Top Tech Innovations of the Decade

I wanted to celebrate the decade by noting some of the signature technology innovations of the decade. Obviously these are mostly consumer focused, so I’m not going to talk about obscure networking standards or have a religious war about operating system kernels. We’ll keep these things accessible for most of you readers. This list is really those products or innovations that defined the decade, and in some ways would blow the mind of someone we transported from 1999.

I’ve been working on this list for a while and then today Engadget comes up with a similar list with many of my choices. Oh, well… here’s my list anyway.

Canon Digital ELPH camera

For all the talk about the iPod or the Music Industry, there are few industries that were as dramatically transformed during this decade than the camera and film industry. I  mean, does anyone even use film anymore? At the start of the decade most people hadn’t even heard of digital cameras!  And while Canon didn’t invent the industry, the Digital ELPH was really the first super small camera that was really capable. If the adage “the best camera is the one you have with you” is true then these small cameras were a game-changer.

iPod

ipodI know.  It’s easy to pick this. And despite no longer being the shining star at a certain Cupertino company, it’s hard to argue there was a more signature device from the decade as a whole. Introduced in 2001 and not really perfected until the click-wheel was invented for the iPod Mini, the iPod changed the way we interact, consume, and transport our music. I still use one for hours a day. There are eight iPods (or iPhones) in frequent use in our household.

So, for fun… let me see if I can remember all my iPods this decade.

  • iPod Shuffle 1st gen
  • iPod 3rd gen
  • iPod nano 1st gen (4 GB)
  • iPod nano 1st gen (2 GB) - won this in a raffle and Quinn is still using today
  • iPod 5th gen
  • iPod nano 3rd gen - Riley is still using today
  • iPod nano 4th gen - my daily iPod for podcasts and music listening
  • iPod nano 4th gen - Julie’s iPod
  • iPod Touch 2nd gen - we have two of these in our household, used by Riley and Quinn. I got one free ordering a new computer and Riley got one from grandma for suffering through dental work

GPS

Combined with Google Maps, it’s pretty hard to get lost these days. It really is a revolution that we can track our location and that the hardware/software solutions out there can provide pinpoint directions whenever you need them.

Toyota Prius 2nd Gen

I’m more of a Honda guy, but if you were going to pick one single car to represent the decade it would be an easy choice. And, let’s face it, we could use a lot more hybrid cars out there. My next one will be a hybrid. My favorite Prius moment came in an episode of The Office when Andy was able to use the silent electrical motor to trap Dwight between the car and a fence. Perfect 00’s moment.

iTunes Music Store

I still buy a lot of CDs. I like the “permanence” of CDs, but also am looking at a giant shelf of them. If only there was a way to purchase that one great song from that obscure album. Oh, there is…  Among the things we can thank Steve Jobs for the most is this invention that I think did save the music industry. There are other electronic stores out there but there is only one iTunes.

Someday Apple may be able to leverage iTunes as well. If only there was a way to easily buy movies or purchase apps for my cell phone…

Palm Treo 600

This one didn’t have a long shelf life as it looked really old really fast once a certain computer company decided to make a cellphone. But, back in the day, the Treo was the first device that you could really use for all your daily “pocket computer” needs. An organizer with web browsing, a phone, 3rd party apps, and ability to play music and videos. That was the promise of the Treo.

If only Palm hadn’t sat on Palm OS 5 for what seemed like forever…

Over the Air Wireless Broadband (Internet WiFi / 3G)

You’ve seen those commercials that talk about the broadband revolution and how back at the turn of the decade most of us were still using dial-up internet. Yep, me too.

It is ridiculous how pervasive wireless broadband is now. My phone has internet speeds that blow past my landline internet from the start of the decade. Not my cable modem. My phone.

Kudos to Apple for really pushing the wireless internet WiFi capabilities in some of their laptops early this decade. You can hardly go anywhere with people and not find WiFi available. It’s everywhere! And for shame those cellphone manufacturers who omit WiFi from the feature list in deference to the cellphone carriers.

YouTube / Podcasting

This is arguably as disruptive as digital photography. Services like YouTube make it easy to consume and share video (especially now that we all have excellent video cameras in our phones. Or, at least we have some sort of video camera in our phone). It isn’t that hard to remember the time when there were a million video formats and that uploading and providing those files for people to watch and consume was a big pain. All of that went away with YouTube. Now, admittedly, some of the videos on YouTube aren’t exactly quality TV. But there’s a lot of great stuff there and as a producer of content it makes it easy to share.

Podcasting is similar in that it allowed for the same kind of electronic distribution systems that “big media” used to reach people online. And with the quality of audio and video software it is very easy and affordable to produce something that has high technical quality. The quality of the “talent” might be another thing…

Wii

For all the talk about “virtual reality” in the 1990’s, the Wii was really the first system that created an interface that really brought you into the game in a way that was far superior than pulling a joystick or pressing buttons.

iPhone

You didn’t think I’d forget Steve Jobs’ Jesus Phone did you?

On a certain level, it’s isn’t that different from the Treo and other earlier smartphones. But, they say, the devil is in the details and detail-wise the iPhone blew them all away. It’s become such an integral part of my life that if you put a gun to my head and said I had to get rid of either my iMac (with a gorgeous 20″ display) or my iPhone it wouldn’t even be a contest.

You can take my iPhone when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Of course, the iPhone leverages many of the technologies listed above (but where is the gas-hybrid battery?). But this was the device that put them all together. Camera in my pocket, great music and movies, excellent “PDA” apps, plus a great phone experience and tons of internet-connected apps. Truly the product of the decade.

iphone-3g-s

2 Comments

Kaiser SojeDecember 31st, 2009 at 3:52 pm

I believe there’s a smartphone that was even more influential than the iPhone. The Nokia N95. Launched in 2006, it was the first reasonable attempt at an all-in-one gadget, with its 5MP camera, “DVD quality” video recording, GPS, accelerometer and hardware graphic acceleration.

Of course, it wasn’t picked by any provider in the US, thus virtually nobody here knows about it.

BillJanuary 4th, 2010 at 10:40 am

Kevin, great list, but how did you leave off TiVo? It redefined how/when we watch TV.

I grabbed the 1st gen iPod 4 months after its release. I was so afraid that it would be a flop like the PowerMac Cube, which had died as a product line earlier in the year that the iPod was released. Thank goodness it all worked out! :-) I still have my 1G and it works great (only over FireWire, of course).

Kaiser, the N95, “even more influential than the iPhone”? Really? Yes, the N95 had some cool features and certainly may have inspired future designs, but not many tech devices in our history have been as influential as the iPhone has been to the world, let along other smart phones.

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