5. Cheap Storage + Portable Memory
In 2005, Toshiba introduced the first 1.8-inch 40GB drive using perpendicular magnetic recording, which stacks magnetic charges on the disk's surface vertically instead of horizontally. Since then, density rates for hard-drive platters have increased 40 percent annually. Last October, Western Digital introduced a perpendicular drive capable of storing 520GB per square inch, enabling multiplatter hard drives 3 terabytes in size.
As densities have risen, the costs have dropped to between 30 and 40 cents per gigabyte--cheap enough that companies such as Google and Yahoo can give storage away, enabling free Webmail, online photo and video sharing, and other cloud-computing services.
At the same time, improvements in flash memory allow people to carry vast amounts of music and video on iPods and cell phones, freeing everyone from the bonds of their TVs and stereos, and gradually turning wireless telecoms into broadband entertainment providers.
Meanwhile, a promising new nanotechnology called programmable metallization cell (PMC) could produce drives that are a thousand times more efficient than flash at a tenth of the cost, says Michael Kozicki, director of Arizona State University's Center for Applied Nanoionics, where the technology was created.
"A thumb drive using our memory could store a terabyte of information," Kozicki told Wired News. "All the current limitations in portable electronic storage could go away. You could record video of every event in your life and store it."
Disruption: Where would we be today without cheap, capacious, portable storage? No iPods. No YouTube. No Gmail. No cloud computing.