Looking back on this year's most anticipated tech products, disappointment is a common theme. Android tablets were sales duds. HP, the world's biggest PC maker, temporarily had the bad idea to stop making PCs. The Nintendo 3DS was such a failure at launch that Nintendo had to slash prices. And for months, we've heard talk of a bubble in Silicon Valley, fueled by well-funded failures such as Color. But among the flops, some companies managed to find success this year.
The very definition of a winner, IBM's Watson supercomputer mopped the floor with human Jeopardy phenoms Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a three-day challenge. Watson consists of 2800 processor cores across ten server racks, stored in their own room cooled by a pair of large refrigeration units, all geared to answer Alex Trebek's questions faster than the human brain can. Imagine the day when all of that knowledge will be available on your phone.
Microsoft's Kinect, a camera for the Xbox 360 game console that detects 3D motion, launched in fall 2010. However, in 2011 the Kinect hit 10 million sales, making it the fastest-selling electronics device, according to Guinness. Excitement about the Kinect has helped the Xbox 360 outsell its competition in North America every month so far this year, according to The NPD Group.
With the thinner, lighter, and faster iPad 2, Apple sent its competitors into panic mode, since most of them were still working on their first-generation tablets modeled after the original iPad. While those rivals floundered, Apple just kept proving that tablets are not a fad, racking up 40 million iPad sales as of October 2011.
In an age where smartphones threaten the viability of stand-alone digital cameras, Lytro has sparked interest by promising to revolutionize photography. The so-called light-field camera is a long, rectangular device that can refocus an image even after you take the picture, so you can snap photos and worry about the finer details later. Although Lytro's camera won't be available until next year, it deserves praise now for drumming up excitement in an often nonbuzzworthy category of consumer technology.
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