Maps. Compact disk players. Film. Paperback books. Ten years ago, we couldn’t live without them. Today, they’re inching closer and closer to obsolescence. The past decade has delivered a bounty of consumer electronics that make our lives easier, keep us connected and ensure that we’re endlessly entertained.
But a few have gone above and beyond, altering the way we organize, experience and share our daily lives.
Here are 10 of the gadget world’s greatest hits from the past 10 years.
The digital music player was already on the scene when Apple introduced the iPod in 2001. But it wasn’t exactly hyperbole when Apple CEO Steve Jobs said, “Listening to music will never be the same again.”
The iPod — and its signature white earbuds — quickly became a cultural icon. But its impact was hardly cosmetic. Along with iTunes, the iPod popularized the mp3 player and changed the music industry forever.
Stacks of CDs? Gone. Trips to the record store? Gone.
Apple made buying music, TV shows and videos as easy as logging on to your home computer and clicking your mouse a few times.
In 2007, the company announced that it sold its 100 millionth iPod unit, making it the bestselling digital music player of all time.
And the iPod has come a long way. Since the original iPod that could hold 1,000 songs, Apple has updated the model nearly every year, expanding the line to tiny workout-friendly Shuffles and Nanos and, of course, the iPhone-like iPod Touch. The current iPod classic (the model closest to the original) can hold 40,000 songs.
Oh, those folding maps. For a time, they were a staple car accessory, not to mention a road trip necessity. But now, they’re almost quaint reminders of a bygone era.
In 2000, the United States discontinued a feature that deliberately degraded GPS signals available to the public.
Overnight, civilian users of GPS devices could pinpoint locations up to 10 times more accurately than before. And in the years that followed, led by Garmin, GPS devices found their way on to dashboards across the country.
Drivers retired their maps, letting voice-enabled GPS devices (or in-car navigation systems) lead them to their destinations.
Now, turn-by-turn directions and information about the nearest gas station and other points of interest are available on car dashboards, iPhones and more.
They’re known to be so addictive that they’re often called “CrackBerries.”
Research in Motion’s highly popular BlackBerry mobile device was first introduced as a two-way pager in 1999, but the now-common BlackBerry smart phone was introduced in 2002.
The handheld devices, which were initially the gadget of choice for executives and jetsetters, let users send and receive e-mail, access the Internet, take pictures, make phone calls and more.
As the price dropped, their popularity surged, and BlackBerrys found their way into the hands of everyone from urbanites to college students to stay-at-home moms.
When President Barack Obama ascended to the White House, he famously fought to keep his precious BlackBerry, despite national security concerns and a tradition of e-mail-free presidents.
Though the launch of the touchscreen iPhone challenged its share of the smart phone market, BlackBerry has held its own with an easy-to-use keyboard and sophisticated office applications and security features.
Think back to 10 years ago. Did you get married? Graduate from college? Welcome a new child into the world?
Chances are, you didn’t get to see images of those major milestones until at least a few days later. Now, thanks to the proliferation of the affordable digital camera, memories are captured — and in many cases, shared — nearly instantaneously.
Though the digital camera was introduced in the 1990s, it really came into its own in the 2000s, finding its way into the hands of millions around the world. Even little kids have their own digital cameras.
Unfortunately, the downside of digital photography’s expansion is that your most embarrassing moments might live on the hard drives and Facebook accounts of countless family members and friends.
But the upside is that if you’re fast enough, you can delete those pictures before they ever see the light of day.
TiVo Digital Video Recorder
Remember when you had to make appointments with your living room television? If you wanted to watch “Friends,” “Lost” or “Monday Night Football,” you had to adjust your schedule accordingly.
The TiVo Digital Video Recorder and its more recent competitors now let you record those programs and watch them at your leisure — commercial-free
TiVo pioneered the device in 1997, but it was in the 2000s that the ad-skipping DVR really took off, sending advertisers and television programmers back to their drawing boards.
LG now offers a DVR-integrated television and some cable providers also provide DVR services.
When Nintendo launched the Wii and Wii Sports in 2006, it pulled gamers off the couch and into the action, revolutionizing video game play in the process.
Using a wireless controller, players actually simulate actions such as playing tennis, baseball and boxing.
But the game has had successes beyond gaming, including teaching school children music and helping people lose weight.
The USB Flash Drive
The memory disk, the jump drive, the pendrive — or the USB.
It goes by many names but always serves the same crucial function: storing mountains of information on a miniscule device.
More durable and with more memory than its predecessor the floppy disk, flash drives help us carry documents, photos and more between work and home and school. They may be among the more humble items on this list, but simple can also be significant.
In June 2007, diehard Apple fans camped out on city sidewalks for days to be among the first to score the hotly anticipated iPhone. The first iPhones dropped on June 29, and within 74 days Apple had sold 1 million of its new devices.
Now it’s said that the number of iPhone and iPod touch units sold has climbed to 40 million.
Whether it’s with iPhones, BlackBerries, Android-powered phones or Palm devices, consumers increasingly send and receive e-mail, play games, watch video and access the Internet from mobile phones.
Thanks to the advent of the mobile application, like those in Apple’s App Store and the Android Marketplace, consumers also look to their handheld devices for a host of other practical — and frivolous — functions.
Whatever our desire, be it finding the closest public toilet, tracking stocks or starting a car remotely, we now know that “there’s an app for that.”
What’s behind the growth of the ever-smarter phone? Technologists say the answer is easy: the iPhone.
Bye bye, books? Maybe not quite yet, but as e-readers, such as Sony’s Reader and Amazon’s Kindle, gain in popularity, printed novels, textbooks and even newspapers and magazines are slowly retreating into the background.
Sony was the first this decade to offer an e-book reader in 2006 and Amazon’s Kindle quickly followed in 2007. But since then, as prices fall and content options rise, the market has continued to grow.
This month, research firm Forrester said 2009 has been a “breakout year” for eReaders and eBooks. By the end of the year, sales will have more than tripled with content sales up 176 percent for the year.
Earlier this year, some analysts predicted that the PC industry would experience its sharpest shipment decline in history. But the industry’s fate was changed largely because of one key new computing species: the netbook.
Smaller and cheaper than its cousins the laptop and desktop, the netbook has emerged as an increasingly popular PC option.
The netbooks, or mini-notebooks, can’t compete with fully-functional laptops and desktops when it comes to memory, power and battery life. But they can be had for below $300, a price closer to that of some smart phones than traditional computers.
In addition to the price, their compact size and mobility make them attractive options for consumers.
Taiwan-based Asus introduced the first netbook of the decade in 2007 when it launched the Asus Eee PC (the three “Es” stand for “Easy to learn, Easy to work, Easy to play).
But its competitor, Acer Inc. (also from Taiwan), popularized the category with its 2008 launch of the Acer Aspire One. Analysts say Acer’s version was the first to do well among retail customers, as its operating system and overall look more closely resembled traditional PCs.
In March, research firm Garter predicted that PC shipments would fall in 2009 by 11.9 percent. Now, boosted by netbook sales, the firm expects shipments to actually grow by 2.8 percent this year.