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The Most Important Screens of 2010: A Year-End Recap

The sort of low-tech innovation profiled in my piece earlier this week still helps drive innovation, and can make inventors and companies very, very rich. But a business is a business, and businesses need computers. The amount of screens popping up in our daily lives seems to be increasing exponentially. The sort of screens we use and buy affect the way we access information, consume entertainment, and most importantly, the way we do business.

Once and future king: The Apple iPad

In January, I profiled my picks for the Top 5 Most Important Screens of 2010. As the year comes to a close, I’d to look back on the screens and devices that have been genuine game-changers, as well as the ones that came dead on arrival.

The #5 Most Important Screen was the Google Nexus One, a pure Android phone with solid hardware sold exclusively by Google, exclusively online. With no contracts, no obligations, the phone was being sold unlocked and was supposed to revolutionize the way we think about buying phones.

It didn’t. The phone flopped with consumers and was relegated to the world of developers and Android geeks. This month’s Google Nexus-S revives the once-thought dead Nexus. Their sales model failed (this one is being sold through Best Buy, subsidized) but the phone is still great. With top of the line specs, the Nexus-S comes with the latest version of Android, without the bloatware, offering a pure Android experience that proprietary builds of the OS (Droid 2, Droid X, etc.) can’t offer.

#4 was the Amazon Kindle. Despite big competition from color e-readers and tablets like the Nook Color and the Apple iPad, the Kindle has become one of the most inexpensive, fully-functional e-readers on the market. And unlike its color counterparts, the Kindle’s e-Ink technology is easy on the eyes. Kindle apps for smartphones, iPads, and soon for browsers mean that, for now, the Kindle format has a good chance of winning the e-book format wars, independent of the Kindle hardware (buy a book for your Kindle, read it on any device). But with Google now entering the e-book market, that could change at any moment.

#3 was 3D Television. Type in “3D Te” into Google and one of the top search suggestions is “3D Television without glasses.” You know why? Because consumers watch television a lot more than TV, and while wearing a pair of clunky glasses for two hours is tolerable, putting them on every time you want to watch TV sounds like a chore. 3D Televisions haven’t been selling like hotcakes, but they haven’t totally flopped either. The upcoming Imax/Sony/Discovery 3D television channel is still adding titles to its slate, so a lot of people think there’s money to be made. But little headway was made this year. I’ve yet to meet anyone with a 3D TV. Have you? Like any technology, it’s ultimately up to consumers to decide if they want/or need it. And as far as the case for 3D TV is concerned, the jury is still out.

#2 was Cloud Computing, which, to be fair, isn’t really a screen. But at its heart, cloud computing makes what screen you’re looking at irrelevant. One of the big selling points Google is making for their new Chrome OS is that losing your laptop is no longer the end of the world. Just log onto a new one and all your data is there waiting for you. Companies are using cloud computing as a way to save money on servers and storage. Unlike 3D TV, it seems like cloud computing has made nothing but progress this year, and continues to infiltrate our daily lives. For instance- check an email on your phone or check it on your computer, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t exist on either device. It’s in the cloud. You don’t need to take your office with you, because data no longer needs to be tied down to one place.

The recent announcement of Chrome OS offers a promise that cloud computing can and will drastically change the way we think about computers, data, and the internet. I’ll say it right now- I expect cloud computing to come a long way in 2011, with more and more businesses switching over to the cloud, and more and more consumers giving up their external harddrives and harddisks in favor of a more portable, all-pervasive solution. It will be years before the personal PC as we know it is a thing of the past. But it won’t be as long as you think.

And the #1 Most Important Screen of 2010 was supposed to be the iPad. Like many tech enthusiasts, I patiently waited for tablet computers to catch on, and when the rumored Apple iSlate turned out to be the Apple iPad, running the iOS, many were disappointed. I know I was. I wanted a tablet that could do everything a computer could do, not a tablet that could do a little more than a phone could do. Don’t worry, I’ve got a whole long rant dedicated to this topic that I’ll be posting in early 2011. But my impatience and disappointment blinded me from an obvious fact: the iPad has injected interest into an area of the industry that has been foundering for over a decade.

No, tablet PCs can’t do much yet. But there is a market for them, and I owe that to the Apple iPad. Furthermore, when I made my decision, I had never held an iPad in my hands. Have you? My goodness gracious is it nice. For all the things it can’t do, it looks and feels like a classy, grade-A piece of machinery. And, as usual, the rest of the tech world is still trying to catch up. I am confident that they will, and that we’ll soon see some machines that run laps around the iPad in terms of function, if not form. No, the iPad won’t do much to help you run your business more efficiently, but it’s only a matter of time before it does.

The iPad introduced tablet PCs to a mass audience. It has kick-started innovation from dozens of companies, and has everyone scrambling to outdo Apple. So here it is iPad; I know you’ve been waiting for this:

I’m sorry.

The Apple iPad is now, and will forever be, THE MOST IMPORTANT SCREEN OF 2010. Congratulations.

Thanks for reading. I’ll see you next year.

Follow me on Twitter @thinkofthat and follow Why Didn’t I Think of That? at @whydidnti.

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