The stories that defined 2014

It was the year of wearables, VR and 4K. It was the year of ridiculous IPOs and massive security breaches. It was also the year Engadget took a step back and took in the big picture. 2014 was full of great advancements and big setbacks and we were here to tell you about them. Herewith, the stories that defined us and the wild world of technology in the year that was.

How to disappear (almost) completely

[Illustrations: Brandon Hanvey for Engadget]

In June 2013, Edward Snowden leaked a series of documents outlining widespread NSA surveillance tactics. As Associate Editor Daniel Cooper put it, "Suddenly, online privacy was a commodity that no longer existed." In light of that revelation, he examines what it means and what it takes to go offline in the internet age and whether or not it's worth the trouble.

The whole story...
How to disappear (almost) completely: The illusion of privacy; A practical guide; Living off the Grid

GoPro's media empire

In this two-part exclusive, Deputy Managing Editor James Trew explores GoPro's play to become a multimedia powerhouse. As he points out, on the eve of the company's IPO: "It must continue to expand and convince potential investors there's still room for growth."

The whole story...
GoPro's IPO isn't about selling cameras, it's about creating a media empire
Extreme exposure: Inside GoPro's burgeoning media empire

What you need to know about smart guns

In one of the first in Engadget's explainer series, Managing Editor Terrence O'Brien explores a nascent, but stymied technological advancement. In his words, "Barring a dramatic shift in American culture or politics ... it seems the smart gun concept may wither and die."

Also worth reading...
What you need to know about net neutrality, By Ben Gilbert
What you need to know about Facebook's battle with Drag Queens, By John Colucci

Her name is Cortana. Her attitude is almost human.

In this exclusive inside look at the making of Microsoft's personal digital assistant, former Senior Mobile Editor Brad Molen explores the human side of AI. In his words, "She is Artificial Intelligence and proud of it. She is Cortana."

Why Tesla Motors can't sell cars in most of the United States

Tesla Route Completed

[AP Photo/Eric Risberg]

Tesla's made one of the world's most sought-after electric vehicles, and yet 2014 saw multiple states putting up roadblocks to Tesla-specific dealerships. As Senior Editor Ben Gilbert points out, it's "not because those states are against electronic vehicles, [Elon] Musk or even Tesla; it's about the way Tesla wants to sell its cars. Specifically, it's about money."

Second Life's second act will be a social network for virtual reality

With Facebook's purchase of Oculus VR on the books, Associate Editor Sean Buckley explored what it means for one of the earliest and most influential virtual worlds: Second Life. But, Sean says, Second Life's second act may not be what you expect: "If anything, Linden Lab's bid for the future of both VR and its own platform sounds more like Facebook than the multiplayer games most associate with the term 'virtual world.'"

The perks of being 'somebody' online

In this examination of online elitism, sparked by a fallout between William Shatner and our own John Colucci, Senior Editor Nicole Lee considers what it means to be "verified." In her words: "The web was supposed to be the great equalizer. But, it turns out, the haves and have-nots exist online too. And they're separated by a mark of distinction: verification."

Also worth reading...
Say Ello to the anti-Facebook, By Nicole Lee

Sony Pictures hack: the whole story

As Associate Editor Edgar Alvarez explains, "This has been a wretched year for big corporations in the US: Target, Home Depot, JPMorgan and, most recently, Sony Pictures have all had to deal with unauthorized security breaches over the past few months." But it's the revelations and the aftermath of the Sony hacks that still have us talking. In this piece, Edgar goes into detail about the attacks, who might be behind them and what it all means for Sony.

Also worth reading...
Why North Korea's Sony hack made 'The Interview' required viewing, By Devindra Hardawar
'The Interview' and the aftermath, By Chris Velazco

A Westerner's guide to Japanese toilets

Japanese toilet maker TOTO employee Akiko Matsuyama laughs as she shows a

When in Japan, do as the Japanese do, or doo-doo, rather. Our man in Japan, Senior Editor, Mat Smith, has been doing just that, or so we assume. He sets up his guide to high-tech toilet bowls thusly: "There are so many buttons, so many unknown symbols and open-to-interpretation stickmen figures; not to mention the (unfounded) fear that you could be sprayed with toilet water by merely approaching one."

We made weed butter with a 'magical' machine

And then there was the time a handful of our editors got high in the name of tech journalism.


