The Year in Consumer News: The Best and Worst of 2012
This year was crazy, right? So much happened that affected the consumer: Apple debuted new iPads (three of them!), cell phone plans were restructured, the Ouya made waves on Kickstarter, and the Windows 8 Surface RT tablets debuted. And that's just a small sample of the stories that made this year memorable.
We took a look back at some of the biggest news events of 2012 that had an impact on the consumer space, and cobbled together the helpful timeline below. We're still feeling the rippling effects of some of these historical moments, while others are just notable touchstones on our journey through the world of tech, retail, and deals over the past year. While not an exhaustive list of everything that happened, here are some of the year's more memorable moments:
The Commodore 64 Turns 30 Years Old
Which means that accessible home computing turned 30 years old. Ancient.
JCPenney Stops Having Sales
The company instead opted for "all the time discounts." The change eventually proved to confuse customers and the company went back to having sales just like before by November.
Super Bowl XLVI Streams Online
For the first time ever (legally), the Super Bowl was streamed live online and via mobile. Consumers were no longer tied to their couch to watch the game — unless they wanted to watch it on a decent screen where they could actually see all the action, that is.
Verizon Offers "Double Data" Plans
This limited time deal gave new customers twice as much data for half the price. This promotion stuck around for longer than we thought it would, but was ultimately replaced by a worse deal (See June).
Apple Announces the 3rd-Generation iPad, But Keeps the iPad 2 Around
Apple unveiled its 3rd-generation iPad called, the "new iPad," (which turned out to not have that long of a shelf-life) but also announced that the iPad 2 would stick around and drop in price. This was an atypical behavior from Apple, as they tend to discontinue old hardware upon a newer version's release.
Google Opens the Google Play Store
This finally gave a browsable landing location for all of Google's offerings, which includes apps, movies, TV shows, and books. This also allowed Google to start offering sales and discounts on these items in order to compete with Amazon. In fact, the opening weeks were full of sales, and price-matching between the two stores has been happening ever since.
The New York Times Cuts Free Article Views to 10
The previous limit was 20, so news freeloaders have been forced to find other ways to get their free news. Though there are still workarounds, including clearing your cookies and searching through Google, this scheme helped the paper start making money. In fact, according to Bloomberg, "the company is expected to make more money from subscriptions than from advertising" for the first time.
Encyclopedia Britanica Discontinues Its Print Edition, Goes Online-Only
A momentous day for the anyone who didn't grow up in the days of Wikipedia. Speaking of, Britanica says it's not aiming to compete with Wikipedia, but rather work alongside them to bring facts to the internet. Slightly back-handed brag, there.
Groupon Class Action Suit Changes Things for the Better
A class action suit settlement resulted in Groupon changing its expiration policies. Consumers can now use expired Groupon deals or can obtain a refund. Further, Groupon will try to be more in line with federal and state consumer protection laws. This is great news for comsumers, as there's no longer a rush to purchase Groupons.
eBook Settlement Allows Lower Pricing
eBook publishers settled with the Department of Justice over the "agency pricing" model — which, the DOJ said, was an attempt by Apple and select book publishers to price-fix eBooks and stop Amazon et al. from selling eBooks at whatever price they wanted. Amazon is now allowed to resume setting the prices of books as it sees fit.
Microsoft Announces That More People Use the Xbox to Consume Media Than to Play Games
Nintendo Announces The Wii U
Since this announcement, we've not only seen the original Wii's retail price drop, but there were several impressive discounts on the last-gen console during Black Friday. Of course, there's always the question: With a new console coming, why buy the old one?
Xbox 360 Comes Subsidized with a Contract
Microsoft announces it will offer an Xbox 360 with Kinect for $99 ... but you have to sign up for a 2-year, $15/month LIVE contract. We did the math, and it's a terrible deal in the long run.
Google and Amazon Both Offer Cloud Storage
Within days of each other, Google announced Google Drive and Amazon announced Amazon Cloud Drive, two new services to compete with Dropbox and Miscrosoft SkyDrive. Consumers never before had so many options to save documents to the cloud and access them from wherever. All told, if you opened standard accounts with each of the free services, it would equal a total of 19GB of cloud storage.
Walmart Tests "Pay in Store" Option for Online Orders
Customers who only deal in cash can reserve an item online and have 48 hours to appear in-store to pay for it. Better still, they can then have the item shipped to their house. It's clever of Walmart to tap into the "underbanked" portion of American society.
Best Buy Vows to Fight Showrooming
As the company starts to struggle, Interim CEO Mike Mikan says that the company needs to curb "showrooming" — the practice in which consumers visit stores to get hands-on with an item, before buying that same item online elsewhere. No indication was given as to how they would accomplish this, and Best Buy continues to be a showroom for many people.
Verizon Wireless Unveils New Share Everything Plans
Now, big "buckets" of minutes are shared between all devices on your plan, with an additional fee for each device you have. Over time, it's a bad deal, especially compared to the "double data" plans that Verizon offered earlier in 2012. AT&T followed suit with similar plans in July.
Upgrades to Windows 8 Cost $15
With the purchase of select Windows 7 laptops, Microsoft began selling upgrades to Windows 8 for $14.99. It's a great way to get a new laptop, but not be "left out" of Windows 8. Of course, by this point, most people knew very little about the new OS, which would be released in October, so it was a gamble. With the mixed reactions to the OS when it was finally released, we're guessing at least a few people feel they wasted $15.
Ouya Impresses on Kickstarter
The Internet goes insane over the tiny, Android-powered, set-top gaming console and raises over $4 million for the project. Once up-and-running, the company plans on charging $99 for the console. People are speculating that, if they can get some real hardcore gaming titles on there, it will be stiff competition for Sony and Microsoft and change the gaming landscape.
