Mobile Tech That Stole the Decade

Ever-shrinking tech put electronic mobility at the leading edge of innovation.


Slide Show: Mobile Tech That Stole the Decade

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Flip (2007). A small Silicon Valley company called Pure Digital proved once again that upstarts often generate the most innovative tech. In this case, it was a camcorder that was not only small and inexpensive but incredibly simple to use. One red button started recording onto built-in memory, while a pop-out USB connector and software made it drop-dead simple to share clips across the Internet. All that, and the video looked surprisingly good. No zoom, no white-balance settings, and no external mike jack might seem limiting, if the simplicity weren't so freeing. 

iPhone (2007). Apple brought the polish and simplicity of the iPod and its Mac computers to the smartphone, a device that was groaning under the weight of its abilities. The iPhone runs a version of the software that had already made Macs the most satisfying computer to use. Apple further simplified its face and added sensors that gave the impression that the handset understood what the user wanted. The company later layered on its App Store that smoothly installs software for work and play. The combination of hardware, software, and store has drawn a flood of programmers who have generated more than 100,000 applications. Even now, despite growing competition from giants like Google and Nokia, there is no phone easier or more fun to use. 

Netbook (2007). A company better known for making computer components, Asus decided it could develop a tiny, cheap laptop for students in developing countries. Instead, the Taiwanese manufacturer couldn't produce enough of its Eee PC to meet the demand from smitten consumers in Europe and North America. The company soon expanded the 7-inch screen to a 9-inch model that was even more popular, and Asus and competitors seem to have found a lasting sweet spot with 10- and 11-inch versions. While bigger, the netbooks remain light and inexpensive. The idea is that mobile users mostly work through Web browsers and don't need more room and power. 

Kindle (2007). Online bookstore Amazon built its business on efficient shipping, but nothing beats the instant and wireless downloads into the Kindle reader. Oh, and they're cheaper, with many bestselling books discounted to $10. Or get today's papers and this week's magazines silently delivered, ready for consuming through the easy-to-read digital ink. It was that "whispernet," as Amazon calls it, that made the Kindle E-book reader such a standout from earlier competitors. A slew of new competitors are emerging, and the Kindle may not prove the dominant player against the likes of Sony and Barnes & Noble. But it finally made E-book readers fashionable, and successful.