There is no Silicon Valley equivalent of the Grammy’s Best New Artist, but every year, a number of tech startups manage to break through and secure a place in consumers' hearts. Whether it’s fitness trackers, mobile games, crowd-funding services, or just another filtered photo-sharing app, we can't seem to get enough of a new take on something old.
Some companies are a hit from day one: Twitter-owned Vine debuted in January 2013, and was quickly downloaded by many a budding filmmaker. It was so popular, in fact, that Facebook-backed Instagram later released its own video service.
Others, like streaming service Netflix, have had more of a slow boil. The rental and streaming organisation has been a household name for some time now, but it really upped the ante in 2013 thanks to a successful line-up of original programming.
Reaching tech stardom isn’t easy; just ask those zombie apps. Only some services are worth our time and effort, and finding the real luminaries can be as difficult as settling on the right Instagram filter. Word of mouth can sometimes get the job done, although it certainly helps to get your name in top tech publications around the world.
So, for your delectation we’ve compiled this list of seven companies and platforms that made a splash during 2013 – from mobile apps to wearable technology.
"Do you Snapchat?" is a common question among teenagers and 20-somethings looking for an ephemeral way to share moments with friends. The real-time chat app allows users full control over who sees a photo or video message, and for how long, before it disappears from the Internet forever (sort of). All the chatter about Snapchat reportedly attracted a $3 billion (£1.8 billion) acquisition bid from Facebook, which Snapchat apparently declined.
Netflix original programming
Netflix is almost as old as DVDs themselves, but the popular streaming service reached new heights in 2013 with a line-up of critically acclaimed and popular original programming. That included the fourth season of the rebooted cult classic Arrested Development, political thriller House of Cards, and the prison drama Orange Is the New Black, which scored Emmy nominations (and wins) and will be facing off against mainstream shows at this year’s Golden Globes.
Low-cost messaging with Viber, WhatsApp
Despite subsidised carrier plans, owning a smartphone can be a costly business, especially for those with a propensity to engage in hours of voice chatting or thousands of text messages. The bills rack up even more quickly overseas, where international communication becomes very expensive. Services like Viber and WhatsApp are old hat to some frequent travellers or cheapskates, but the mobile and desktop applications have become a popular way to stay in touch without breaking the bank. Viber recently launched on Windows 8 and added a new low-cost calling feature known as Viber Out at the end of 2013, while WhatsApp topped 400 million active users.
Twitter unveiled its Vine app early in 2013, several months after acquiring the video startup of the same name. The first looping six-second video came from Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, who posted a fast-paced demonstration of how to make steak tartare. In the months since, people have found inventive uses for the quick-hit video service, forcing a 17+ rating on the iOS app. With more than 40 million users, Vine is now available on iOS, Android, and Windows mobile devices.
Orchestra's email client Mailbox came out of the gate strong with an invite-only iOS rollout that attracted thousands of wannabe users. Mailbox helped users clear out their email clutter; you just swipe to archive, delete, or save for later. It was a game of sorts, rewarding users with an Instagram Photo of the Day once an inbox was emptied. The popularity of the app caught the eye of Dropbox, which later acquired Mailbox for an undisclosed amount.
Google surprised the tech community last year when it launched the $35 (£20) Chromecast in the US – a bite-sized dongle that lets users send content from their mobile device or Chrome web browser to the TV. With an equally tiny price tag, over in the States the Chromecast has been accumulating compatible apps like they're going out of business, syncing to Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Movies, TV, and Music, Pandora, HBO GO, and most recently Songza, Vevo, Plex, Avia, and more. Hopefully we’ll see this portable and economical device on sale in the UK before long in 2014.
Kickstarter has been the birthplace of many a (semi) successful tech product, including the Pebble smartwatch, which crushed crowd-funding records when it was first announced. After a delay, backers finally got their hands on the device in January 2013. While it now faces competition from the likes of Samsung with the Galaxy Gear, Pebble is still humming along, and recently announced plans for an app store in 2014.