On the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask: Samsung phones, Pokémon Go, Snapchat Spectacles, Theranos, Trump and more.
Normally on Too Embarrassed to Ask, we pick episode topics based on questions sent in by our readers and listeners. But this week, Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode chatted with fellow Verger Casey Newton to answer one big question: What the hell happened in 2016?
The trio counted down the top 10 tech products and trends of the year, ranging from Pokémon to self-driving cars to fake news. You can listen to the full discussion in the podcast player embedded above, but here are a few highlights from the conversation:
10) Apple lost its headphone jack
In a stunning show of courage, one of the biggest changes in Apple’s annual iPhone refresh was the removal of the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Instead, Cupertino now wants customers to use wireless headphones and earbuds, audio gear that plugs into the phone’s proprietary charging port, or a $9 dongle.
“I bought an iPhone 7 and it is both the least consequential and most infuriating iPhone upgrade in my entire life,” Newton said. “I am constantly having to swap out my charging cable for my Lightning earbuds, and it makes me unhappy. Brother, can you spare a dongle?”
“All signs point towards 2017 hopefully being the year where the iPhone gets really reinvented, because this year’s upgrade was, ehh, sort of incremental,” Goode said.
9) Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 is a literal garbage fire
As you’ve no doubt heard in the news (or on an airplane), a rash of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones had severe battery overheating problems that caused a few of them to catch fire, and a botched recall effectively killed the Note brand. Goode said Samsung has released a software update to disable the remaining Galaxy Note 7s in the wild.
“I like that December was when they decided to do that,” Newton said. “What’s the rush, Samsung?”
“It’s hard to have a more catastrophic incident for a brand than to have your products literally bursting into flame,” he added. “Samsung found that out the hard way.”
Heading into 2017, then, the big question is how Samsung bounces back. Do consumers still trust it? Will it duck out of the phone business?
8) The Pokémon Go phenomenon
Finally, some good news! Despite some issues with the game’s servers at launch, Goode and Newton agreed that Pokémon Go was a win because of its social benefits.
“Walking around San Francisco playing it, I had more conversations with random San Franciscans than I did in six years of living here,” Newton said. “It was one of the first truly social mobile games, ‘social’ in the old-school sense of human beings talking to each other in person.”
But as Swisher pointed out, Pokémon Go has seen a drop-off in players, and it’s hard to get those people back once they’ve left. For more about the behind-the-scenes story of Pokémon Go, check out her interview with Niantic CEO John Hanke from Recode Decode:
7) Uber’s self-driving cars are here
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick alarmed his company’s drivers when he first spoke about autonomous vehicles at the 2014 Code Conference, but said at the time that it would be a “decades-long process.”
“For Uber, from a business perspective, they’ve described this as an existential issue, because they know that the minute you don’t need a driver, that is Uber’s only real advantage these days,” Newton said. “The drivers are at the heart of what’s made Uber successful, so when you don’t have drivers, what do you do?”
However, it may still be years before fully autonomous vehicles — without a driver ready to take over, just in case — are as safe as companies like Uber, Google and others want them to be. Swisher said sensors in all roads that can talk to the cars may be the answer, which would be a massive undertaking.
6) Snapchat gets into hardware
The company that makes Snapchat is now calling itself Snap and also making hardware. Its first physical product, the sunglass-camera combo Snapchat Spectacles, generated hours-long lines wherever it popped up for sale, via vending machines in most places and at a pop-up retail store in New York.
“I think people have gotten a little bit carried away with describing how important this could be,” Newton said. “This is a very limited production run for Snapchat. But they do have some pretty big business implications.”
“They’re not Google Glass,” Swisher pointed out.
“The reception has been 10 times better than Google Glass,” Newton said. “Let’s face it, technology is often more popular the second time it comes around. Nobody wanted a Newton MessagePad, but then the iPad comes out and people are like, ‘This is brilliant.’”
5) Lots of big M&A … but not for Twitter
In 2016, Microsoft bought LinkedIn for $26 billion, Dell completed its deal to buy EMC for $67 billion and AT&T said it intends to buy Time Warner for $85 billion. But one of Recode’s most-anticipated deals, the attempted sale of Twitter to companies such as Disney and Salesforce, never materialized. What gives?
“What would be a good thing to happen to Twitter? Google buying it?” Newton asked.
“Somebody who’s going to keep it alive,” Goode replied.
“Well, someone’s going to keep it alive,” Swisher said. “It’s a very valuable property. It’s just a question of how it runs, how you make money and how you control the cesspool of