From Android 12 to Oculus: Here are some of our biggest news in 2021

Google Pixel 6 Material You Thematic Icons AngleSource: Alex Dobie / Android Central

Another year has come and gone as we end and prepare to jump into the new year with a rush of CES 2022 announcements. But before the year ends, we have decided to take a look back at some of the biggest moments that shaped 2021 for our readers. This is not an exhaustive list, considering that Android Central posted over 3,000 news posts throughout 2021, covering various categories from Android, Amazon, PlayStation, Oculus and more. However, these are some of the most notable topics we have covered over the course of the year.

Galaxy Watch 4 and Wear OS 3

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Hands OnSource: Daniel Bader / Android Central

Google announces Wear OS 3 was a big deal because it meant it would finally do something about its portable platform, which for a while seemed to be almost abandoned. The company promised faster performance, better efficiency, new app experiences and even integrations with Fitbit. The biggest news of all, however, was the partnership with Samsung to launch the first Wear OS 3 smartwatch.

And after years of Samsung more or less trying to do its own thing with Tizen, 2021 saw a growth in its relationship with Google, which undoubtedly played a role in Samsung’s success.

Galaxy Watch 4 runs a version of Wear OS 3 with One UI Watch on top, which brings a similar look and feel to Samsung’s best Android phones. Many of our employees are overwhelmed by how fast and responsive the watch is, which is far from previous Wear OS. And while it may not be for everyone, the Galaxy Watch 4 has already managed to drive Wear OS to new heights, with a market share of an impressive 17%, and follows closely behind Apple’s Watch OS.

While Wear OS 3 is not expected to hit other smartwatches until some time in 2022, Wear OS 3 is already starting to look like a real competitor in the smartwatch market.

Samsung and its smart stuff

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 Fold 3 FoldSource: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

In addition to the Galaxy Watch 4 and its recently flourishing relationship with Google, this was a big year for Samsung. The Galaxy S21 series was nothing short of a hit, thanks to the addition of the optional S Pen to the S21 Ultra. which later this year expanded to Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3, which is one of Samsung’s best foldable phones to date. Together with the Galaxy Z Flip 3, the foldable parts offer much better durability with a harder construction, better hinge design and waterproofness. To top it off, Samsung launched these phones with cheaper price tags than their predecessors, making them a bit more affordable as foldable phones become more common.

Samsung was also the first to introduce stable Android 12 for its smartphones apart from Google’s Pixel phones. This followed a year of rapid monthly security updates that often arrived on Galaxy phones before Pixels. Not only that, but Samsung set a good example when it announced that it would extend software support to up to four years of security updates and three years of major OS upgrades.

And you can not forget its excellent earphones, which, despite being literally an ear ulcer for some, are among the best wireless earphones one can buy for money.

VR finally reached the big time with Quest 2

Oculus Quest 2 with Hero controllersSource: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

In any case, VR has been extremely slow with the recording. Between cost and difficulty, most VR headsets are just not built for the average consumer. But the Oculus Quest 2 brought about a much-needed change in both areas, launching at $ 299 in late 2020 and requiring nothing but the headset and included controllers to work.

In fact, Quest 2 has been so successful that it has gone on to outperform Microsoft’s latest Xboxes and reached the mythical number of 10 million units sold in just a single year. It was a goal that Zuckerberg set some time ago, but it never seemed realistic until now. It’s not far from the PS5, which to date has sold over 13 million units, making it the fastest-selling PlayStation console ever.

Preliminary figures from the Christmas holidays suggest that Meta is selling a ton of Quest 2s, and some analysts even say that it might sell more than the Nintendo 64, after all. This is without a doubt thanks to the great games available for Quest, or any of the latest updates made to enhance the overall experience. It’s been a long time coming, but VR has finally come to stay, and it’s also got its own console.

Pixel 6 and Android 12

Google Pixel 6 Pro + Pixel 6Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central

When Google unveiled the Android 12 update, it was seen as a big step forward for the platform. It gave us a new focus on widgets after their introduction on iOS, and the Material You design language put new focus on customization. In addition, there are plenty of privacy and security enhancements that give consumers more control over the data they share. For a company that is often criticized for collecting too much data from consumers, this is a pretty big deal.

