When it comes to the Seattle tech stories that mattered in 2015 — major developments that will have a lasting impact on our region and the world — a few really stand out. Here are GeekWire’s picks for the top stories of the past year.
Satya Nadella’s second year as CEO was a big one for Microsoft.
Over the course of the past year, Microsoft surprised the tech world with its crazy HoloLens “blended reality” glasses, released Windows 10 to right the wrongs of Windows 8, and impressed reviewers with its first laptop, the Surface Book.
The company’s cloud business is giving new hope to investors. The stock is up nearly 50% over the past two years. Even Goldman Sachs admitted they were wrong.
Despite some missteps, 2015 will be seen as the year that Microsoft got back on its feet and started fighting again, at least.
Tech boom polarizes city
Rising housing prices and increasing traffic congestion are just two of the factors contributing to a growing culture clash in the Seattle region. The tech boom is bringing an influx of workers, putting new pressure on the city’s infrastructure and changing the way of life for many longtime residents.
“You don’t just extract profit without caring about the heart and soul of the city,” said Seattle Councilmember Bruce Harrell, speaking at a protest by affordable housing advocates outside Amazon’s annual meeting in June. He added, “Sometimes you have to be angry to shake things up.”
One high-profile example is Amazon’s massive new campus on the edge of downtown Seattle, but CEO Jeff Bezos defends the company’s focus on urban growth as better for the region than another suburban campus.
Amazon maybe the poster child for this phenomenon, but the boom in tech employment comes from a wide variety of sources (see “Silicon Valley North” and “Expedia’s Big Moves” below) with wide-ranging implications for the future of the region.
Biotech Breakthrough: Juno Therapeutics
As long as we’re talking about stories with a big impact, how about a cure for cancer?
For a company that barely existed two years ago, Fred Hutch spinoff Juno Therapeutics has had an amazing rise. It’s now a publicly traded company with a market value of nearly $4.5 billion, thanks to a promising treatment for cancer.
Juno takes a cancer patient’s T-cells, a key part of the immune system, and reprograms them using genetic engineering to fight the same person’s cancer. The approach promises an alternative to radiation and chemotherapy for cancer patients.
The company signed a $1 billion partnership and distribution deal this year with Celgene, the blue-chip biotech company — widely viewed as a vote of confidence in Juno’s prospects.
Amazon’s Delivery Ambitions
Amazon made it clear this year: The e-commerce giant is not just going to sell stuff. It’s going to deliver stuff, too — basically becoming its own FedEx or UPS, with an Amazon twist. The company this year:
- Rolled out Prime Now one- and two-hour delivery for Prime members;
- Launched a test of home package delivery in San Francisco;
- Started testing its “Flex” crowdsourced package delivery program (Uber for packages);
- Is reportedly planning to lease its own fleet of Boeing 767s to fly packages around the country.
- Purchased thousands of truck trailers to ship merchandise between distribution facilities.
- Opened its first-ever physical bookstore in Seattle’s University Village.
This trend is the latest example of Amazon’s willingness to reinvent just about anything in an effort to make its business more efficient. Now, if they could only figure out how to launch the Treasure Trunk.
Expedia’s Big Moves
Expedia’s announcement that it would relocate to the Seattle waterfront in a few years was a big boost for the city’s image and a blow to downtown Bellevue, Wash., where the travel giant is currently based.
It’s part of the giant wave of growth for the tech industry in Seattle — with big implications for housing, traffic, affordability, and the city’s culture. The “iconic” waterfront location “will be a magnet for top talent” — a headquarters “befitting a leading technology company,” Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said.
More Top Stories of 2015
Startup Creation: Venture capital money continues to flow in the tech industry, but we’ve not seen a blockbuster startup emerge in Seattle in quite some time. Part of the problem is that the big companies and the new Silicon Valley transplants are lapping up most of the tech talent, making it tougher for startups to recruit and take root.
Rise of the Citizen Coder: The concept of computer science and programming as a core skill for the 21st Century gained new momentum, thanks in part to Seattle-based groups such as Code.org, Ada Developer’s Academy, the University of Washington, and many others.
Amazon vs. the NYT: The newspaper’s investigation into the e-commerce giant’s workplace drew a strong rebuttal from Amazon executives but also sparked a debate about the sustainability of its culture and the impact of the company on the Seattle region.
Reading Minds: In a glimpse of the potential future of technology, researchers from the University of Washington conducted an experiment believed “to be the first to show that two brains can be directly linked to allow one person to guess what’s on another person’s mind.” The researchers used a machine that records electrical brain activity, sending signals from one person to another over the Internet to successfully complete a question-and-answer test.
Silicon Valley North: Seattle continued to be a big focus for out-of-town tech companies, with Facebook announcing plans to expand into a big new office here, plus new engineering offices established here by Dropbox, Sears Home Services, Uber, Palantir and others.
Virtual Reality: Valve Software, HTC, Facebook-owned Oculus, Microsoft’s HoloLens and a variety of software startups, such as Pluto VR and Pixvana, put the Seattle region in the middle of the coming wave of virtual reality technologies, promising to change the way we experience and interact with digital technologies.
New Space Race: The Seattle region solidified its position as a major hub for commercial space with the opening of SpaceX’s new engineering center in Redmond, and Jeff Bezos-founded Blue Origin’s successful vertical landing of its New Shepard rocket, which was followed by SpaceX’s successful landing of its own Falcon 9 rocket.
Digital Starbucks: The coffee giant moved even further into technology with the national rollout of its Mobile Order & Pay system, and the launch of a pilot program in Seattle to deliver coffee and food via smartphone in partnership with Postmates.
Dan Price: The Gravity Payments CEO demonstrated the power of the bully pulpit in the digital age, fueling the national conversation about wage equality by creating a minimum salary of $70,000 at his Seattle startup, and reducing his own pay to the same amount.
What did we miss? Tell us your top Seattle tech stories of the year in the comments below. Check back later this week for the most-read stories on GeekWire in 2015.