10 Best Technologies of 2010

As the year is winding down, it is time to look at those technologies that succeeded shaped our lives for the better and those that failed and went the wrong direction. We are starting the series with the 10 best technologies and services of 2010, chosen by our editorial team. Feel free to weigh in.

10. Facebook
There is a good chance that you are using Facebook personally or for your job. We often have very emotional connections to this service and I personally can say that Facebook was a huge driver in virtually destroying my personal life and then rebuilding it. However, whether you love or hate Facebook, there is no denying that it has become the definition of the social network, just as much as we refer to Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) as a synonym for search.

It is simply stunning to see how much of a discussion and debate Facebook is prompting, how much we care about possible Facebook mobile devices or email services, and how upset we get when we believe that Facebook is violating our privacy. Facebook has entered our life much faster than we anticipated and much faster than many of us are ready to deal with. There is little doubt that Facebook is here to stay, and we may only have seen the tip of the iceberg of what Facebook will be. Facebook is discovering just now how much power it really has.

Some 550 million people have Facebook accounts. No other entity on the Web is serving as many ads as Facebook. According to Google, Facebook reaches 37.9% of all Internet users, it has 590 million unique visitors every month, and it delivers an incredible 690 billion page impressions.

9. Microsoft Windows 7
I will be the first to admit that I did not expect Windows 7 to do as well as it has done in 2010. I still maintain that Windows 7 is just a reasonable patch for correcting Vista, which brought Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) down to its knees.

According to Net Applications, Windows 7 has now a market share of just under 20% and is gaining more than 1 point every month. The gains are not enough to compensate for the losses of Windows Vista and Windows XP, but there is no denying that Windows 7 is the Windows Vista that Vista should have been. There are solid sales results: Windows 7 has allowed Microsoft to pick up share in netbooks, and it is without doubt that it will pick up share in tablets as well.

There are some who claim that Windows 7 is just a bandage for a much bigger problem Microsoft is facing — a problem that is based on a 40-year-old OS principle to build an operating system, while there are new ideas emerging that are a potential threat to Microsoft’s core business. Windows effectively dealt with Linux in the mass market, but it will soon be facing Google’s Chrome OS in the entry-level and corporate OS market.

It would be foolish to dismiss Chrome OS as a toy, even with as many holes as the software still has. Windows 7 will soon be confronted with a fresh OS that is strongly following a trend that Microsoft is embracing as well — cloud computing. Windows 7′s successor will have to provide ideas and solutions that are out of reach for Windows 7.

8. Netflix
Back in 2006, we were presented with the first ideas of delivering movies on demand: CinemaNow and MovieLink came at a time of heated DRM discussions and were doomed to fail because of their approach to offer movies for relatively high purchase and rental prices. We needed a few years to understand that ownership of digital content is relatively meaningless as long as we have convenient access to content.

Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) has emerged from a DVD-by-mail content distributor to a successful content-on-demand provider. There are few entertainment platforms that do not provide Netflix access by default. Roku was first to announce a streaming Netflix box in May of 2008. The service then made its way to Blu-ray players, game consoles, and connected TVs. Now we have Netflix on iPhones and possibly on some Android phones in the near future.

If you haven’t noticed, Netflix has not just bankrupted Blockbuster by innovating the movie distribution model along the lines of consumer needs. It is also developing into a massively influential distributor that has enough reach to decide what we watch on a variety of devices. If movie publishers fear the power of iTunes today, they are entirely missing the possible impact of Netflix in the future.

7. Google Chrome
I wondered for some time whether it is fair to mention just Chrome in this list. Web browsers overall have made the most significant progress in technology since the invention of the software in the mid-1990s. Mozilla is transforming Firefox and Microsoft has the most competitive IE (IE9) out since IE4. But we know that Firefox 4 isn’t out until Q1 2011 and IE9 isn’t out either — and, in fact, IE9 has some critical shortcomings, such as the limitation to users of Windows Vista and Windows 7.

If one Web browser should be honored as the best browser of 2010, it should be Chrome.

If we look back to January 2010, we were working with Chrome 3. At some point, Google accelerated its development and, by far, outpaced its rivals in JavaScript acceleration as well as innovation in what a browser can do — ultimately laying the foundation for a much higher goal: cloud computing. Chrome 5 brought a massive speed improvement in JavaScript, and Chrome 6 refined the browser interface that every other browser developer would eventually follow.

Hardware acceleration isn’t finished, and given today’s Internet technology, we couldn’t care less about that. There are many Labs features for Chrome available, and we wish Google could get them into better order and release them faster — including Snap Start or Instant Search. However, if you are somewhat interested in Web browsers, it isn’t particularly difficult to activate these features via flags or switches and you can create an enormously fast and powerful browser yourself.

The recently released Chrome OS beta, which is little more than a Chrome browser to the user, shows just how far Chrome will reach. Today, Google has the most conclusive vision of a Web browser and the platform it will running in the future.

6. Amazon Kindle
The Kindle was an interesting product this year as the iPad invaded the Kindle’s e-book turf. As revolutionary as the iPad may be, the Kindle remains the default e-book reader and has greater appeal in this specific application than any tablet that is currently on the market.

A completely renovated line of Kindles that are more attractive and also cheaper have amplified their appeal and are widening their reach with consumers. We are now hearing that Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) is selling more e-books than hardcover books, and some publishers are brave enough to charge more money for a Kindle book than for the hardcover version.

