Consumer technology went through a process of renewal and refinement through 2015. We saw the arrival of better tablet, hybrids, smartphones and wearables, but who moved the game forward the most?
In recent years the expectation has always been that it would be Apple that led the charge in both innovation and design. This year that was far from the case. It's biggest announcements turned out to be derivative (Apple Music, Watch and iPad Pro) and what innovation Apple brought to the table was mostly under the surface. The new mechanism that allowed for a thinner keyboard on the MacBook and pressure sensitive screens and trackpads. Nice to have but nothing to get excited about.
There was little to excite in Apple's software updates either, OS X and iOS both saw gradual improvements, but these were catch up features to narrow the gap to the competition.
Google had a quiet year too. There was nothing about its Nexus devices or Chromebooks that shouted game changer, and it ended the year with the launch of the disappointing Pixel C.
For Microsoft 2015 was about Windows 10. In terms of take up and delivery it was a solid product that took the best of Windows 7 and Windows 8. The Surface Pro, Surface and Surface Book proved that Microsoft could compete with Apple in hardware and software. For me the Surface 3 was the product of the year. However all of its best products relied heavily on what had gone before and there was nothing truly innovative about what it delivered. In some areas (mobile especially) Microsoft retrenched.
Samsung started the year in the doldrums, but by year end had turned things around. The Galaxy S6 Edge was the first sign that design was a feature of the new Samsung. Its screen was a real step forward. Curved on both edges and with an insanely high resolution, this remains the best screen that you can get on any mobile device. Period.
This was followed by the Gear S2. Yet another Samsung smartwatch? Anything but. Samsung rethought its wearable strategy and with the S2 showed that it could outdo Apple. The Gear S2 packs a beautiful round screen and, more importantly, the best UI on any smartwatch. The rotating bezel is a work of genius and the first time that you use it you wonder why every smartwatch doesn't work this way. A clear sign of innovative thinking.
Finally the Gear VR. Consumer VR at an insanely affordable price. No-one who has used it has been anything but stunned. Oculus and Samsung have delivered a truly immersive experience, something that puts me in mind of Red Dwarf's Better Than Life episodes. It is innovation in spades, concept, execution, delivery and pricing.
For me it was the most innovative product of the year, delivered by the most innovative company of the year.