When I read Engadget’s “Ten Gadgets that Defined the Decade“, I was amazed by some of their choices. I could easily think of a few gadgets that changed the way we use technology, but weren’t listed. While I agreed with a couple of items on their list, like the iPhone, I couldn’t help writing my own top 10 of the most influential gadgets of the last ten years. Here are my candidates in random order.
1. Canon EOS 300D (Rebel)
If you had a little money to spend you were able to get a digital photo camera back in 1999. They weren’t very good, but at least you could enjoy the obvious ‘workflow’ advantages that come with digital photography. But if you were an enthusiast, film was still the only option. The 300D changed that. It wasn’t the first digital SLR camera, but it was the first that mere mortals could afford. Priced at $999, is allowed amateur and ‘prosumer’ photographers to step into the 21st century.
2. Nintendo Wii game console
Engadget listed the XBox 360, but much like the PlayStation 2 and 3 it was a machines aimed at typical gamers. Every console released in the last decade had better graphics/sound/networking, except one. The Wii focused on what really matters: Gameplay. With its motion sensing controllers it made games intuitive. You mom could play them, perhaps even with your grandma. It wasn’t trying to sneak a blu-ray player into our homes, it wanted to let us have some fun.
3. Asus Eee-PC 701
If I had to condense this list to just one item, this would be it. I was an instant netbook fan when Asus announced this little machine. Sure, later models, like the 900 listed by Engadget had better specs, but the best thing about the 701 was what happened before anyone ever actually got one. The internet lighted up with enthusiasm for a new computer that was slow compared to everything else. It had abysmal specs, but it was small, light and had a great battery. Asus invented a whole new computer market segment, and we’ll enjoy its benefits for a long time.
4. Apple iPod
It’s a tragic misconception that the iPod was the first mp3 player on the market. There were many, the most notable being the MPMan and Creative’s RIO line. But all of them used flash storage, and as a result could barely hold a single album. The iPod changed that and allowed you pocket half your music collection (if not all of it). Its initial success was probably driven by the popularity of illegal download services like Napster, but then the iPod’s ecosystem evolved and iTunes evolved into the most successful online music store. It revolutionized the music industry, by showing how people like to enjoy their music.
5. Intel Core2 Duo
OK, I know the components in your PC aren’t usually very interesting, but there’s something special about Intel’s Core technology. For years, CPUs had not just been getting faster, but also hotter. The last couple of Pentium IV’s ran so hot it took ridiculously large and heavy coolers to keep them cool. Not only did the CPU itself use a lot of power, so did the cooling. The Core line of processors outperformed everything on the market, but also cut power consumption in half. An unfortunate side effect was that it instantly made competitor AMD’s product line irrelevant. AMD is yet to fully recover, which goes to show just how revolutionary this chip was.
6. Linksys WRT54G
Another choice that may seem strange, but bear with me for a second. If there’s anything that changed the way we use gadgets in the last ten years, it’s Wifi. The technology had existed since 1997, but most of us didn’t set up a wireless network in our home until after the start of this millennium. And the WRT54G was the most iconic wireless router of its age. It had wireless-g (introduced in 2003), performed well and was extremely hacker-friendly. There’s still a huge community out there that uses this cheap little machine for just about anything. Wireless networking may be the real star here, but Linksys put it into a very cool little box.
7. Apple iPhone
I remember how everyone was amazed when it became apparent that Apple was about to release a mobile phone. In hindsight it makes perfect sense. Before the iPhone, phones were either too limited to be fun or too complicated to operate. The app store has become an amazing ecosystem, and Apple has managed to put smartphones into the hands of people who never managed to send an SMS from their previous Nokias. I’m pretty confident that Android will be in my next decade list, but for the ‘aughts’, the iPhone takes the cake.
I didn’t pick a specific TV set or decoder, but if there’s one thing the last decade will be remembered for (in technology that is), it’s that High Definition Television finally made it’s way into our homes. For decades, the industry had been working on a better TV standard. Analog HDTV had been around since before I was born, and digital standards were established in the early 1990s. It took so long because in order to enjoy it all we, the consumers, needed to invest in a new TV. And it wasn’t until those became relatively cheap and flat that we were willing to do so.
9. TomTom Go
Let me first of all clarify that I live in The Netherlands. TomTom is a Dutch company, and they completely dominate their domestic market. So the first affordable GPS navigation unit I ever saw was a TomTom. Until then, satelite navigation was an expensive option on vehicles I could only dream about. The ‘Go’ changed that, and my wife and I currently both have one of its successors. And so does everybody else. It’s changed the way we drive, and even though Google’s Android navigation app is about to make it even more affordable, this was a game-changing device.
10. Ubuntu Linux
Engadget’s top 10 included the decade’s most successful commercial OSs, Apple’s OSX and Windows XP. But it was Linux that really came a long way in the last ten years. XP was a logical evolution of Windows 95, but Ubuntu managed to bring a whole new OS to the consumer desktop. Well OK, it wasn’t entirely new. But all the Linux distributions I’d played with prior to Ubuntu just weren’t ready to be used by regular users. Ubuntu is. I’d recommend it to my mom without hesitation. It even comes with a Bittorrent client. How cool is that? It’s safe, it’s fast and no other OS lets you install new software as easily as Ubuntu. And on top of it all it’s the first community-written operating system. Power to the people :).
So there it is. My top 10. Did I leave your favorite gadget out? Please feel free to leave a comment. If you plead your case well enough I may reconsider…