2008’s most intriguing, fun, and brave technologies

Column: Tom Regan rolls through the year’s clever devices and creative decisions

By , Columnist for The Christian Science Monitor

It’s hard for one guy to declare the “best of” anything. So here’s a list that feels more natural to me: the most intriguing devices or fascinating tech developments in 2008. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section below.

Coolest device: Apple iPhone 3G
Slick, elegant, and easy to use, you could argue that you don’t need a laptop if you have one. You can very easily browse the Web, listen to music, make a phone call, play a game, and figure out where you are and how to get where you’re going. When you’ve done all of that, Apple’s App Store offers thousands of other things that you can do on the phone. But the best thing about the iPhone 3G is that it gets it right: the feel, the look, the way it works. Which, it has to be said, is something that Apple does better than anyone else. I can’t say the same about the BlackBerry Storm, surely the year’s biggest tech disappointment. That smart phone feels as if it was designed by a committee that was not sure why they were all together.

Best use of an existing technology: The Obama campaign
This is not a political endorsement, merely an acknowledgement of Obama’s brilliant use of technology that has been around for years. By using text messaging and e-mail to reach out and repeatedly touch potential voters – especially young ones – the Obama campaign not only brought millions of new voters into the American political system, but also raised a ton of money at the same time.

Recommended: Innovation

Most exciting new development: (Tie) Google’s Chrome browser and the T-Mobile G1
When it comes to Web browsers, I’m a Firefox acolyte. I wouldn’t use Internet Explorer if you promised to pay my mortgage for a year. But as much as I like Firefox, I’m convinced that Google’s Chrome browser will be the best one available in 2009. Sadly, it’s only available for Windows. But we PC users seldom get to use something better than you can find on a Mac. So it’s nice to feel a bit ahead – at least for a while.

Meanwhile, the iPhone needs to keep a wary eye on the T-Mobile G1 for one good reason – Android, the open-source system that makes it work. The iPhone is very cool, but Apple has been notoriously proprietary about nearly everything concerning the device. Android threatens to tear down the walls that phonemakers have built and create an iPhone-like experience that’s open to everyone.

The 800-pound gorilla: Twitter
Do you Twitter? Doesn’t everyone? Or at least it seemed as if everyone was twittering in 2008. The social networking application that didn’t even exist before 2006 took off like a lightening bolt in 2008. One reason for the surge was that people realized that you could do more with Twitter than tell people what you were eating for dinner or that you were bathing your cat. News organizations, for instance, now use it as a reporting tool. During the presidential campaign, several well-known political reporters/bloggers would regularly send updates to readers via Twitter. A few times I’ve read that Twittering might even replace blogging itself one day. I think it could. I know that I blog far less and Twitter far more these days.

Most fun device – Flip video camcorder
Point. Shoot. Edit. Burn. Or post on YouTube. The pocket-size Flip video camera (along with the Kodak Zi6 camcorder) means that anyone – your grandmother, your 6-year-old cousin, your flaky uncle who still can’t figure out how to use the remote – can now shoot video. Then, thanks to the USB connector on the side, you just plug it into your computer, edit it with the camera’s built-in software, and then make a copy for the world to see.
If you thought there was a lot of video already available online, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Bravest tech act – The Christian Science Monitor’s decision to go primarily online.
Yes, I know. I’m a columnist for the Monitor, and it’s a bit like patting yourself on the back, yada, yada, yada. But as a nonstaff writer who has worked in online media for 16 years now, I’ve seen any number of media organizations consider making this bold move but then back away. While some smaller papers have made the decision to move to online already, the Monitor is the first national media company to do so. It is where print and broadcast media are headed, even if most people are reluctant to admit it. But someone has to be first. Kudos to the Monitor for making the leap.

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