By Kane Fulton
It was difficult to predict what would happen from one moment to the next when it came to computing in 2015. We're certain that there was something for everyone: Apple's 12-inch MacBook appealed to style conscious travellers, Microsoft's Surface Book gave us something we didn't even know we wanted before the year begun and gamers were treated to a new clutch of laptops packing desktop-grade power for the first time.
You didn't have to spend all your money on tech in 2015, though: Windows 10 was free for upgrading users, the Raspberry Pi Zero made computing even more affordable, and the rise of the PC Stick meant that you could carry Windows in your pocket for the first time. From little to large, light to heavy, computing in 2015 will be remembered as an eclectic mix of impressive devices that went the extra mile.
1. Computer interaction moved in new directions
The trusty old keyboard and mouse were joined by new (and not so new) methods of computer interaction in 2016. The iPad Pro Pencil and Surface Pro 4 Pen made tapping at tablet screens with pointy sticks fashionable once again, while Windows Hello turned logging onto your laptop into a stare-off competition with your Intel RealSense webcam. Apple's Force Touch trackpad, which provided a third click when depressed, stood out as an example of how one small innovation can make interacting with your computer much easier. The Gest glove controller, on the other hand (pun very intended), turned the crazy up to 11.
2. Windows 10 showed that Microsoft still has it
After the disaster that was Windows 8.1, Windows 10 only had to be not-completely-rubbish to succeed. As it turned out, by making it feel like a desktop, rather than a mobile operating system again and bunging it full of useful features, Microsoft made its best operating system since Windows 7. Cortana spoke, search worked again, the Start Menu returned, Tablet Mode breathed new life into convertibles and Xbox streaming made your old knackered laptop useful again. Those who upgraded didn't feel short changed, and not just because Windows 10 was free.
3. Single-port laptops became a thing
When Apple's impossibly thin 12-inch MacBook landed in March, the general consensus was that the Cupertino company had invented a laptop from the future. To this day, there isn't anything quite like it out there. The problem with tech that feels like it's from the future is that the masses might not be ready for it, and in the case of the 12-inch MacBook, its single USB Type-C port proved a real pain in the behind if you wanted to do certain tasks at the same time - such as charging your smartphone and using an external monitor. Apple and other companies released adapters to combat this, but the fact remains that the MacBook's sole port limited its appeal. Still, it's hard to see rival laptop makers doing anything other than following Apple's lead in 2016 - we just hope that they include at least two ports on their machines.
4. Windows dived into your pocket
2015 saw the emergence of the PC Stick, a chewing gum packet-sized computer that placed Windows 8.1 (and later Windows 10) inside your pocket. Relatively inexpensive, most came with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of flash-based storage. In other words, just enough so that you can bung its HDMI connection into the back of a TV and load up your documents or stream video from the cloud. Expect the PC stick to get even smaller next year, and who knows - you might be able to carry Windows 10 around on your keyring before it's through.
Check out: 7 best PC sticks you can buy today
5. Convertibles came of age
Along with Windows 10, the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book gave fans of convertible 2-in-1 devices a reason to feel positive in 2015. The Surface Pro 4 proved what many fans of Microsoft's tablet range have known all along: with the right software and hardware, full-fat Windows rocks on a tablet. The Surface Pro 4's influence can be seen in devices from the Lenovo Miix 700 to the HP Spectre x2 and – yes – the iPad Pro. If the Surface Pro 4 refined what made the Surface Pro 3 great, the Surface Book was a complete reinvention of the 2-in-1 computer. Combining a razer-thin (and light) detachable display with a proper sturdy laptop keyboard stuffed full of power, the Surface Book was a trend setter - albeit a fairly buggy one to begin with. It's just a shame that it won't hit UK stores until April.
6. Laptops got thinner and lighter
Laptops continued on their quest to become thinner, lighter and packing more battery life in 2015. It didn't happen immediately, though: Lenovo's so-so Yoga 3 Pro was the first laptop to feature Intel's Core M processor at the beginning of the year. It was incredibly thin and had a fantastic design, but struggled to perform well due to the mobile chip under the hood. Thankfully, Dell's XPS 13 turned up not long after that, featuring Intel's Broadwell processor and a stunning InfinityEdge display which gave it the footprint of an 11-inch laptop.
The Asus ZenBook UX305 showed that it's possible to make a desirable ultrabook without charging a sky-high price tag, and the Lenovo LaVie Z was just one of many laptops to weigh lighter than (MacBook) Air. Broadwell's successor, Skylake, arrived later in the year to pump better battery life into models including the Yoga 3 Pro's successor - the Yoga 900 - in addition to the HP Spectre and the Pavilion Star Wars Special Edition laptop, among others. Weighing just 980 grams, the LG Gram 15 ended the year as the lightest laptop of them all. There's a good chance you won't even be able to feel your next laptop in your ruckstack in 2016.
7. Computing become more affordable
2015 was a great year for cash-strapped computer tinkerers, who could pick up a Raspberry Pi Zero for the price of a London pint. Surprisingly capable, the smallest microcomputer around can play 1080p video smoothly through its mini-HDMI port and even run Minecraft. Kitronik's Igloo project aimed to do the same thing for wearable computing, offering up a programmable miniature control board costing a fiver. Even the UK Government caught on and launched the BBC Micro Bit, an affordable micro computer used to teach programming and electronics, in schools. A successor to the original Micro Bit computer from 1981, the new version is 18 times faster.
8. Everything about PC gaming got better
Where to start with PC gaming in 2015? Laptops finally caught up to desktops in the power department as 2015 drew to a close. The MSI GT72 arrived as one of several beefy gaming machines featuring desktop-class Nvidia GTX 980 graphics, while the Asus GX700 rocked up as the first model to sport a clamp-on watercooler. Alienware (with its Amplifier) and MSI (with its GamingDock) were two examples of laptops that gained extra muscle using external docks that accommodated full-sized graphics cards. Expect laptops to pack even more power in 2016, with the first wave arriving as chunky heavy gaming battletanks determined to bleed your wallet dry.
In the desktop space, Nvidia launched its most expensive graphics card to date in the form of the Titan X, which also held the crown of the most powerful GPU until it was bested by Nvidia's own 980Ti that raced out of the traps three months later. Meanwhile, AMD did some serious innovating by unleashing the smallest graphics card in the world - the R9 Nano - which can squeeze into the smallest of cases while offering the same power as a full-sized GPU.