TechCrunch 2016 year in review


TechCrunch 2016 year in review

It’s easy to be down on 2016 — we don’t blame you. But hidden among the hacks, fake news and political uncertainty lies a wholesome year of technological achievements. Advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning fueled huge strides in autonomous vehicle technology. Virtual and augmented reality are inching closer to their primetime. We successfully landed a rocket on a drone ship and are on the precipice of editing our own genome. So chin up and journey with us through TechCrunch’s 2016 year in review.


Toxic Water, Toxic City

A battle hymn of the midwest. TechCrunch’s Matt Burns argues for entrepreneurs to deploy their talents in lead-stricken Flint, Michigan. The city’s beleaguered water system might be catching the headlines, but the tragedy extends far beyond. Bad schools are endemic to cities like San Francisco and Detroit. The country is struggling under the weight of an expensive healthcare system. There’s no better place to start than Flint at a time when the city holds the nation’s gaze.


Apple Vs. the FBI: Everything you need to know

Catch up on the multi-month saga between Apple and the FBI over the proper balance of privacy and security. Following the San Bernardino attack, tech and government clashed over Apple’s obligation to unlock a terrorist’s confiscated iPhone. This timeline highlights key events on both sides and should bring you up to speed with the facts.


SpaceX lands a rocket on a drone ship for the first time

SpaceX had a very up and down 2016. While the company had some major failures, namely the loss of a Falcon 9 carrying a satellite for Facebook, one accomplishment really drowned out the setbacks. SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in the middle of the ocean. This piece gives a good visual walk-through of the events and commentary on the long-term implications of the feat.


Snapchat's $20 billion valuation

We’re pretty confident that Snap Inc is headed for an IPO in 2017. The company’s winding road to Wall Street has been frequently documented by TechCrunch but a $1.8 billion round in May was perhaps most indicative of its public market aspirations. Garnering a valuation of around $20 billion, Snapchat solidified its status as an unlikely acquisition candidate with the round.


A VR world

The rise of virtual reality brings with it serious challenges for filmmakers. Signe Brewster explores the ways in which VR is blurring the lines between passive movie and interactive game. New headsets enabling immersive consumption force a greater onus upon moviemakers to manipulate viewers responsibly. As new technologies pave the way for greater adoption, we’re all going to be treated to new experiences and visceral emotions unattainable from traditional cinema.


The brilliant mechanics of Pokémon Go

Pokémon Go took the world by storm over the summer, but the app deserves credit for more than just virality. Niantic’s creation boasted enviable retention and engagement numbers that led to some pretty serious cash for just about everyone involved. If you’re interested in figuring out how a mobile app was able to add $9 billion to Nintendo’s market cap, be sure to check this one out.


The other pipeline

One of the most important, but least talked about, issues in tech is the school-to-prison pipeline. TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey argues that if tech companies want to get serious about recruiting more underrepresented minorities, they cannot continue to blame the lack of results on the absence of minorities pursuing computer science. This piece provides a fantastic historical overview of America’s criminal justice system and its contribution to the lack of diversity in the tech industry.


How Facebook's News Feed works

Facebook’s News Feed remains one of the most powerful tools in all of tech. In 2016, the world opened up to the idea of the bubble. Ordinary people realized that the content they shared with their friends and family often had little in common with the content shared in other cities, within other friend groups. Josh Constine walks us through the underlying mechanics of Facebook’s algorithms and how they help shape the news read around the world, every day.


Apple *officially* unveils the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus

Another year, another iPhone. By and large, the tech obsessed were disappointed by the lack of a total redesign in Apple’s latest smartphone. But what Apple compromised in creativity, it made up for in finesse. The iPhone 7, coming in an alluring Jet Black, offered up a taptic engine powered home button, water resistance and an improved camera. Most memorable however, the company’s “courageous,” controversial, move to remove the headphone jack led to weeks of debate. It will be interesting to see if other smartphone makers move in this direction in 2017.


Uber starts self-driving car pickups in Pittsburgh

Nothing quite says the future is coming like self-driving cars. Though MIT spinout NuTonomy beat Uber to the punch, the $68 billion unicorn eventually did succeed in putting its autonomous cars to the test on the streets of Pittsburgh in mid-September. Despite still being in a research and development phase, we got to tag along and document one of Uber’s early autonomous rides.


