The 20 most popular Findings of 2017
From NBN woes to Amazon to university fees and beyond, here are my most-read columns from the past year. Contains Vegemite and Kmart.
Note: the picture above features in none of these columns, but it was my most popular tweet of the year.
Welcome news for travellers – you no longer need to fill out a card when you're flying out of Australia, saving everyone time and hassle. That, plus SmartGate, means that queues for leaving the country are way shorter than they used to be, at least until you hit the security check.
Developments with the National Broadband Network (NBN) continued apace in 2017. One of the more positive steps was the confirmation of plans to use fibre-to-the-distribution point (FTTDP) rather than the manifestly less reliable HFC cable system. The news is less good for people still stuck with HFC, with rollouts for that service recently delayed.
Back in April, Android announced a partnership that allowed Android Pay and Apple to work together. The catch was that it was a US-only deal. Alas, eight months later there's still no sign of it coming to Australia.
This was a very clever idea on Vodafone's part: offering a 4G SIM you can use to remain online while you wait for your NBN connection to be activated. Vodafone's actual NBN plans are priced similarly to most rivals, but that addition makes them an option worth considering.
2017 saw data allowances rising rapidly for mobile phones, especially from MVNOs like Vaya, amaysim and Kogan. The Coles-only deal Vaya offered back in July was fairly decent, but I'd still caution against signing up for a deal where you pay for six months upfront. Why sacrifice the flexibility?
Waiting for Amazon Australia to launch consumed a lot of virtual column inches in 2017. Yet one truth was evident right from January when I penned this column: Australian retailers had only themselves to blame if they didn't smarten up their own online offerings. Tellingly, not many did.
Elsewhere in Amazon-land, this was part one of a needlessly complicated saga. When the Fire TV Stick Basic was launched, Australia was not a supported country, as this column recounted. Then on Amazon launch day, the device went on sale, then went on sale, then went back on sale again. Was it worth all the drama? Read our review to find out.
The NBN was plagued by congestion complaints in 2017. The first attempted fix was to change the way that capacity was charged for, as this column explains. Alas, that didn't work, so in December more drastic changes were proposed. I can guarantee I'll be visiting this topic again in 2018.
The very first Findings column for 2017 looked at four things that were due to go up, thanks to changes from the 2016 budget. All of these went through, unlike the still-contentious and recently changed plans for higher university fees.
After CommBank ditched fees for customers with other banks to use its ATMs (a strategic Sunday announcement for maximum coverage), the rest of the Big Four quickly followed suit. That was good news and a contrast to the trend for rising bank fees, though we shouldn't forget that the number of ATMs is dropping overall as we move, seemingly inexorably, towards a largely cashless society.
As I've already mentioned under #12 on this list, proposals to change the fees charged to university students never made it through the Senate, so a new version has recently been suggested. We won't know if that's going to stick until February 2018.
The January prediction that the NBN rollout would be half-done by mid-year actually came to pass. However, that didn't mean everyone was racing to sign up, with take-up rates remaining stubbornly below 50%. Oh, dear.
Wow, everyone's keen on Vodafone NBN, aren't they? (See also #17.)
Telstra's bargain brand plans came to fruition in September and are definitely worth considering if you're keen for Telstra's network but less keen on its high price tag.
Yes, I bagged out Kmart's delivery incompetence back in #15 on this list, but compared to most of its bricks-and-mortar rivals, it had a great year. Almost a year on, I remain incapable of simply buying one item in Kmart: it's always too tempting to grab something else.
The train tragic that is me has spoken: this plan will never happen.
This was the other key lesson from the year of Amazon: expecting a here's-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink launch for Amazon in Australia was wrong because it ignored the lessons of history. I'll simply quote myself: "Slow-burn expansion has long been the Amazon pattern down under. It began selling Kindles to Australians back in 2009, launched the Amazon App Store for Android phones in 2013 and then rolled out Prime Video last year." Expect a lot more of that in 2018.
The big lesson here: you have to compare carefully in supermarkets because even with a major brand like Vegemite, they're not always selling the same thing.
Lyft's Australian plans remain unclear, but the fact so many people want to know the answer to this question suggests that we're willing to embrace Uber alternatives if they appear. That's good news for rivals like Taxify.
No, I have no idea why the tale of a man who blocked his workplace tracking device with Twisties was so popular. But now I want Twisties again, dammit.
Thanks everyone for reading – see you again in 2018!
Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears regularly on finder.com.au.