The 15 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time

0
253
The 15 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time - Tech Per Day

Think of the gear you can’t live without: The smartphone you constantly check. The camera that goes with you on every vacation. The TV that serves as a portal to binge-watching and -gaming. Each owes its influence to one model that changed the course of technology for good.

It’s those devices we’re recognizing in this list of the 15 most influential gadgets of all time.

Some of these, like Sony’s Walkman, were the first of their kind. Others, such as the iPod, propelled an existing idea into the mainstream. Some were unsuccessful commercially, but influential nonetheless. And a few represent exciting but unproven new concepts (looking at you Oculus Rift).

Rather than rank technologies—writing, electricity, and so on—we chose to rank gadgets, the devices by with consumers let the future creep into their present. The list—which is ordered by influence—was assembled and deliberated on at (extreme) length by TIME’s technology and business editors, writers and reporters. What did we miss?

1. Google Glass

Most Influential Gadgets
The new Google Glass “Thin” prescription frames in “tangerine” color rests on a table at the Google Glass Basecamp space at Chelsea Market, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Google Glass, which cost $1,500 for those invited to a sort of public beta test, never took off. The relatively powerful head-mounted computer provided important signals for the future of wearable technology. Glass showed that designers working on computing devices that are worn face a different set of assumptions and challenges. Glass, for example, made it easy for users to surreptitiously record video, which led some restaurants, bars and movie theaters to ban the device. Glass also showed the potential pitfalls of easily identifiable wearables, perhaps best proven by the coining of the term “Glassholes” for its early adopters. While Glass was officially shelved in 2015, augmented reality—displaying computer-generated images over the real world—is a concept many companies are still trying to perfect. Google included.

2. Makerbot Replicator

Most Influential Gadgets
A Makerbot Industries LLC Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer is seen at the company’s new factory in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Thursday, June 7, 2013. The 50,000 square foot space employs over 100 people to meet the demand for the Makerbot Replicator 2 desktop 3D printer. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Makerbot Replicator was neither the first nor the best consumer-level 3-D printer. But it was the model that made the technology widely accessible for the first time, thanks to its sub-$2,000 price tag. The Replicator used inkjet printer-like technology to extrude hot plastic that took three-dimensional form as artwork, mechanical parts and more. As a company, Makerbot’s future is uncertain. But the firm’s equipment helped bring 3-D printing into the mainstream and is a fixture of many American classrooms.

3. Yamaha Clavinova Digital Piano

Most Influential Gadgets

You could argue the Minimoog did far more for music tech, or that the Fairlight was cooler, but visit average U.S. households from the 1980s forward and you’re most likely to encounter the Clavinova. Yamaha’s popular digital piano married the look and compactness of a spinet (a smaller, shorter upright piano) with the modern qualities of a modest synthesizer. With a plausibly pianistic weighted action and space-saving footprint, it’s become a staple for parents looking to bring maintenance-free musicality—you never have to tune it—into households, all without sacrificing huge swathes of living space.

4. DJI Phantom

Most Influential Gadgets
DJI Phantom 3 Professional, a drone manufactured by SZ DJI Technology Co., flies during a demonstration at the CP+ Camera and Photo Imaging Show in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. The annual camera show in Yokohama runs through Feb. 28. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Small drones may soon be delivering our packages, recording our family get-togethers and helping first responders find people trapped in a disaster. For now, they’re largely playthings for hobbyists and videographers. Chinese firm DJI makes the world’s most popular, the Phantom lineup. Its latest iteration, the Phantom 4, uses so-called computer vision to see and avoid obstacles without human intervention. That makes it easier for rookie pilots to fly one, making drones more accessible than ever.

5. Raspberry Pi

Most Influential Gadgets
A Raspberry Pi 1 Model A single-board computer, taken on March 31, 2016. (Photo by Olly Curtis/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

The Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer with a price tag to match its tiny size: about $35, without a monitor, mouse or keyboard. Not meant to replace everyday computers, the Pi is being used in classrooms worldwide to help students learn programming skills. With eight million Pi’s sold as of last year, the odds are decent that the next Mark Zuckerberg will have gotten his or her start tinkering with one.

6. Osborne 1

Most Influential Gadgets
UNITED STATES – OCTOBER 09: Made by Osborne Computer Corporation, USA. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

When you think of a portable computer, the Osborne 1 is probably not what comes to mind. But this unwieldy 25-pound machine was heralded by technology critics at the time of its 1981 release—BYTE magazine celebrated that it “fit under an airline seat.” The Osborne’s limitations, like a screen about the size of a modern iPhone’s, kept sales low. The machine’s true influence wasn’t on future gadgets, so much as how they are marketed. The company’s executives had an unfortunate knack for prematurely announcing new products, leading would-be customers to hold off for the better version and thus depressing sales. Marketing students now learn to avoid this deleterious “the Osborne effect.”

7. Oculus Rift

Most Influential Gadgets
This image released by Oculus shows the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. (Oculus via AP)

2016’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset could wind up a total flop and we’d still grant Oculus a special place in computing history. And not just because Facebook paid $2 billion for the device’s parent company foreseeing a future of social interaction and virtual vacationing provided by VR. Whatever happens next, the Rift, along with ebullient creator Palmer Luckey, will be remembered for reinvigorating the notion of strapping awkward-looking things to our faces in trade for the privilege of visiting persuasively real imaginary places.

8. Motorola Dynatac 8000x

Most Influential Gadgets
UNITED STATES – JULY 31: A 1984 Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, the world’s first commercially available portable cellular phone.(Photo by Tim Boyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Motorola’s Dynatac 8000x was the first truly portable cellphone when it launched in 1984. Marty Cooper, an engineer with Motorola at the time, first demonstrated the technology by making what’s regarded as the first public cellular phone call from a New York City sidewalk in 1973. (It was both a PR stunt and an epic humblebrag: Cooper called his biggest rival at AT&T.) The Dynatac 8000x weighed nearly two pounds and cost almost $4,000.