The trend? We begin to see more value in a digital book than a physical hardcover edition. There is a good chance that 2010 has been the beginning of the end of the hardcover book. However, Amazon may have control of the e-book market now, but there is little doubt that the market is evolving and that there will be more requirements for e-book reader hardware. Amazon cannot rest on its laurels and will need to drive innovation to keep its lead when Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) rolls out its second-generation iPad with a much more advanced display, which is currently the Kindle’s strong point. Amazon will need more Internet features and will need to react to the trend of rich multimedia books.

5. Microsoft Bing
Seriously, who would have thought that Microsoft has figured out search! Leaving the silly name aside, Microsoft now has a search technology that is competitive and among the more promising product lines that have come out of Redmond lately.

In September, Bing was listed by Nielsen as the No. 2 search engine behind Google, and it appears that it has been gaining ground while Google’s market share gains have slowed. There is little doubt that Bing has the genes to challenge Google, even if Google is possibly too far ahead for Microsoft to catch up. Bing has a disadvantage compared to Google as Microsoft cannot offer Instant Search because of Google’s patents, but Microsoft recently filed interesting voice search patents and we hope that Microsoft’s Bing team can keep building on the success it has seen so far.

Back in June 2009, I enjoyed listening to Steve Ballmer, who proudly talked about Bing as Microsoft’s little engine that could. Bing surely has turned out to be that engine and has a solid foundation. Now Microsoft needs to show that it can be special and unique with talents Google does not have.

4. Chevrolet Volt
I have had the pleasure of driving a number of cars this year that hint to the automobile of the future. General Motors‘ (NYSE: GM) Chevy Volt is the best compromise of all and is, if it is sustainable that you are looking or in a car, the vehicle to own in 2011.

It is difficult to compare the Volt with any other car on the market because of its unique drivetrain that combines an electric motor that can run the car for up to 50 miles and a combustion engine that will recharge the batteries once the battery charge level drops below 35%. Compared with a Toyota Prius, you get vastly more mileage out of the battery. Compared with a Nissan Leaf, your range is much higher (about 400 miles). Compared with a Fisker Karma, it is more affordable (about $44,000 including common extras, but excluding the ridiculous price-gouging many Chevy dealers have indicated).

A recent Edmunds test indicated that a Prius plug-in hybrid may be cheaper to operate than a Volt, but the Prius isn’t available yet and I would bet the farm when I say that the Volt’s concept will be the one that we will be seeing succeeding in the mainstream class of cars in the near future. The Volt is Chevy’s best car since the Corvette.

3. Microsoft Xbox 360/Kinect
Both Sony and Microsoft placed big bets on motion controller technology this year. Two weeks before Christmas, it is clear that Microsoft has won the battle. Kinect outsells Move.

What is even more impressive that the Xbox 360 sells at a faster pace than the Wii in the United States. We remember that the Xbox 360 is the oldest console on the market, which makes the success of the Xbox 360 even more astonishing. When the PS3 and the Wii were introduced, the Xbox 360 looked antiquated and Microsoft had a tough time finding its way. However, the company kept the console’s hardcore gamer appeal, effectively introduced entertainment features, and has now every opportunity to go after a huge mainstream gaming market with Kinect.

Kinect is far from perfect, but by now we know that the technology is clearly ahead of the Wii controller. Kinect cannot be directly compared with the PS3 Move as it lacks the sensitivity and detail Move provides. For mainstream gaming, however, the Kinect is the trend both the Wii and the PS3 will have to follow if they want to compete in the next-gen mainstream gaming market.

2. Google Android
Smartphones have been a huge topic this year, and it was the iPhone 4 as well as Android that have dominated the headlines. So would you choose the iPhone 4 or Android as the winner for this year? The iPhone 4 is an outstanding device, but we went in favor of Android in the end, because of Apple’s hiccups and the arrogance Apple displayed in public. Google executed flawlessly, and it seems that with 300,000 Android units now activated every day, it is in the range of iPhone shipments. There is reason to believe that Android is beating the iPhone in several markets and has surpassed Apple in market share.

Google blatantly copied Apple’s most innovative software and UI features, added unique touches and a fantastic suite of applications, built a competitive app store, and combined this package with an open distribution model. Android has become a strong contender, and it is apparent that it is Android’s market to lose in 2011. Given its traction, we can predict that Android will be Apple’s second Windows experience, and Google has every opportunity to become the next Microsoft as far as operating system dominance is concerned.

Google is facing software fragmentation problems and will have to find ways to contain the mess of operating system versions and find solutions to differentiate Android from Chrome OS without confusing consumers. If Google executes as it did in 2010, it will dominate the smartphone market by the end of next year.

1. Apple iPad
Is there any other product that has changed our perception of technology than the iPad? Eight months after the introduction of the tablet device, we know that the iPad has paved the way for a new class of computing devices, we know that tablets are adopted by consumers at a fast pace, and we know that tablets will alter the landscape of personal computers.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs said earlier this year that the iPad may have been the most important product he has ever done, and it appears that he is right. The iPad is already outselling MacBooks and has enabled Apple to capture 12.4% of the PC market, according to DisplaySearch. The company is expected to exit 2010 with a 95% share of the tablet market, but 2011 will see more rivals in multiple form factors, while Apple said that it will not offer tablets that are smaller than 10 inches in screen size. Next year will reveal how strong Android and Chrome OS will be in this market and if Apple’s rivals have learned how to compete much more effectively.

Rumors suggest that a new iPad may be announced as early as next month and upgrades such as cameras could be on the way. As strong as the iPad is, Apple will need a continuous pace of innovation to maintain its leadership role among attractive tablets that will be coming in a variety of flavors from virtually every PC manufacturer next year. However, the iPad will remembered as the device that successfully introduced tablet computing, even if it was not exactly Steve Jobs’ idea.

Overall, there was no other product in 2010 that has been as significant as the iPad.


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