Not OK, Google

Machine learning might have been all the rage in 2016, but it’s important to step back and think about the tacit agreements we all make to embrace the new technology. While not the first AI home assistant, Google Home encapsulates the privacy concerns many of us harbor. Tech giants like Google provide plenty of useful services to help us go about our daily lives, but TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas reminds us all not to become complacent.


Theranos is the Silicon Valley case the SEC has been waiting for

Medical diagnostics startup Theranos was once flying high, but after investigations was ordered to shutter its labs and wellness centers and was slapped by a lawsuit from its largest investor. If anything, the demise of Theranos embodies Silicon Valley’s proclivity to latch on to a good story with investor dollars. But it may just be the massive case the SEC has been waiting for. 


Tesla’s new solar roof tiles for homes

Tesla CEO and Tony Stark doppelgänger Elon Musk dropped one of the coolest products of the year back in October. Set to cost less than a traditional roof, Tesla’s new solar roof tiles are still said to bring nearly the power of regular solar panels. The tiles come in four styles and could be a major game-changer in 2017.


Inside Intel’s race to build a new reality

Fresh off acquiring Movidius, it’s clear Intel wants to step up its visual processing efforts. To really drive the point home, Intel built a concept VR headset, dubbed “Project Alloy,” that’s set to use the new chips in its second iteration. Intel won’t be moving into the consumer hardware business anytime soon, but Alloy is a strong signal of how it plans to reimagine itself in a rapidly-changing semiconductor space.


The NES Classic Edition, and its 30 games, reviewed

Though pretty much the opposite of innovative, the retro NES Classic Edition had all the ingredients to be the year’s most in-demand holiday gift. Unfortunately, those looking to buy one were met with extremely low supply. To hold you over until you can get your hands on one, TechCrunch’s Devin Coldewey reviewed the mini-reproduction and all 30 games that come pre-loaded.


What does a President-elect Trump mean for Silicon Valley? Nothing very good

The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president is a serious contender for biggest news of the year. The election cycle went on for months and culminated in a breathtaking upset. The world of tech reacted with anxiety over the lack of certainty around what Trump’s policies will look like. Those championing immigration, renewable energy and cybersecurity found themselves particularly down. Meanwhile, VCs and investment bankers looking to seize opportunities created from deregulation were slightly more optimistic.


Driving the Midwest

In the aftermath of the election, many were left wondering what would become of the Midwest-coastal divide. TechCrunch’s John Biggs shares the intimate story of his drive across the Midwest. Midwestern entrepreneurs and factory workers alike could benefit from more outside attention. Relocating a tech office or data-center could have serious economic implications and provide hope for the towns that raised many of the entrepreneurs that now call NYC and San Francisco home.


Chinese scientists CRISPR a human for the first time

The jury is still out as to whether CRISPR is safe for humans, but that didn’t stop China from moving ahead with a human trial. The move came as U.S. institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford, prepare for their own human trials. The UPenn trial in particular is bankrolled by Sean Parker’s new cancer institute. All eyes will be on that trial as soon as it gets cleared by the FDA.


Zuckerberg reveals plans to address misinformation on Facebook

Even though the election had been decided weeks before, Facebook was still drawing fire from critics who felt that the company’s lack of action to remove fake news inadvertently gave Trump a boost. After a period of reluctance, Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook needed to do more to address misinformation on the network. Since then, the company has partnered with third-party fact-checkers to vet and ultimately down-rank, fake posts. Teams are also working to disrupt the financial incentives to push wildly inaccurate news onto the platform.


1 billion hacked Yahoo accounts

It almost seems fitting that 2016 would end on a sour note. Yahoo announced that about 1 billion accounts (whose counting) were compromised in a hack that occurred in August 2013. Yahoo chief information security officer Bob Lord believes the suspect to be a state-sponsored actor. This isn’t the first time that the company has struggled with security. A separate breach of nearly 500 million accounts is thought to have occurred as early as 2014. Time will tell what is to become of the company set to be acquired by Verizon.