The true story of the worst video game in history

Earlier this year, a Microsoft-backed documentary crew excavated a landfill in the New Mexico desert to find out if Atari really had buried thousands of copies E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in an attempt to cover up one of the biggest video game flops of all time. As it turned out, the legend was true, and to find out what went wrong, Contributing Editor Timothy Seppala "went straight to the man who made the game: former Atari developer Howard Scott Warshaw."

Also worth reading...
E.T. unearthed: The dig for legendary Atari cartridges in pictures, By Christopher Trout

The 46-year-old sex toy Hitachi won't talk about

"1968. It was the year of the Tet Offensive; of Martin Luther King Jr.'s and Robert Kennedy's assassinations; of the Democratic National Convention riots." So begins my story about one of the world's most popular sex toys, the Hitachi Magic Wand, and the electronics giant that wants nothing to do with it.

The death of the original jumbo jet, Boeing's 747-400

With many airlines abandoning older passenger jets for more fuel-efficient models, former Senior Editor Zach Honig explored the death of the original jumbo jet. As he puts it, "The flagships of yesteryear now litter the desert, with several sites in California serving as a permanent resting place for the plane that was once known as the Queen of the Skies."

Also worth reading...
The forgotten losers of the console wars, By Mat Smith
Format Wars: Blu-ray vs. HD DVD, By Richard Lawler
Analog Synthesis: The life and legacy of Bob Moog, By Billy Steele
Whatever happened to Netscape? By Sean Cooper


Google's Project Ara wants to revolutionize the smartphone industry

As evidenced by the ongoing push into wearables, smartphones have, in many ways, plateaued. With a few exceptions, there's little to differentiate this year's flagships handsets. But Google's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division has the key to changing all of that if it can complete Ara, its game-changing modular phone, on a two-year deadline. As former Senior Mobile Editor Brad Molen discovered, "Not only is ATAP facing a ticking clock, but it's also doing so with a pretty hefty to-do list."

The gospel of virtual reality according to Oculus


Despite multiple attempts, virtual reality has yet to truly take off in the consumer market. Many expect that to change soon and the world is waiting on Oculus and its founders to make it happen. During the company's first developers conference, Editor-in-Chief Michael Gorman observed the seemingly religious fervor surrounding the technology and its evangelists: "This past Saturday, I found myself in the front row of what felt like an old-time revival, only instead of religious zealots, I was surrounded by roughly 800 disciples of virtual reality."

Apple Watch: Much ado about nothing

While Apple's yet to set a release date for its intelligent timepiece, many are waiting for the Apple Watch to define the burgeoning market, but Features Editor Joseph Volpe isn't sold: "Apple unveiled something, at best, lukewarm. At most, it's prettier than the smartwatches that've come before, and that's likely its greatest innovation."

Also worth reading...
We rode a $10,000 hoverboard, and you can too, By Sean Buckley
Flying the uncertain skies with the latest Phantom drone, By James Trew

New York's next big neighborhood is its smartest, By Joseph Volpe


James Cameron found himself at the bottom of the ocean

PERMITTED USE: This image may be downloaded or is otherwise provided at no charge for one-time use for coverage or promotion of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D and exclusively in conjunction thereof. Copying, distribution, archiving, sublicensing, sale, or resale of the image is prohibited. REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION: Any and all image uses must (1) be properly credited to the relevant photographer, as shown in this metadata, and (2) be accompanied by a caption which makes reference to DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D.DEFAULT: Failure to comply with the prohibitions and requirements set forth above will obligate the individual or entity receiving this image to pay a fee determined by National Geographic. 03: (23579)Photo by Mark Thiessen/National GeographicFilmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron emerges from the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible after his successful solo dive to the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. The dive was part of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific expedition by Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research.

[Mark Thiessen/National Geographic]

"There came a moment halfway through Deepsea Challenge 3D when I realized James Cameron's new film isn't really about exploring the depths of the ocean in the name of science. It's about James Cameron visiting the bottom of the ocean because James Cameron felt like it." That pretty well sums up Managing Editor Dana Wollman's feelings about the groundbreaking film that saw Cameron travel to the depths of the ocean in a custom-made submarine.

Also worth reading...
Disney rendered its new animated film on a 55,000-core supercomputer, By Joseph Volpe
'Interstellar' makes the case for humanity's return to space, By Devindra Hardawar
The Interview: 2014's most infamous film isn't great, but it's important, By Devindra Hardawar
'The Imitation Game' puts the spotlight on Alan Turing and his groundbreaking machine, By Kris Naudus