Top 10 Consumer Electronics
01 - Apple
For keeping the bar high. Its flagship products, the iPhone and iPad, keep improving—and customers keep buying. Apple sold a whopping 37 million iPhones and 15 million iPads in the company’s first quarter of 2012 (coinciding with 2011’s holiday season). Even rumors of future Apple products, such as the much-buzzed-about iTV, are more interesting than most of its rivals wares. READ MORE
02 - Jawbone
For enhancing the mobile lifestyle with beautiful devices. "The iPhone isn’t just a phone with an iPod," says Travis Bogard, Jawbone’s director of product management and strategy. "It’s a rotation of how we’re living with devices. Jawbone combines connectivity with the aesthetics of design." Its Jambox wireless speakers captivate both visually and aurally. Up captivated in its debut (until it went back to the lab for a bit of retooling) and has sparked competition from the likes of Nike, which once said it would never again make consumer electronics. READ MORE
03 - Lytro
For refocusing the photo-taking experience. The camera that’s shoot first, focus later intrigued shutterbugs with its fresh approach to the entire process of taking a photograph. Its distinctive design—its shell resembles a kaleidoscope more than a traditional camera—only enhances the different emotional cues Lytro evokes. It racked up a passel of nods for one of the year’s best gadgets, and it only went on presale back in October. Devices will ship to customers this spring.
04 - Nest
For bringing iPod style and smarts to the home thermostat. Created by one-time iPod champion Tony Fadell, Nest offers Apple-like simplicity, controls, and intelligence to one of the most overlooked pieces of electronics equipment in the home. Its under-the-cover software helps manage your home’s climate by learning your preferred settings so your programmable thermostat effectively programs itself. Nest struck a chord with consumers, selling out its first run almost immediately. It has also attracted unwelcome attention from the thermostat business’ dominant player Honeywell, which is suing Nest for patent infringement.
05 - Samsung
For revving up aesthetics with BMW’s former design chief. Samsung’s hire of Chris Bangle reflects that Samsung, embroiled in a myriad of patent fights with Apple, realizes that it needs to improve both its visual appeal as well as wow-factor usability. The company, of course, continues to sell in impressive volume, shipping 300 million handsets, for example, in 2011.
06 - Amazon
For creating a virtuous cycle of commerce interwoven into its technology. The Kindle Fire is the purest expression of tablet as consumption engine. It deftly uses free TV shows and movies to drive Prime memberships that in turn fuel greater retail sales. It also invented a market for 10,000-25,000 word stories that didn’t previously exist with its Singles program. The Fire also represents the purest expression of Amazon’s vision: For customers to acquire or consume any content, physical or digital, in as seamless a fashion as possible. In that, the Fire is undeniably a triumph of instant or almost instant gratification. READ MORE
07 - Fitbit
For moving its users to get healthy. The nifty little clip helped pioneer the now booming fitness accessory, both in its functionality of tracking user’s steps, sleep, and giving them the tools to self-report their diet and in its slick, unobtrusive design. "For hardware to succeed, it has to disappear into user’s lifestyle," says CEO and cofounder James Park. Users have taken more than 80 billion steps since Fitbit’s launch, he says, enough to go from Earth almost to Mars. The device is now in 3,000 retail outlets, including REI and Brookstone, and Fitbit is attracting corporate customers as well. Companies such as AutoDesk are now deploying Fitbit in the hopes of inspiring greater activity and preventing expensive health problems.
08 - Sifteo
For reinventing digital play by making it tactile. The idea animating Sifteo Cubes, which are electronic tiles, is to merge the inherently social aspect of board games with all of the advantages of digital ones. (It’s no surprise that this unique take on game play is an offshoot of the MIT Media Lab.) The tiles have motion sensors so they can interact with each other, lending the platform naturally to an array of puzzles and brainteasers that can help people sharpen their skills with spatial reasoning and logic. Sifteo, which went on sale last September, has already been featured in MoMA thanks to its eye-catching design, and it’s growing its roster of titles for the new platform with its own game studio. "Play is a pretty noble goal," says CEO David Merrill.
09 - Lark
For turning over sophisticated sleep science into an appcessory. "Sleep is the secret weapon for life," says Lark CEO and founder Julia Hu. "You can improve what matters most to you in life—mood, performance, health, happiness, diet—through sleep." Of course, users can just use it as a wearable alarm that has the benefit of not being as jarring as a harsh buzzer and is less likely to wake up a partner. That’s what first inspired Hu, and her Bluetooth wireless sleep sensor (and accompanying iPhone app) launched last June with a big, enthusiastic push from Apple, which stocked it in its Apple Stores and even helped Lark expand into Europe because it wanted to sell it there.
10 - Cue Acoustics
For reviving made-in-America audio technology. This maker of simple, easy-to-use, and great sounding audio components follows in the Massachusetts tradition of such firms as Bose and Tivoli Audio. "No one was carrying this torch," says Sam Millen, founder and industrial designer. The company builds its products in Somerville, Massachusetts, sourcing parts domestically. Last year, it added wireless speakers to its tabletop radio products, all of which harken back to the golden age of audio entertainment but with a decidedly modern spin.