Best Tech of the Decade: Roomba
In 2002, the dream to be able to employ Rosie the robotic maid from the classic cartoon "The Jetsons" finally came to fruition for many families–well, only slightly after the Roomba, a 14" robotic vacuum contraption, hit the market. With cool innovations, like the ability to navigate obstacles and different settings for levels of dirt, the Roomba was a hit and sold 2.5 million units in the first five years after its launch. Besides being the first in-home robot that actually did anything marginally useful, many users reported anthropomorphizing their little guys and forming emotional attachments–which might be the most memorable part of all.
Best Tech of the Decade: iPod
The decade that brought us Kanye and The Killers also made us members of the white earbud nation. The iPod debuted in 2001 with a bolt of design and energy. With its signature click wheel and promise to put a thousand songs in your pocket, the gadget rocketed into pockets and minds, and made iTunes a household name. More than 220 million of the gadgets were sold over the decade, making it the biggest innovation in portable music since the Walkman. A future museum of tech history would have to feature a whole wall of iPods, from the clunky classic to the tiny Nano–and whatever may come in the next decade.
Best Tech of the Decade: Firefox
Best Tech of the Decade: World of Warcraft
In the 1990s, geeks played Dungeons and Dragons. During the last decade, they went online for their all-out, all-night raids. World of Warcraft was not the first massively multi-player online role-playing game (MMPORG!), but it was certainly the biggest, with 11.5 million monthly subscriptions as of December 2008. Released in 2004, the game allows players to choose an avatar and either battle each other or work together to go on quests. The game has had many popular culture tie-ins, from selling Toyota trucks in the game (with orcs and busty Night Elves riding in them) and the Emmy-winning "SouthPark" episode that featured the game.
Best Tech of the Decade: Bluetooth Headsets
At one time, having a conversation on the phone was highly correlated with having a phone attached to your hand. All of that changed with Bluetooth and wireless headsets, especially the tiny ones like the Jawbone. At some point, it became very difficult to discern between business people shouting into their tiny earpieces and schizophrenics shouting at the voices in their heads. There are tradeoffs in this cool tech: style-wise, they often resemble a tumor growing out of your ear, and for all the help in steering and driving with two hands (are you listening, Maria Shriver?), one has to put up with a prevalence of obnoxious loud behavior in places previously considered off-limits to phones, such as gyms, parks, and even elevators. In the future, perhaps people will be shocked that we still carried these devices on our bodies—instead of via implants inside them.
Best Tech of the Decade: USB Flash Drive
The USB flash drive is the most compact portable data-storage device used by PC and Mac users alike–and the turn-of-the-century glut of flash memory saw them become the cheapest gadget since the Pet Rock I “discovered” in my gravel driveway. The affordable and simple gadget has become one of the most essential computer tools that we use and is so ubiquitous you can buy it in any color or shape imaginable, including that of R2-D2, Predator, or a replica human thumb. IBM introduced the drives in 2000, making them one of the first paradigm shifters of the decade.
Best Tech of the Decade: XBox
Gaming systems got a huge boost during the last decade, with Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all upping the ante on fun. The reason the XBox brand and its 360 model update get the nod over the Playstation 3 is for how it revolutionized online gaming with the advent of XBox Live in 2002. Never before had people been given a large, easily used forum in which to play games against obscene, foul-mouthed teenagers. The original Xbox, which was released in 2001, sold more than 24 million units during the first five years after its introduction.
Best Tech of the Decade: Flip Video
The Flip is cheap enough that kids can save up for it and easy enough to use that they can capture many of their idiotic antics. It makes a mockery of the $500 camcorder that captured childhood memories in the 1980s or 1990s. The device is small and light, with content easily uploadable to online video-sharing Websites, which is also revolutionary. The Flip has everything that makes video-making fun, while simultaneously making it incredibly easy to share. That, along with its ability to attach to helmets and bikes or to shoot underwater with accessories, makes the Flip land on our list of top-tech products for the last 10 years.