Redbox and Verizon Partner on a "Netflix-Killer"
The two companies announced that they would begin offering an online movie streaming service much like Netflix, but with at-kiosk rentals, too. In December, we got further details about the plans: Unlimited streaming for $6 a month, or unlimited streaming with four kiosk rentals for $8 a month. Depending on the content selection they offer, this service could be a real threat to Netflix.
NBC Streams All of the Summer Olympics Online
You needed to be a cable subscriber to watch them, though.
Google Announces Its Nexus 7 Tablet
At $199, it changed the tablet landscape, making the "sub-$200 tablet" a real category and putting pressure on other tablet makers.
Drought impacts the production of milk, corn, and beef, and consumers continue to see higher prices as a result.
Amazon Widens Its Tax Collection
Eight more states were added to Amazon's list of states it collects taxes from.
Windows 8 RT Surface Tablets Experience Price Disappointments
A rumor placed the price tag for the new Surface RT tablet at $199. This, naturally, got people excited. However, in October, just weeks before the actual release date, another "leak" accidentally showed its starting price as $499.
The Hobbit Films Become a Trilogy
Peter Jackson announced that The Hobbit will be told in three films, rather than two. This essentially means consumers will have to pay an extra 50% more to see the whole film.
Barnes & Noble Cuts $20 Off the Retail Price of its NOOK Color and NOOK Tablets
Apple Becomes the Most Valuable Company in the World, Ever
Even after adjusting for inflation, Apple became the highest-valued company of all time, when its shares hit $665.15.
Apple's Relseases iOS 6
While a great OS, the lack of Google Maps drew criticism — especially given the fact that Apple's Map app had some significant problems. The new stock maps were so bad, in fact, that Apple actually apologized for them.
Apple Announces the iPhone 5
Not only is it a great device, but its release caused the price of the iPhone 4S to drop to $99 and the iPhone 4 to free, with a new contract.
Amazon Announces New Kindles
A new lineup of Kindle Fire Tablets and eInk eBook readers were unveiled, with the cheapest Kindle Fire priced at $159, a ridiculously low price for a 7" tablet.
Cricket Becomes the First Carrier to Offer the iPhone on a Prepaid Plan
It's the latest and greatest iPhone 5, too! Sure, this means you have to pay $500 up-front for the phone, but you'll be saving money in the long run.
Google Shopping Goes Pay-to-Play
Since October, every result on Google Product Search is, effectively, an ad for a merchant's price. Each store that appears there has paid Google for the privilege, so you might not necessarily be seeing the lowest price available for a given item when you price-check items.
Apple Announces the iPad mini and Another New iPad
The iPad mini is nice, but the new full-sized iPad "obsoletes" the 3rd-generation iPad, which was announced in just March. Those who bought it only seven months earlier are, understandably, a bit angry.
Time Warner Starts Charging Many Customers a $3.95 Monthly Fee to Rent Its Modem
Amazon Reveals That It Sells the Kindle Fire HD and PaperWhite at Cost
This means that Amazon makes no money by selling these devices. Instead, it makes a profit when consumers buy books, movies, and apps. This is also the reason why we don't see these items heavily discounted.
Uniqlo Opens an E-Commerce Site in the U.S.
It celebrated with a massive sale, which took up to 50% off items sitewide.
Biggest Black Friday Season Ever
- Stores continue the tradition of opening earlier and remaining open later. This practice gets results, as retailers saw consumers spend an extra $25 each during Black Friday weekend.
- Cyber Monday was the biggest shopping day of all time with sales up 30% over last year.
- Americans spent $1.04 billion online during Black Friday.
Walmart Guaranteed You'd Get Three Items on Black Friday
If you got to the retail store at a certain time, you were guaranteed to be able to purchase an iPad 2, Blu-ray player, or generic 32" HDTV. If any item ran out of stock, you could still buy it at its promotional price, and the store would ship it to you. This is the first time we've ever seen a merchant promise you'd get something you waited on line for during Black Friday.
Walmart Gives $100 Gift Cards with Select Android Phone Purchases
Not only did the gift cards come with the latest phones, they also yielded "for profit" deals, something we hadn't seen on a cell phone in almost five years!
Google Shopping Crashes Multiple Times During Black Friday
Leaving many with no way to price-check online Black Friday deals.
AT&T Offers a Refurbished New Generation iPhone
All of our research said this would happen some time in December. It was a pleasant surprise to be wrong and a month ahead of schedule.
iPhone 5 Becomes the Most Discounted Current-Gen iPhone of All Time
We saw the iPhone 5 on sale seven times during the holiday season, whereas the iPhone 4S saw only two price drops in the same time frame the previous year.
Google Releases Google Maps App for iOS
The much anticipated return of Google Maps to the iPhone sees the app downloaded more than 10 million times in the first 48 hours of its availability. Looks like people sure hated Apple Maps.
Instagram Changes Its Terms of Service
The Internet freaked out, claiming that Instagram (and parent company Facebook) were going to sell pictures and not share the revenue. Of course, it was all blown out of proportion, but Instagam still reverted to its old terms ... while it continues to try and figure out a way to change the terms without everyone freaking out ... again.
Facebook Launches Gift Giving
All users can now send actual, physical gifts to any Facebook friend. Gifts include cookies, flowers, and wine. Just another way Facebook hopes you won't mind them using your personal information under the guise of convenience.
What do you think, gang? Was 2012 a crazy year, or what? Can you remember any big moments in consumer news that we missed? If so, add them in the comment section below! And don't forget to sign up to receive features by email, so you don't miss out on any of the big stories from 2013.