In the 90s, the only way you moved files from computer to computer (short of emailing them) was putting them on a floppy, a Zip disk, or burning them to a CD. Then USB flash storage liberated us: Now ubiquitous, the "thumb drive" allowed fast, convenient transfer of large files from computer to computer. As they steadily dropped in price and increased in storage volume, the humble thumb drive paved the way for sexier Flash-based devices like the iPod Nano.
Runners up: broadband wireless router, PlayStation 2
Text by John Pavlus
|2001: The iPod
Needs no introduction: the device that singlehandedly turned the music business on its ear and started Apple's transformation from a niche computer maker into an industry-redefining media company.
Runner up: The original Microsoft Xbox
|2002: The Dyson DC07 Vacuum Cleaner
Call it the iPod of household appliances. Its inventor, James Dyson, solved a decades-long problem--the vacuum never loses suction--and its sleek gray and yellow design made the product line into museum-worthy fetish objects. (Seriously: they were in MoMA.)
Runner up: The Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner
|2003: The Mainstream DVR
TiVo had been around since 1999, but it seemed destined to remain an expensive toy for TV obsessives. Instead, Big Cable realized they could make their own DVRs and bundle them into their customers' set-top boxes. Poof: suddenly everyone was speeding past commercials and using "DVR" as a verb.
Runner up: BlackBerry 6210 smartphone
|2004: The Motorola RAZR Cell Phone
Before the RAZR, cell phones were clunky appendages worn by middle managers on their hips. Then, suddenly, they were a badge of cool--and have been ever since. The RAZR's superthin profile was exceedingly sexy, even though the phone itself was a call-dropping nightmare to use.
Runners up: Bose SoundDock; Logitech laser mouse
|2005: Personal GPS Navigation Devices
Once a luxury option for the Lexus set, turn-by-turn digital driving directions suddenly became a convenience for the masses, thanks to TomTom and Garmin, the top two makers of those little dashboard pods you see in every rental car and livery cab.
Runners up: bluetooth headsets; Guitar Hero
|2006: Intel-Powered Macbooks
By putting Intel chips inside their new notebook line, Apple dealt a deathblow to one of PC users' longest-standing canards against switching: "Well, it can't run [insert Windows application name here]." No more: With the sleek body of a Mac and the brains of a PC, the new Macbooks offered users the best of both worlds. (Not coincidentally, 2006 also saw the debut of Apple's PC-baiting "I'm a Mac" ad campaign.)
Runner up: Cheap or built-in Webcams from Logitech, Phillips, Microsoft, Apple, and others
|2007: Tie - the iPhone, the Wii, and the Flip camera
It's not often you see three game-changing devices debut in one year, but these plastic idols ignited buying crazes that turned the smartphone, game system, and camcorder markets on their heads. Each one utterly dominated its competitors and was what everyone wanted for Christmas.
Runners up: The $500 flat-screen HDTV, the original Kindle
Who would ever want to carry a laptop in their purse (or man-bag)? A lot of people--enough for a whole new computer market to spring into existence seemingly overnight. Starting with the ASUS Eee PC 700 (which didn't even come with Windows), these sub-$500 devices with minimal features were outselling "real" laptops on Amazon by year's end. After all, why lug a 5-pound, Photoshop-running behemoth around when all you want to do is answer email and surf the Web?
Runner up: Blu-Ray players
|2009: Explosion of e-readers
Yes, the Kindle came out in '07, but it was buggy and unattractive. This year was when digital-reading really gained momentum: Amazon released two much-improved Kindle models, the paperback-sized Kindle 2 and the oversized Kindle DX, while Sony and Barnes & Noble got into the game with their Reader and Nook devices, respectively. Meanwhile, the tech-bloggers trembled all year at (as yet unfulfilled) rumors of an Apple tablet .
Runners up: Android-powered smartphones from HTC and Motorola