To put it lightly, 2020 was rough. More than ever, we turned to our personal tech this year to help find respite, stay healthy, and remain connected with the people we care about.
Video chat apps, like Webex and Google Meet, became crucial work tools. After gyms shut down, virtual workout apps like Peloton transformed into must-have products. Electric bikes and scooters, once a source of frustration, found their moment when people sought alternatives to public transportation and ride-hailing animesprout.
Still, there was plenty of techs that let us down.
Some of Amazon’s gadgets, like its Ring surveillance cameras, proved more creepy than useful. Delivery apps with hidden markups continued to drive up the prices of takeout orders. A new type of smartphone with a foldable screen was a gimmick. And, at least for now, so was 5G, the next-generation cellular technology that doesn’t live up to its hype of delivering incredibly fast speeds.
For the last few years, I’ve reviewed the tech that vastly improved and the tech that still needed fixing. Here were the highs and lows in 2020.
Can you hear me now?”
Before the pandemic, plenty of us loathed taking meetings over video calls. Video and audio quality was often grainy and delayed, and plenty of people did not know to mute their microphones when they weren’t speaking.
Then in the early stages of the pandemic, Zoom made headlines, for reasons good and bad. Hundreds of millions of us, desperate to stay in touch with friends and colleagues, signed up for the videoconferencing service to virtualize our office meetings, classrooms, happy hours, and yoga sessions. But as Zoom surged in popularity, we noticed many cracks in security, which allowed trolls to “Zoombomb,” or gain unauthorized access, to people’s video sessions, among other flaws.
There was a silver lining to Zoom’s failures: It created the need for stronger alternatives.
Over the last year, many videoconferencing apps have significantly improved. Google made major upgrades to Meet, enabling video chats with hundreds of participants; Microsoft and Cisco are also overhauling their video chat products, Teams, and Webex. Zoom, which is still under scrutiny, has fixed some of its security issues.
At this rate, many of us will probably continue using videoconferencing for many of our tasks even afterlife returns somewhat to normal.
While wearable gadgets like Fitbits and Apple Watch have been popular for years, many of their applications are still nascent. Counting footsteps gets tedious. Sleep tracking with wearables is inaccurate, and the data can add to your anxieties and keep you up at night. It’s also unclear whether the blood-oxygen-monitoring feature on the new Apple Watch will be useful.
But with our gyms shut down, we were forced to find ways to stay in shape at home.
Peloton, which is known for selling expensive exercise bicycles and treadmills, got mainstream attention. Its guided workout videos, which don’t require Peloton hardware, are so well produced that they are a strong substitute for a real-life trainer. Apple this month released a copycat: Fitness+, a subscription service that is exclusive to Apple Watch owners, with videos just as high quality as Pelotons.
This year marked a turning point for health tech: We are getting access to products that can actually make us healthier. That’s not gimmicky.