Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative media, design, and consumer goods companies.
This year’s most innovative consumer electronics companies might not be the ones you expect. While major tech brands such as Apple and Samsung dutifully churned out new versions of their popular phones, earbuds, smartwatches, and computers, the largest leaps happened on a smaller scale—or, in some cases, helped clean up bigger companies’ messes.
Companies such as Back Market and the Swap Club, for instance, focused on reducing e-waste in consumer electronics by lowering the barriers to buying refurbished gear, while Framework reimagined the laptop with easy repairs and upgrades as core principles. Their efforts stand in contrast to tech companies that preach sustainability even as they oppose right-to-repair laws and aggressively market annual hardware upgrades.
Other innovative companies found new ways of adapting to our pandemic reality, whether through more seamless work-from-home solutions, as we saw from Logitech, with its Logi Dock work station, or in new ways to exercise, as seen in smart fitness startup Tonal’s live weight training classes.
And of course, some tech companies simply swung for the fences with big technological breakthroughs. Sila’s new battery chemistry, for instance, showed how future gadgets can pack more features into smaller spaces, while Syng delivered an entirely new kind of spatial audio on home speakers.
All of this came amid a chip shortage that presented major challenges for device makers, prompting many of them to delay their most anticipated products. In a tough year overall for consumer electronics, the latest technological advancements are all the more impressive. Here are the top 10 most innovative consumer electronics companies for 2022:
1. Back Market
For providing the retail backbone for electronics refurbishers
Back Market lets people buy renewed gadgets without giving up the benefits of buying new, working with refurbishers to ensure consistent levels of quality. This year it partnered with Asurion to offer extended warranty repairs—that’s on top of the 12-month warranty it provides already—and launched a mobile app with a built-in diagnostic tool, so users can make sure their refurbished gear is in top shape. Even more important: Back Market is building out the used-electronics ecosystem with tools and services for refurbishers, including component sourcing, training programs, quality control tests, and a centralized customer service program. Those efforts have reduced Back Market’s average product failure rate from 5% to 4% over the last six months—the failure rate for new electronics is around 3%—and it’s paid off for the company, whose customer base has grown from 5 million to 6 million since mid-2021.
Back Market is No. 18 on Fast Company’s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2022. Read more about how it has helped expand the market for refurbished electronics here.
For proving that a great laptop can also be easy to repair
At first glance, Framework’s laptop hardware looks as slick as any other $1,000 Dell or HP machine, with a crisp, bright display and smooth glass trackpad. The difference lies in how easily you can take the device apart. An included screwdriver lets you remove the keyboard and access the internal components underneath—each labeled with a QR code for looking up detailed repair instructions—and the magnetically attached display bezel pries apart for replacing the screen or webcam. The side ports are also replaceable, so modules for USB, HDMI, and the like can be mixed and matched. Alongside the laptop itself, Framework has built its own marketplace for replacement parts and hardware upgrades, with the long-term goal of letting both third-party vendors and users sell parts in a circular economy.
For taking a smart approach to weight training at home
In the race to build the Peloton for strength training, Tonal is making all the right moves. The $3,000 machine comes with a touch screen that mounts to the wall, flanked by a pair of electromagnetic pull cords that can adjust weight resistance in real time based on your performance. Last year, Tonal added live studio classes with real-time feedback from coaches, and it launched a research arm to further understand the benefits of strength training. It’s also brought on celebrities such as LeBron James and Maria Sharapova as investors and brand ambassadors, and it has partnered with Nordstrom to demo the machines in more than 40 stores.
4. Schneider Electric
For allowing homeowners to actively manage their energy use
Schneider is preparing itself for a future in which homeowners take energy management more seriously. Its Square D Energy Center is a smart breaker box that can manage charging ports, solar power, and backup generators, while also letting users monitor energy usage through an app. The system also integrates with smart outlets, switches, and plugs so users can see what’s using the most energy. Schneider is currently working with home builders such as KB Home to install its system in new houses, and plans to offer a retrofit system for existing homes later this year.
5. Sila Nanotechnologies
For powering a battery breakthrough in gadgets
For the last decade, a slew of scientists and startups have been promising new battery chemistry to replace lithium ion in electronics, but the difference with Sila is that its silicon-based anode material is actually shipping. Whoop’s fourth-generation fitness band is 33% smaller than the previous version thanks in part to Sila, which hopes to bring its material to smartwatches, phones, and other gadgets in the future. The result will be slicker devices, longer battery life, or just room to pack in other helpful features that would otherwise be cut for size.
6. The Swap Club
For extending the life of AirPods
Unlike Apple, which merely recycles your AirPods when you send them in for battery replacement, the Swap Club has figured out how to perform the delicate work of replacing the actual batteries through its Podswap service. First, the company sends you a refurbished pair, then you send back your existing pair, which Podswap refurbishes for the next customer in line. It’s cheaper than Apple’s own service and better for the environment. The company has also launched a Phoneswap service for trading your old iPhone for a newer refurbished model, and will soon expand its Podswap service to the AirPods Pro.
For uplifting gaming’s classics
In an industry famous for leaving its past behind, Analogue celebrates gaming history by building modern hardware to run old cartridges. The Analogue Pocket, released in December, is a handheld system that makes Game Boy classics look even better than you remember, and that’s just the beginning. Cartridge adapters and a developer program will expand the Pocket to even more forgotten gaming systems, and Analogue’s software will let you save “memories” of your favorite in-game moments.
For creating the ultimate WFH station
With both hardware and software, Logitech is helping people cope with the new reality of remote work. The Logi Dock, coming this spring, combines a stereo speaker, six noise-cancelling microphones, and a laptop docking station into a single $399 box, with switches for turning off your camera and mic. Meanwhile, Logitech’s Logi Tune companion app lets you fine-tune your camera and speakers, and integrates with your calendar for joining meetings with just a click.
For guiding swimmers through their workouts
Form’s two-year-old smart swim goggles are more than just a fancy way to count your laps. With the guided workouts that launched in 2021, you can now see your lap times and get live instructions on the goggles’ built-in display, so you’ll know when it’s time to pace yourself or pick up steam. Even an Apple Watch can’t do that.
For giving surround sound new layers
More than just creating an expensive and gorgeous-looking new speaker, Syng developed technology that lets you move sound around the room. With its Cell Alpha speaker adjust the audio sweet spot depending on where you’re sitting, make audio quieter in one specific part of the room, or have a consistent sound mix through the entire space. It’s expensive at $1,800 per speaker, but it may also be a sign of what’s to come as more companies get interested in spatial audio.