Market Overview

The 10 Best Things About 2011


iPhone 4S, Ford Focus, Spotify, Siri, – who (or what) comes out on top?

10. The New Ford Focus

Ford (NYSE: F) is known for making beautiful cars. From the Mustang to the F-150, it is one of the strongest automakers around.

Last year, the company released the latest redesign of the Focus – a sleeker, richer, and more luxurious car that could change people's view of owning a small automobile.

9. Introduces a New Way to Share Music

Want to kill some time? How about an entire day? If so, can help.

But whatever you do, don't use it while you're at work.

8. iPad Competitors That Don't Suck

Critics may not be too happy with Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN) low-cost seven-inch tablet, but that hasn't stopped consumers from rushing to purchase the device. While Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) was well stocked with Kindle e-readers leading up to Christmas, at least one location in the Metro Detroit area was completely sold out of the Kindle Fire. Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) made an effort to compete with Apple by offering its own value-priced tablet.

7. “Torches” by Foster the People

There was a fair amount of great music released in 2011. And then there was Foster the People, a wholly unique and unusually inspired artist that has managed to reinvigorate radio airplay at a time when mainstream monotony (read: Maroon 5) has all but taken over. Foster the People came out of nowhere and became a critically acclaimed artist that was actually worth its acclaim. Its debut record, “Torches,” is musically deep with a plethora of sounds and some of the catchiest choruses around.

If I have any complaints, it would be that the band lacks lyrical depth. But that almost doesn't matter. While I expect more from the band's eventual follow-up, Torches is a pleasant throwback to the ‘90s – a time when songs were often good because they sounded awesome, not because they had any lyrical value. All too often, lyrics were secondary. As a writer myself, I couldn't accept that as a logical progression of musical evolution. But with “Torches,” Foster the People makes it work.

6. Nintendo 3DS' Triumphant Turnaround

I'm not going to lie: when the Nintendo (NTDOY) 3DS first arrived, I was horrendously disappointed by the lack of great first- and third-party games. The disappointment was doubly painful for those of us who recognize the Nintendo DS as the greatest gaming device ever produced.

But after sluggish sales, weak profits and a painful stock decline, Nintendo began to turn things around with the release of several must-own games – including the greatest platformer since Mario Galaxy.

5. iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S Hype

What do I love more than the iPhone 4S? The hype that preceded its release. Never before in the history of the tech industry has there been such a high level of anticipation for a product people didn't know existed. Consumers – well, Apple enthusiasts – assumed we were getting an iPhone 5 last fall. The hype was insurmountable; you couldn't go a day without hearing something new about the mysterious phone. And then Apple made its big announcement…and showed off an iPhone 4 upgrade instead.

Going into 2012, the hype for the actual iPhone 5 looks to be even bigger.

4. Naughty Politicians Caught in the Act

We should all be thankful to live in a world where a kid named Anthony Weiner can grow up to be a politician who tweets pictures of his, umm, wiener. That was such a fantastic moment in political history.

Then we have Herman Cain, who was so eager to jump on the sexual harassment bandwagon that he decided to get his hands dirty before the election. How's that for political experience?

And in two great moments of political irony, Nancy Pelosi was caught trading with insider information while Newt Gingrich took a no-adultery pledge.

3. Siri Humor and Siri-ously Bad Mishaps

Need to hide a body? Siri is ready and willing to help with a list of recommendations.

Need to perform a Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) search for a friend with an unusual name? Good luck.

Siri may have the potential to learn, but it's far from perfect.

2. The MacBook Air Revolution

Compared to the 2010 overhaul, the 11- and 13-inch MacBook Airs did not receive much of an upgrade in 2011. They have, however, proven to be the future of personal computing, with faster boot times, (nearly) instant-on from standby mode, and a vastly superior solid state hard drive. Thus far, none of the “ultrabooks” can compare. (Hmmm, ultrabooks. Doesn't that sound an awful lot like a “superphone”?)

1. Spotify

I'm not going to lie: the idea of paying for music that I don't get to keep still sickens me. As of this writing, I still don't have a paid Spotify account (I use the free, ad-supported option instead). But for music lovers everywhere, there is no greater invention.

It's not that Spotify is particularly unique or special. The concept of streaming music is anything but new. However, the same could be said for Facebook. When it arrived, MySpace was the social media king. But Facebook proved to be the superior service and quickly became the new king.

Spotify is, in essence, the Facebook of music streaming services. While the user interface is very good (the playlist and page hopping/backtracking features are the best around), it's the song library that has won over the masses. Virtually every artist you love (or hate) can be found with Spotify. I'm not sure how the company pulled this off – up until now, the music industry fought against the streaming business. But as the first company to strike what appears to be the most comprehensive streaming rights deal(s) in music history, Spotify has been able to create the ultimate service.

Initially, I used Spotify to play my favorite bands – Switchfoot, Blink-182, Foster the People, etc. – at work. But then I started to reexamine artists I was aware of but never took the time to explore. This led me back to Los Campesinos!, a horrendously flawed but wonderfully quirky indie pop-style rock band. Los Campesinos! has grown tremendously in the four years since I saw the band perform at Lollapalooza. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of listening to their entire catalogue of music (which I promptly downloaded from iTunes).

Without Spotify, I may have never gone back to this band. I tried several times before and failed because I didn't have a way to test out the band for free. But once I did, I became a huge fan. Now I'm eager to see Los Campesinos! in concert again. At that show, I might just buy a t-shirt. If nothing else, the band has already made money (albeit a small amount of money) from my iTunes purchases.

Los Campesinos! is just one example of a band I either discovered or re-discovered with Spotify. And that's why it ranks as the best thing to come out of 2011.



Traders looking for continued success from the aforementioned companies' may want to consider:

  • With several notes in my “best things” list, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) obviously had a great 2011, and is expected to have an even better 2012.
  • Ford began to make real progress in 2011, and with a new Mustang slated to be announced this month, the company could have a stellar 2012.

Fearful traders may want to consider:

  • Apple's luck won't go on forever. Eventually, the company will stumble. Could a short opportunity be in the company's future…?
  • The Ford Focus redesign may be great, but that doesn't mean all redesigns are of equal value. Toward the end of the year, Ford unveiled a new version of the Escape, which now looks like a Honda (NYSE: HMC) CR-V knock-off. While Ford claims that the new Escape is based on the Kuga (an SUV Ford makes in Europe), the current Kuga is also a copy of the CR-V.
Neither Benzinga nor its staff recommend that you buy, sell, or hold any security. We do not offer investment advice, personalized or otherwise. Benzinga recommends that you conduct your own due diligence and consult a certified financial professional for personalized advice about your financial situation.

Follow me @LouisBedigian

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