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15 in 15 - The Most Important Gadgets of the Last 15 Years

15 in 15 - The Most Important Gadgets of the Last 15 Years


15 in 15 - 2006 to Today

2006 - Nintendo Wii

Before the Nintendo Wii, the average gamer spent most of his time in his basement, drinking Mountain Dew, playing Halo and insulting people’s mothers. So not much change there then. But thanks to the Nintendo Wii, there’s also an entirely new group of gamers out there.

Following the release of its Gamecube console in 2001, Nintendo realized it was losing the console war. After seeing Sega crash out of the hardware market, it decided (wisely as it turns out), to not compete with Sony and Microsoft at all. Instead, it created an entirely new genre of games: console-based casual games.

Anyone that’s ever handed an elderly relative an Xbox or Playstation controller will probably recall the frustration over trying to explain what each of the eleven buttons on the thing do. Nintendo realized that not only were console controllers not very immersive, they were also getting a bit complicated. So, instead, Nintendo introduced motion controllers - after all, what’s easier than holding a stick and waving your arms around? The Wii wasn’t targeted at long time hardcore gamers; it was targeted at people that want to have fun in an easy to pick up, easy to play environment. Millions of people who had never played a video game before in their lives were suddenly spending all of their time customizing their Mii avatars (digital characters in Nintendo Wii's games) and causing collateral damage to any nearby furniture on Wii Sports.

The Wii continues to enjoy huge success today (it still outsells its more advanced, more complicated successor, the Wii U) and both Microsoft and Sony have introduced motion gaming to their platforms as well.

 

2007 - Apple iPhone

Love it or hate it - Apple revolutionized the mobile industry with the iPhone in 2007. Before the introduction of the iPhone, ‘smartphones’ were devices with physical keyboards or styluses with cumbersome touch interfaces.

Apple’s iPhone ushered in the era of multi-touch interfaces which redefined what we call a smartphone and the way we use them. It was Apple’s focus on the design, user experience and seamless integration of its services that set the iPhone apart from its competitors. For the complete details, read up our MacWorld 2007 coverage where the iPhone was first unveiled.

The iPhone also brought about the concept of applications, which are software programs developed specifically to run certain tasks on the devices. Overnight, the functionality of the iPhone expanded by leaps and bounds, as the possibilities offered by these apps are almost limitless. The App Store was introduced in 2008, which gradually became one of the most important assets that made the iPhone so popular.

Apple has consistently pushed the boundaries since the introduction of its iPhones. For example, the iPhone 4 offered a high resolution display which Apple dubbed as "Retina". The same iPhone also become the most popular camera on Flickr a year after its introduction , thanks to its advanced camera optics.

Although many critics have lamented at the "lack of innovation" in the latest iPhones, we cannot ignore the fact that the iPhones will continue to shape the direction and future of the mobile industry in the years to come.

 

2007 - LCD TVs

Take a look at the razor thin, almost anorexic profile of the LED TVs on the market today, you can lay the credit for this design at the feet of LCD technology. Liquid Crystal Displays are generally constructed from rod-shaped polymers that are arranged in an ordered layer. The LCDs then produce black or colored images by selectively filtering white light which is provided by an external source.

Sharp Corporation was responsible for the first commercial LCD television back in 1988 in the form of a 14-inch model. At the time, however the market was dominated by CRT televisions and the spot for TV technology of the future was occupied by plasma screens.

The initial LCD screens suffered from slow refresh rates which resulted in bad performance when reproducing motion. But market changes would mean that LCD technology would be handed a competitive advantage. The switch from 4:3 aspect ratio to 16:9 aspect ratio meant that CRT TVs, which inherently require a curved circular vacuum tube for optimal performance, were at a serious loss.

In addition, the continuing improvement of LCD panels and their decreasing costs meant that the advantage held by plasma televisions was fast dwindling. In 2006 LCDs achieved price parity with plasmas and in 2007 LCD TVs shipped more units than CRT TVs for the first time.

Today LCD TVs with different lighting technologies, such as edge-lit LEDs or full array LEDs, are easily the most commonly owned televisions. LCD TVs offer an almost perfect balance of performance and affordability, as well as a wide selection of screen sizes. With further lighting systems such as Organic LEDs in the pipelines, the future for LCD will only get brighter.

 

2008 - Apple Macbook Air

One of the most iconic moments in tech history was when Steve Jobs pulled a thin, sexy, full-aluminum notebook out of a manila envelope back in 2008. The world looked in awe at a piece of hardware that looked too slim to be a real working computer.

It seemed to many that Apple pulled off an impossible feat by creating a thin-and-light notebook which was also powerful. Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly turned out that way. The first Macbook Air didn’t take off like a rocket, due to its high price-tag and poor performance when compared to other notebooks.

