9. Apple iTunes (2003)
Yes, the iPod was and is a groovy little gadget, and so are the iPhone and the iPad. But without the music store, the iPod was just another gizmo for playing CDs you'd ripped and tunes you'd illegally downloaded (you know who you are).
Without the video store, we might still be waiting for Hollywood to release its death grip on content. And without the App store, the iPhone would just be, well, a phone, and the iPad might not even exist.
Little wonder that more than 10 billion songs, 375 million TV shows, and 3 billion apps have been downloaded since the iTunes Store opened its doors in April 2003. Giving people an easy way to buy content makes them--duh--want to buy content. It's something that entertainment industry execs apparently needed Steve Jobs to figure out for them.
10. Wordpress (2004)
Web blogs have completely rewritten the rules of media. Pick any topic and you'll find dozens, and possibly thousands, of blogs discussing it in mind-numbing detail. Now anyone can be a journalist and everyone's an expert (at least in their own minds).
According to a July 2008 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, one out of three Netizens reads blogs on a regular basis. They've become an essential part of any savvy company's media campaigns. Companies like Google and Facebook use their official blogs to make major product announcements, while companies like Apple find themselves scooped by distinctly unofficial blogs. And for better or worse, blogs often drive the 24/7 news cycle. We have met the media, and it is us.
11. Capacitive Touchscreens (2006)
What made the iPhone different? It wasn't the groovy geek in the black turtleneck; it was that magical capacitive touch screen, which uses your body's own electrical properties to sense the location of your finger.
Patented in 1999 by Dr. Andrew Hsu of Synaptics, capacitive screens made their cell-phone debut on the LG Prada in 2006. But the iPhone catapulted the technology into the mainstream, leading to a new generation of apps that let you tap, swipe, stroke, and pinch your way to handset Nirvana.
"Apple didn't invent the capacitive touchscreen, but it was the implementation of the technology in the original iPhone that completely altered the face of the smartphone market," notes Ben Lang, senior editor of CarryPad, a Website focused on mobile Internet devices. "Apple realized that with touch input consistent enough for mainstream use and an intelligent soft keyboard, it could dedicate nearly the entire front of the phone to a screen. A 'soft' keyboard' can be removed when it isn't necessary, and make room for a rich and intuitive user interface."
Now, of course, we expect every cool new mobile device to have this functionality. The multitouch screen made smart phones and their larger cousins like the iPad the "it" devices for the new millennium--no turtleneck required.
12. The Cloud (2010)
Vaporous? Possibly. Overhyped, most definitely. Still, the always-accessible Internet will change the game more than any of these other technologies combined. Why? Because the cloud will essentially turn the Net into a utility--just flip a switch or turn a spigot and it's ready to use, says Peter Chang, CEO of Oxygen Cloud, a cloud-based collaboration and data storage vendor.
"Just as we use utilities like water and electricity instead of wells and generators, we leverage the utility of the cloud to store, access, and replicate data--whether it's Flickr photos, YouTube videos, Facebook, Salesforce, Google Docs, or online games," says Chang. "Cloud storage liberates users from the the confines of attached storage and empowers them to take their data anywhere."
The Net began with a satellite shot into low-earth orbit. Now its future lies in the cloud. There's something innately satisfying about that.
Contributing Editor Dan Tynan often has his head in the clouds, which may be why he keeps bumping into things. Catch his unique brand of juvenile humor at eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech.
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