9. Nokia 3210

Most Influential Gadgets
(GERMANY OUT) Das Mobiltelefon “3210” von Nokia. . (Photo by Heuser/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

For many, Nokia’s colorful candy bar-shaped 3210 defined the cell phone after it was released in 1999. With more than 160 million sold, it became a bestseller for the Finnish company. The 3210 did more than just introduce the cellphone to new audiences. It also established a few important precedents. The 3210 is regarded to be the first phone with an internal antenna and the first to come with games like Snake preloaded. Gadget reviewers even praised the phone more than 10 years after its launch for its long battery life and clear reception.

10 Sony PlayStation

Most Influential Gadgets
Portrait of a Sony PlayStation video game console photographed on a white background, taken on August 2, 2013. (Photo by Jesse Wild/Edge Magazine via Getty Images)

You’d be hard pressed to name a single PlayStation feature that by itself transformed the games industry. It’s been Sony’s obsession with compacting high-end tech into sleek, affordable boxes, then making all that power readily accessible to developers, that’s made the PlayStation family an enduring icon of the living room. Part of Sony’s triumph was simply reading the demographic tea leaves: The company marketed the PlayStation as a game system for grownups to the kids who’d literally grown up playing Atari and Nintendo games. And that helped drive the original system, released in 1994, to meteoric sales, including the PlayStation 2’s Guinness record for bestselling console of all time—a record even Nintendo’s Wii hasn’t come close to breaking.

11. Polaroid Camera

Most Influential Gadgets
Polaroid camera with photographic print ejected from paper slot, close up

Millennials get plenty of flak over their penchant for instant gratification. But that’s a desire that crosses generations. Need proof? When the first affordable, easy-to-use instant shooter, the Polaroid OneStep Land camera, hit the market in 1977, it quickly became the country’s best-selling camera, 40 years before “Millennials” were a thing. That Polaroid photographs so dominated 80s-era family albums and pop culture gives the square-framed, often off-color snaps a retro appeal that today is celebrated by enthusiasts and aped by billion-dollar apps like Instagram.

12. Commodore 64

Most Influential Gadgets
UNITED KINGDOM – NOVEMBER 15: This home computer, made by Commodore Business Machines (UK) Ltd, was very popular during the 1980s. Primarily built as a machine for playing computer games, over 17 million were sold worldwide between 1982 and 1993. The Commodore 64 has 64k memory (RAM), a MOS 6510 processor and a BASIC operating system. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

Commodore’s 8-bit brown and taupe lo-fi 1982 masterpiece ranks with record-keeper Guinness as the best-selling single computer in history. No surprise, as the chunky, relatively affordable keyboard-housed system—users plugged the whole thing into a TV with an RF box—did more to popularize the idea of the personal home computer than any device since. And it promised to make you more popular, too: “My friends are knockin’ down my door, to get into my Commodore 64,” sang a Ronnie James Dio clone in a power-metal ad spot.

13. Apple iPad

Most Influential Gadgets
A 3d render (illustration) of an Apple iPad 2 tablet on a white background, November 9, 2011. (Image by Dan Pearce/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

The iPad’s 2010 launch spurred a slew of headlines questioning whether or not the tablet would replace the laptop as the most important personal computer. Apple’s iPad wasn’t the first tablet, but it was radically different from what came before. Earlier devices, like the GriDPad and Palm Pilot, had smaller touchscreens users had to operate with a stylus. Microsoft unveiled a tablet that ran Windows XP in 2002. The problem, however, was that these devices didn’t have interfaces that were well-suited for touch, and they were often clunkier and larger than the iPad. Apple sold 300,000 iPads on its first day in stores, roughly matching the iPhone’s day-one numbers, and has gone on to dominate the market

14. IBM Selectric Typewriter

Most Influential Gadgets
IBM Selectric II Typewriter by American designer Eliot Fette Noyes (manufactured by the IBM Corporation), 1971. Gift of Lee and Dorothy Alig. (Photo by Indianapolis Museum of Art/Getty Images)

Turning the plodding, jam-prone mechanical typewriter into a rapid-fire bolt of workplace ingenuity, this Mad Men-era machine worked at the “speed of thought” and marked the beginning of the computer age. The 1961 Selectric model began by introducing changeable typefaces through the typewriter’s iconic, interchangeable, golf-ball-shaped print head. Then in 1964, a magnetic tape model gave the typewriter the ability to store data, arguably making it the world’s first word processor. So in 1965, when the IBM System/360 mainframe rolled out, it only made sense that the Selectric’s keyboard served as the computer’s primary input device.

15. Nintendo Game Boy

Most Influential Gadgets
JAPAN – OCTOBER 03: Hand-held games console with ‘Tetris’ game cartridge, made by Nintendo, Japan. The Nintendo ?Game Boy? was based on the Z80 microprocessor used in Sinclair?s popular ZX80 , ZX81 and Spectrum home computers. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

It’s a wonder we didn’t destroy our eyes gaming on the Game Boy’s tiny 2.6-inch olive green screen, considering how many Nintendo sold (over 200 million when you include the souped-up subsequent Game Boy Advance.) A chunky, somewhat dismal looking off-white object with garish cerise-colored buttons, Nintendo’s 1989 handheld invented the modern mobile game. Its modest power and anemic screen forced developers to distill the essence of genres carried over from consoles. The result: A paradigm shift in mobile game design that’s influenced everything from competing devoted handhelds to Apple’s iPhone.

Read: Top 10 Headphones Brands In The World 2021

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here