Best Tech of the Decade: BlackBerry
Phones that did oh-so-much more than making a call made their debut during the last decade, starting with the BlackBerry in 2002. By mid-decade, this series of smart phones from Canadian company Research in Motion had become known as “Crackberries,” and they’d become as indispensable in business as the briefcase used to be. With the ability to fax, email, and browse the Web on a phone–not to mention shoot pictures, play games, and use GPS to find out where that meeting is, the BlackBerry took the idea of the mobile office to whole new heights. Now, put that thing away and focus on your dinner.
Best Tech of the Decade: iPhone
In our future Tom’s Guide Tech Museum of the Past, the BlackBerry will have a cute display, while the iPhone will have an entire wing. When Apple launched its media player/Web browser/gaming console/GPS handheld, it dramatically ushered in the era of ubiquitous touch-screen computing. After changing the landscape of human-computer interaction, it won’t be remembered for the atrocious signal quality from AT&T or for even being a phone, but for another innovation that sparked a billion-dollar industry: mobile apps. Previously, apps were hard to install and generally hard to use. Now, with hundreds of new apps every week, the apps help us to make our iPhones more fun to use every day.
Best Tech of the Decade: Kindle
The bookstore has changed. Travelers need no longer preserve their novels’ final chapters for the plane ride home. The online superstore Amazon introduced its peculiar literary instrument in 2007, compacting the book and the bookstore into a single, grayscale device. The Kindle married an unlikely couple: literature and electronics. It will remain one of the few gadgets never to be criticized for turning our brains to mush. While people may debate whether reading on a Kindle is as good as reading on paper, one thing is certain: it isn’t going away any time soon.
Best Tech of the Decade: Wii Remote
All those arguments about video games turning children into overweight, lethargic automatons were met head on by Nintendo with the advent of the Wii, with an accelerometer-packed hand-held controller that could sense a boxing punch, tennis volley, or basketball shot the player mimicked. Even retirement homes got in on the action, setting up virtual bowling leagues to keep their residents active. With the Wii Fit, even more physical activity was added into the games. The only downsides? Easy ways to cheat out on the movement and still succeed at the game. Still, the Wii remote will be a memorable part of the decade for getting gamers off their butts–or at least making them flick their wrists.
Best Tech of the Decade: Garmin GPS
Many times, new technologies are judged by comparisons to what they replaced. Such is the case with e-book readers like the Nook or Kindle. But is there any vestigial remnant from the 20th century we’ll miss less than the fold-out car map? The first car navigation system was developed in the early 1980s, but it wasn’t until an executive order in 2000 eliminated the intentional margin of error the U.S. military had imposed for commercial use that the dashboard GPS became more accurate and widely available. Now you can drive around with voice directions from Homer Simpson, Gary Busey, or Kim Cattrall. And best of all, you never have to try to fold those maps again.
Best Tech of the Decade: TiVo
Pausing live TV seemed like a dream of science fiction until TiVo entered our lives in 2000. While the company shipped its first units in 1999, the tech behind digital video recorders will forever be part of the last decade. Introducing time-shifted television with a friendly menu and the ability to subscribe to favorite shows–or certain types of shows–TiVo became part of the national vernacular quickly. Channel flipping became an anachronism, as commercials could be skipped entirely–and the people rejoiced. Long live the digital video recording era!
Best Tech of the Decade: Facebook
The last decade will be remembered above all for bringing social networking to the next level. Sure, there were networks in the 1990s, but that was before every college student, then work colleague, then boss, and then parent joined a little site called Facebook. The full societal impact of Facebook is the subject of countless dissertations and only time will tell how Facebook really affects us, but the site takes the cake for getting people in jail, getting people out of jail, and getting us jobs and dates (and making us lose said jobs and dates), while also being a way to waste lots of time online.