However, in 2011 when the Macbook Air came with Intel’s Sandy Bridge consumer-ultra-low-voltage processor, things started to change. The new processor provided the Air with enough power for most users with great power efficiency, and its SSD gave it unparalleled speed.

Add to that its attractive good looks and incredible price-point, and the Macbook Air began to soar. It sold so well that it even spawned a whole new category of Windows notebooks aimed at recreating the success that the Macbook Air enjoyed (and continues to enjoy till today).

 

2008 - Intel Atom Processor

Although the Intel Atom processor wasn’t the first CPU to power the initial salvo of the once popular netbook, with the chip’s introduction to the device in 2008, it was widely seen as the brains behind the popularity of the device.

The Atom processor is Intel’s first purpose-built processor designed solely for ultra mobile computing solutions. This single-core CPU is able to support Hyper-Threading, and operates in a power envelope under 2W. This makes the processor ideal for mobile computing; while at the same time, it is able to support operating systems that feature Intel Hyper-Threading technology like Windows XP and Linux. As such, the computing experience for the end-user wasn’t compromised with the low-power Atom processor as the user was able to launch a number of software applications simultaneously. For further information of the first Intel Atom processor and what Intel characterizes as a netbook, we refer you to this article.

Today, the Atom processor family is still very much alive despite the demise of netbooks as a portable computing device. In the near future, 64-bit versions of Atom systems on chip (SoCs) will be launched by Intel to power microservers. This is part of the company’s strategy to target datacenters of the future.

 

2009 - Olympus PEN E-P1

If there’s one technology that’s disrupted the camera market as much as smartphones, it’s the introduction of mirrorless system cameras. And while the Panasonic Lumix G1 (released in 2008) was the first mirrorless camera to market, it was the Olympus PEN E-P1 (released in 2009) which catapulted the mirrorless system into the mass market, with its beautiful retrospective design appealing to many more than its specs.

Mirrorless system cameras represent an evolution in camera technology. By removing the mirror found in SLR designs - thus the name ‘mirrorless’ - these cameras come in smaller sizes than your conventional DSLR, but with larger sensors than those found in digital compact cameras, thus providing high image quality while reducing size and weight. Some mirrorless cameras even have APS-C sensors, which are the same-sized sensors as those found in entry to immediate DSLR cameras.

Mirrorless system cameras also come with another advantage; the ability to swap lenses - thus the ‘system’ in the name. The more lenses, the more options and looks a photographer can have at her disposal, and thus the mirrorless system camera offers a compact alternative to the larger DSLR cameras.

Fast forward to today, and you can easily spot someone on the streets using a mirrorless system camera, whether it’s an Olympus, Panasonic, Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon or Sony. The mirrorless camera segment has expanded the most in Asia Pacific, eating into the DSLR camera’s market share. By the end of 2012, mirrorless cameras took 24.7% of total interchangeable-lens cameras shipments in Asia, which means that it has eaten up nearly one-quarter of the DSLR market in the four years since its introduction.

In Japan, mirrorless cameras comprise nearly half of interchangeable-lens cameras being sold. In contrast however, mirrorless hasn’t grown in Europe and the US the way it has in Asia. While shipments in the first half of 2013 grew 16.8% in Japan, they dropped 18.5% globally.

 

2010 - Apple iPad

Between 2008 and 2009, netbooks were the fastest growing segment in the PC market. So people started wondering when an Apple netbook would arrive. Turned out, Apple had another idea: the iPad. Ultimately, the book-sized, 9.7-inch tablet proved to be a winner, for both Apple and consumers. It wasn't long before Apple sold more iPads than Macs and PCs, and confirmed the arrival of the post-PC era. And in the iPad, users got a portable, multi-touch device that handled light computing tasks with extreme ease, aided by high quality apps, and a long 10-hour battery life.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. When the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad on stage in January 2010, reactions were mixed. Some bemoaned its high price (the 16GB, Wi-Fi-only version started at US$499), some ridiculed its name by associating it with a female hygiene product, and some simply branded it as a large iPhone. It was later revealed by Jobs that development of the iPad preceded the iPhone, but was put aside when they discovered the technology would make for a great phone. In a way, this was a blessing in disguise, as the iPhone led to the creation of the App Store, which in turn, provided Apple a huge software lead when the tablet did arrive.

It's no hyperbole to say that the iPad has changed mobile computing. While it may seem like forever, Apple's tablet has only been in the market for slightly over three years. A memorable moment in the tablet's short history is the iPad 3's 'Retina' display. At 2,048 x 1,536 pixels, it was at that time the highest resolution display ever on a mobile device.

More than 100 million units later, the iPad is now in its fifth iteration, and is sold alongside the 7.9-inch iPad Mini with Retina Display which debuted just recently.