It’s been an exciting year in tech. From the implosion of HD-DVD at the year’s very beginning, right up to the final race to produce a viable iPhone competitor in time for Christmas, companies have relentlessly pushed the bar ever upward despite the bottom falling out of the economy as months worse on. Smaller, easier and cheaper seemed to be the industry’s driving design focus this year, and the products borne of these qualities are some of the most amazing – and most affordable – we’ve ever seen. On this brink of New Year’s Eve, we’ve taken a moment to look back at some of the coolest innovations we’ve seen over the last 365 days.
Apple iPhone 3G
The first-generation iPhone may have been 2007’s child, but the second generation, which bested its older brother in every way and truly turned the iPhone into the everyman’s phone with a massive price cut, belongs to 2008. From the sleeker design and corrected design issues (universal headphone jack, anyone?) to the inclusion of major features that were missing from the original (3G Internet access and GPS), the second generation iPhone turned Apple’s solid first shot into a bullseye.
Intel’s Atom Processor
While not technically a standalone piece of tech, Intel’s Atom processor lies at the core at one of 2008’s biggest success stories: netbooks. Unlike first-generation netbooks that struggled to run Windows with their frugal (but weak) Celeron M processors clocked at 900MHz, the new Atom struck an ideal balance between brute strength and power efficiency, and in a smaller package to boot. After watching one of these little monsters power through Photoshop CS4 without flinching and run Half-Life with incredible frame rates on an MSI Wind, we were absolutely sold. And judging by sales of Atom-equipped machines, so is the public.
Zero Ink Technology
Also known as ZINK, this little (literally) marvel of printing technology may have flown a little under radar in 2008, but we still count it among the year’s most impressive advances. Using dyes impregnated in paper, ZINK printers like Polaroid’s PoGo are able to produce photo-quality prints from only a tiny package of printer parts, allowing truly pocket-sized printers, and even printers built into cameras like TOMY’s Xiao. With old-school Polaroids slipping slowly into obscurity, ZINK is sure to take over as the mainstream solution for photos on the go.
Affordable Blu-Ray Players
After kicking around in A/V enthusiast circles and among the tech elite for two years, Blu-ray finally came into its own in 2008 when its main competitor, HD-DVD, sank beneath the waves, leaving it as the reigning HD format. With the only alternative out of the way, consumers finally began investing in next-gen equipment on a large scale, and price reached mainstream territory. We’ll remember 2008 as the year Blu-ray went legit – and as the beginning of the end for DVD, too.
As a piece of hardware, the T-Mobile’s G1 left much to be desired, but it also heralded the primetime debut of Google Android, which could debatably be called the first mobile operating system to challenge the iPhone slug for slug. With a smooth graphical interface, effortless interfacing with Google services, and a blossoming app store full of ingenious bits of software, Android proved that Apple wasn’t the only tech company in touch with what mobile phone users want.
Airport-Checkpoint-Friendly Notebook Bags
Innovation doesn’t always have to come from a team of 300 engineers and five years of research: Sometimes it’s as simple as making a simple design change. New airport-friendly notebook bags, introduced through cooperation with the Travel Security Administration in March, offer special see-through notebook pockets so that travelers no longer have to remove their fragile laptops when passing through security checkpoints. Groundbreaking? Not really, but we’ll take every step toward easing the pains of flying that we can get.
BlackBerry connoisseurs probably couldn’t have imagined a device carrying the BlackBerry name without its trademark hard keyboard a two years ago, but 2008 saw the corporate-friendly brand bend to the will of consumers with its first touch-screen entertainment phone. Some would call it a flop, but we think it makes the list for 2008, even if only as symbol of change.
Resident commentator Rob Enderle may prefer playing World of Warcraft on a treadmill desk to get his dose of gaming and exercise in one shot, but for those who don’t have the space or cash for one of the $5,000 devices, the Wii Fit created a great alternative this year. Picking up where games like Dance Dance Revolution seemed to leave off, the Fit brought physical gaming into the living room, generating hope for couch potatoes everywhere.
These sci-fi style mini projectors that seemed “just over the horizon” for years finally arrived with style in 2008. With the ability to throw a screen up to 50 inches in the proper lighting conditions, projectors like the 3M MPro 110 basically amount to pocket-sized televisions that will mate with your video camera, notebook, or iPod to put on a show wherever you go. We expect some kinks to be ironed out in 2009, but 2008 still marks the first year the average Joe could go out and snag one on store shelves.
Mini HD Camcorders
Tapes? Who needs them? It’s almost hard to believe that anyone still records video footage on spools of magnetized plastic, much less in quality less than 720p, with these little guys around. The proliferation of mini HD camcorders like the Flip Mino HD, Kodak Zi6 HD, and Creative Vado HD amazed us with their price, size and quality, even if the optics and features leave a bit to be desired.