With CES getting underway, the Google announcement and a supposed Apple announcement at the end of the month, January is turning into a banner month for tech. This is also the time of year when many people look back at the past year and discuss the ‘product of the year’ and other such stuff. Since it is also 2010, many of those same people are looking back at the past decade (and, no, I’m not going to argue that the decade is not yet over, most people feel that 2010 is the start of the next decade, so be it.) While I am not overly qualified to judge the technology of the decade, I contend most who do that are also not really all that qualified either. So, that in mind, I’m going to give my opinion on the technology of the decade.
Lots of technologies were either developed or exploited in the ‘00’s. Cable television grew up, cell phones got smarter, home entertainment underwent another revolution, video games grew bigger than Hollywood and the world went XP, Windows XP. Some things were true game changers, like the iPod and the iPhone. Others that were supposed to be game changers went no where, like home DVD recording and Linux on the desktop. The list of failed technology, unfortunately, is much bigger than the successful technologies.
Some pre-00’s tech died, such as the video cassette recorder, the pager, floppy disks, dial up Internet service, the PDA, cassette tape and the film camera. We lost another Space Shuttle and, as a result, the whole fleet is to be retired and for a period of a few years, the United States will be without human space flight. We will have to hitch rides on the Russian Soyuz craft. There’s nothing wrong with working with our Russian friends, but it is a travesty that this nation will be without its own launch capability. Conversely, private space travel is on the verge of becoming a reality with Virgin Galactic. The VSS Enterprise was recently revealed and will be able to carry six people into what barely qualifies as space. Still, it is a first step. Other fantastic, nearly science fiction like, realities that happened in the last decade include mapping the human genome, a remarkable and, frankly, stunning, feat.
The personal computer, a reality since the very late 1960’s, really came into it’s own in the double-oh’s. Households had not one, but two, three and more computers. Power went up and price came down. High speed Internet exploded. The Internet became a necessity for more than a few people. Digital music downloads surpassed the physical medium for the first time. Cell phones became tiny handheld computers. Spurred on by the Apple iPhone, smartphones got much smarter. So much so, in fact, that some people felt they had enough power that they could use them AS a desktop computer. Indeed, smartphones helped the adoption of the so called ‘netbook’, a market that has exploded in the last three years. Without the smartphone proving that you can, in fact, have much of the same capability of a desktop computer in a much smaller package, I don’t think the netbook would have been all that popular. Low pricing helped, but the diminutive size of the iPhone, Palm Pre, Android based phones and other smartphones helped to proved that a tiny, barely usable computer could, in fact, be useful.
So, with all of the wonders of the double-oh’s, what was the technology of the decade? Well, in my most humble opinion, there is a tie. Windows XP and the smartphone. Let me explain why.
Released in 2001, Windows XP is the successor to the old DOS-based Windows 9x releases as well as the NT based releases. XP married the business oriented Windows NT line to the consumer based Windows 9x line. Initially, sales were low and people derided the release for the activation process, the perceived high machine requirements and the glaring security holes that plagued the initial release. It wasn’t until service pack 2 came out that XP became a stable and reliable platform. XP, however, flaws and all, managed to get onto nearly every non-Apple computer that was sold. Embedded XP went into many, many devices like ATM’s, scoreboards, public information systems and even some smartphones. XP, as of this writing, is still on over 66% of non-Apple PC’s. That is amazing for an operating system that was first released in 2001, nine years ago. It still sells too. Microsoft has moved the end of life date more times than Carl Sagan said ‘Billions and Billions’. When Vista came out, XP suddenly became the most secure and stable operating system EVER. Well, at least according to those who didn’t want Vista. Even now, with the release of Windows Seven, there are still people who just don’t want to change. XP is just fine for them, thank you very much. The only other time you will see such devotion to a PRODUCT, is if you go to a Macworld or any Apple hosted ‘event’. Windows XP, even at the ripe old age of nine, is still a modern operating system and is the face of computing to many, many people who had never or rarely used a computer. It literally changed people’s lives. It got them the Internet, email and the ability to be productive in their underwear. XP is far from perfect and, personally, I’d like to see it go away, but there is not denying it’s impact.
The smartphone has pushed personal computing and communication further than, perhaps, anything else. Cell phones started the double-oh’s by adding features like cameras, video recording and Internet access. Over time, they swallowed up the PDA market and incorporated them into the phone and the smartphone was born. Well, actually, smartphones have been around since the very late 1980’s when the Simon was released by BellSouth. However, when Palm bought Handspring and released a revamped Treo, the smartphone came into it’s own. Research in Motion helped things by releasing ever smarter Blackberries and Microsoft beefed up its flailing Windows Mobile operating system. It took Apple, however, to make the market truly explode. The iPhone was released in 2007 and was a smashing success. It forced the other manufacturers to step up their game. And they did. Palm, who had stumbled, released the Pre. Motorola, another company that stumbled badly, released the Cliq and the Droid, based on Google’s Android operating system. A slew of iPhone look alikes and other similar phones were released in the three years since iPhone’s introduction. Smartphones are everywhere now. And they are getting smarter. The newest phones sport 1ghz processors, gigabytes of memory, touch screens, high speed wireless internet, WiFi and nice cameras. Smartphones and so-called feature phones (phones that are not quite smartphones, but pack many of the same features) are so common now that it is odd to see someone with a plain old cell phone. This personal device has changed the way people interact and do business. Executives use them, often, in leiu of a computer. They want the full Internet on these things. They want mail, instant messaging and to be able to see reports. It has freed them and others from the desk. The impact has been tremendous.
So, there you go. My picks for technology of the decade. The MP3 player, the iPod specifically, is a close third. iPod and iTunes changed the entire music industry. iTunes is the number one seller of music on the planet. The question of ‘is it going to come out on iTunes’ has been replaced by ‘is it going to be released on CD?’ Pretty remarkable and I almost picked it over Windows XP. It was close, but I think that XP has had a much larger impact than the MP3 player and iTunes.
What do you think? Am I off base? If so, why? What would you pick?