The introduction of the Pixel 6 series brought it all to the forefront. Like its software counterpart, the Pixel 6 represented a significant departure from its predecessors, with a brand new design that provided a premium gloss that previous models lacked. Specifications were also enhanced with high-resolution, high-refresh display screens, enhanced dual and triple camera sensors, faster charging, and more. Not to mention Google’s first internal SoC, Tensor, drives everything and brings faster AI processing on the device to new features like Magic Eraser.

That said, there has been no sunshine and praise with the Pixel 6. Not long after the device reached the hands of consumers, bug reports began flooding the forums. While it’s not uncommon for a new smartphone to experience a hiccup or two, the Pixel 6 series appeared to be plagued by bugs that did not affect previous Pixel models that were updated to Android 12. This prompted Google to release a host of bug fixes with the December update, which unfortunately brought with it some new bugs. Most notably, many users who have received the update have faced serious signal issues.

The Pixel 6 is not the only phone that has issues with Android 12. OnePlus released its Android 12 build for the OnePlus 9 series only to suspend it due to an attack bug. Although it has since resumed the update with lots of fixes, some of the bugs are still left. Samsung has also had its fair share of issues with the OS update on its smartphones, which makes one think that Android 12 may not have been ready for prime time.

The loss of LG

LG Rollable Phone TeaserSource: LG

The writing sat on the wall for some time, but it was still a shock to see a major player bow after several years of production of some of the most interesting Android phones. LG may not have been able to compete with Samsung in terms of market appeal, but the company often undercuts some of the best Samsung phones with comparable specifications, features and its own unique flair. Not only that, but LG was not afraid to be weird and experiment with new form factors or design quirks. Of course, this led to some failed experiments like the LG G5’s modular construction or the LG G8’s Z camera. But LG also started or popularized modern trends like QHD screens, wider image formats and more camera lenses.

Appropriately, LG’s latest phone, the LG Wing, was a bit of an experiment in itself, given LG’s reluctance to develop a true foldable or dual-screen phone. And unfortunately, we never get our hands on the LG Rollable, a phone that would have spearheaded the new rollable form factor.

Big Tech can not get it together

The Google logo in black and white under a sepia shadowSource: Android Central

It’s more or less the same song every year, but Big Tech is a hot mess. Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars, companies like Amazon, Meta and Google can not afford to stay out of trouble. In fact, Meta was largely setting the tone for the year when it announced that it was making a controversial change to WhatsApp’s privacy policy. This led to a mass exodus of users flocking to competing messaging apps like Signal and Telegram.

There have been more lawsuits than we can count, alleged anti-competitive behavior, especially with Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store. Not only that, but the onslaught of Meta and Amazon outages proved how much we depend on the cloud, highlighting how regulators and Big Tech are doing better to ensure that one outage does not destroy as much of the Internet.

Of course, we can not forget T-Mobile’s massive data breach, which revealed millions of customers.

Chip shortage

Samsung Galaxy S21 Fe Leakage ColorsSource: WinFuture

The shortage of chips has underscored much of the year as technology companies struggle to produce new products. It is the root of the supply chain problems that have affected many different industries, from the automotive industry to gaming and of course mobile. The lack has kept gaming consoles out of reach for many, but has also caused some cancellations and delays from smartphone OEMs.

For example, Samsung decided to give up launching a new Galaxy Note this year and instead focus its efforts on its foldable phones. Given the rumors that Samsung would fold the note into the Galaxy S series, it makes sense, mainly because it allows Samsung to hit two flies with one swipe.

However, the long-awaited Galaxy S21 FE was also delayed as it was originally expected to be launched in the second half of 2021. It now looks like it will be available in Q1 2022, just before Samsung’s next flagship.

This year, the Pixel 5a also saw a limited launch as Google focused its sales on just two markets.

While Motorola released plenty of smartphones this year, a new Motorola Razr was not among them as the company reportedly wants to focus on renewing its design. And although the chip shortage was not mentioned, Motorola probably took this into account in its decision.

Dishonest mentions

  • Motorola did not really have much to go for it this year and managed largely not to impress with its 2021 offerings, despite the fact that LG practically gave it the baton.
  • The Matter smart home initiative was delayed, meaning we are unlikely to see Matter-certified products until the second half of 2022.
  • The PS5 remains hugely popular, but still hard to come by.

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