Local News

2013: The year of the selfie, the pretzel bun and movie sequels

SEBRING - 2013 is almost up, and like most years, is marked by new trends and product launches - some kitschy and others more enduring. From the pretzel bun to two new gaming systems going head-to-head with each other, 2013 was no different.

Which was the 2013 debut that really rocked your world or came and went without a whimper?

Highlands Today has compiled a list of a few things that either marked a new trend, made a new entry into the marketplace or just became wildly popular this year.

Bun with the twist comes and goes

Pretzel buns and rolls came, and kind of went, and buyers were left wondering what happened.

Wendy's announced in January it was rolling out the "Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger," described by the company as "a delicious, new twist on our classic hot 'n juicy cheeseburger." Then it came out with the Pretzel Pub Chicken sandwich.

At the beginning of July, Sonic Drive-In added two new pretzel dogs to its menu for a limited time - the "Original Pretzel Dog" and the "Cheesy Bacon Pretzel Dog."

Dunkin' Donuts also jumped on the pretzel bun bandwagon and announced it was including the "Pretzel Roll Roast Beef Sandwich" on its menu for a limited time. Ruby Tuesday also got into the act with four pretzel burgers.

Just when pretzel lovers were sinking their teeth into a happy marriage of breads, it turned out some of the menu items had been discontinued, apparently, because they were supposed to be limited-time offerings.

Sonic's pretzel bun offerings, the company said, had been planned only for the summer menu, kind of like bringing together two summer foods - pretzels and Fourth of July hot dogs.

Wendy's foray into the pretzel bun market apparently is part of its strategy to market itself as a higher-end fast food restaurant like Panera Bread. The company is experimenting with all kinds of premium and artisan breads, media reports say.

While the company's latest push is the brioche bun, it gave its fans a chance to give the pretzel buns a last hurrah.

"Like all classic love stories, our pretzel bun will soon come to an end," proclaimed Wendy's on its web site. The company encouraged consumers to say their "proper goodbyes" by trying the "limited-time pretzel offerings" before they leave restaurants in November and share "their love on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #PretzelLoveStories."

Xbox One and PS4 slug it out

Every year the holiday shopping season is marked by highly anticipated, highly hyped new gaming systems hitting the shelves.

This year was no different.

Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 made very robust November debuts, close on the heels of each other.

Microsoft announced recently that Xbox One worldwide sales have reached more than 2 million consoles, bringing the company's new system nearly on par with Sony's PlayStation 4, which has sold 2.1 million consoles as of recently.

Microsoft announced more than one million Xbox one systems were sold on launch-day alone.

The PS4 also sold a million consoles within 24 hours on its release date, Nov. 15, a week before the Xbox One launch, the company said.

Nobody knows for sure what the real story is but they sure are beginning to sound the same.

Game lovers probably don't care who is ahead this holiday season, but if the price tag of these two consoles is beyond your reach or you can't get hands on them, you are better off putting them on your Christmas list next year.

Apple's "tweaked" 2013 offerings

The story of what trailblazer Apple Inc., now under new CEO Tim Cook, did this year was what it didn't do - roll out new or radically redesigned gadgets.

Instead, it tweaked its 2012 iPhone 5 and its iPad tablet.

"The Power of Lightness." That's the way Apple describes its iPad Air, which made its debut Oct. 22.

The light-weight tablet, which weighs only 1 pound, is 20 percent thinner and 28 percent lighter than the fourth generation iPad.

This year, Apple also rolled out its iPad mini with "retina" display.

These products came out on the heels of the flagship iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C, both "tweaked" versions of the iPhone 5, which has been discontinued after last year's debut.

"The debut of the one-pound iPad Air and MacBook Pro with sharper 'retina' display repeats a pattern of recent launches with improvements in existing lines rather than totally new products, and Apple shares fell 0.3 percent for the day," Reuters reported.

Others were more pointedly critical: "Apple turning soft under new CEO," reads a headline in an article in The Columbus Dispatch, by Troy Wolverton, a technology columnist for the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News.

The year of the movie sequels?

Did a lot of movies this year seem oddly familiar?

Well, that should not be a surprise since we had a lot of blockbuster sequels, and sequels to sequels, this year.

Movieinsider.com lists more than 30 movie sequels that came out in 2013. The record perhaps belongs to The Fast and Furious franchise, with its sixth movie out this year.

Other runs were pretty impressive, too.

"Scary Movie," "A Good Day To Die Hard," and "Paranormal Activity" celebrated their quintuples.

Many of the sequels, second and third installments, were long-awaited hits from recent years that had more than impressive box office numbers. A few: "Thor 2: The Dark World," "Iron Man 3," "Kick-Ass 2," "Despicable Me 2," "Smurfs 2," "Star Trek into Darkness," "Hangover III," "Grown Ups 2," the Percy Jackson series, "The Last Exorcism, Part 2," "G.I. Joe Retaliation," "Red 2," "The Wolverine," and of course - "Hunger Games: Catching Fire," and "Monsters University."

Some of these also ended up being the top 10 grossing movies of 2013. The rankings vary, depending on which list you consider, but "Iron Man 3," "Despicable Me 2," "Hunger Games 2," "Monsters University," "Fast & Furious 6" and "Star Trek" are on many of the top 10 hit lists.

The year of the smartphone self-portrait

Those who don't know what a selfie is probably need to peep out of the rock they've been living under the last 12 months.

As far as annual cultural and technological trends go, these self-clicked images perhaps embody 2013 better than any other wave.

Turns out even President Barack Obama and our own Pope Francis are not immune to selfiedom - from the iconic to the inappropriate.

Tech 2 describes 2013 as the year of the selfie, and understandably so, as pouting smartphone self portraits now routinely bombard us left to right.

It's easy to understand why they are popular. You can do the job yourself, thanks to front-facing cameras on phones.

"What may have possibly started off as an act that you performed when you had absolutely no option of having someone else click you has fast turned into a cultural point," Tech 2 says.

Britain's Oxford University Press also crowned the term Word of the Year for 2013. According to them, the usage of the term has shot up a whopping 17,000 percent since this time last year.

The most memorial selfie of 2013, and not necessarily for the right reasons? Depends on who you ask.

Some contenders: Kim Kardashian taking a picture of herself in a white swimsuit, aka Marilyn Monroe style; the student grinning into his phone while his teacher goes into labor; Obama in a three-way selfie...the list goes on.

A game app for all ages

For the first time since the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project began tracking smartphone adoption, a majority of Americans now own a smartphone of some kind, their study says.

Fifty-five percent of cell phone owners described that their phone as a smartphone, while 58 percent said their phone operates on a smartphone platform common to the U.S. market.

A big draw of smartphones are apps. Some of the most downloaded apps this year are game apps, both paid and free.

Those who like to play games on their smartphones or tablets had plenty to choose from, both 2013 new releases and games that were launched late last year.

Many of these games became the most downloaded game apps for certain months. Any most downloaded list for 2013, though by no means complete, probably would include the following games: Candy Crush Saga, Plants Vs. Zombies 2, Subway Surfers, Temple Run 2, Angry Birds Star Wars 2, and Fruit Ninja.

The most downloaded smartphone app this year in the United States - you guessed right - is believed to be Facebook, among both iOS and Android smartphone users in the U.S.; 76.1 percent reportedly downloaded the app.