the helm. In our 2017 review of the Essential PH-1, we found that it combined top-notch hardware and pure Android software for an amazing deal on Sprint, but its more costly unlocked model was a harder sell. In October 2019, Rubin tweeted images of “Project Gem,” an unusually tall-shaped smartphone that resembled a remote control. By February, the company announced that it had “no clear path to deliver it to customers. Given this, we have made the difficult decision to cease operations and shut down Essential.” Not helping matters: a 2018 New York Times report that said Rubin was forced to depart Google over a credible sexual misconduct claim, but not before Google paid him a $90 million (!) exit package. But Essential was still able to raise $330 million in venture capital funding, according to Crunchbase.