21st century technology inventions
Tech MAG

[dropcap] F [/dropcap] rom the Apple iPod to Google driverless cars, Sophie Curtis runs down the technologies that have transformed our world since the start of the 21st .

Apple iPod (2001)

Portable MP3 players had been around for many years before Apple launched its version in 2001, but the iPod – together with Apple’s iTunes software – was the technology that really transformed the way people listened to music. The device’s large internal storage capacity meant it was no longer necessary to carry around CDs or cassette tapes, and the sleek design made it a desirable item to own.

Mozilla Firefox (2002)

Firefox was the first web browser to challenge the dominance of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, after Netscape Navigator was killed off in the ‘First browser war’. It was free and open-source, so it appealed to Windows users who did not want to be locked into Microsoft’s software ecosystem. However, it has since been left in the dust by Google’s Chrome browser.

Skype (2003)

Skype has transformed the way people in different countries communicate. It used to cost an arm and a leg to call family or friends abroad, but Skype made it possible to speak to them – and even video chat – for free over WiFi. Initially Skype was only available as a desktop client, but over time it has launched on mobile, and many people now use it to talk loved ones and colleagues at home as well.

Facebook (2004)

Facebook was not the first social network – it built on the success of earlier sites like MySpace and Bebo. However, it quickly overtook its predecessors thanks to its simplicity, ease of use and exclusivity, (users initially had to have a registered university email address to become a member). Today the website connects over 1.3 billion people worldwide, with users from a vast array of backgrounds, nationalities and ages.

YouTube (2005)

Created by three former PayPal employees in 2005, YouTube has grown to become the world’s most popular video-sharing website. Key to its success is the ability for anyone from anywhere in the world to broadcast themselves for free. As a result, YouTube is a melting pot of news events, political messages, music clips, hilarious blunders, adverts and cat videos.

Nintendo Wii (2006)

Amid fierce rivalry in the game console industry between Sony’s Playstation and Microsoft’s Xbox during the early 2000s, Nintendo went off-piste and created a console that allowed gamers to get physically involved in the virtual games they were playing. The Wii controller detects movement in three dimensions, and can be used as a fitness device. It went on to inspire a number of other motion controllers including Microsoft’s Kinect.

Apple iPhone (2007)

Apple’s iPhone was the first touchscreen smartphone to gain mass-market adoption. Part of the reason for its appeal was the fact that it could be controlled using a finger rather than requiring a stylus. The iPhone went on to spawn an entire industry, with electronics manufacturers all over the world developing their own versions of the device. Apple has now sold over 700 million iPhones globally. It is set to break its own sales records with its new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

BBC iPlayer (2007)

The BBC’s internet TV service, iPlayer, arrived at a time when streaming full-length films and TV programmes was still a fairly niche hobby, but it kickstarted the trend in the UK at least allowing users to catch up on TV shows at their convenience. ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 all now offer their own on-demand services, and video streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video have leapt in popularity over the past few years.

Amazon Kindle (2007)

The Kindle was not the first e-reader on the market, nor the most elegant when it launched in 2007, but Amazon ended up stomping all over its main rival Sony by offering the device cheaply, and providing seamless integration with its online ebook store. Amazon now controls around 80 per cent of the ebook market in the UK, and Sony ended up pulling out of the e-reader market altogether earlier this year.

Google Android (2008)

Following the ecstatic response to Apple’s iPhone in 2007, other mobile phone manufacturers were desperate to get in on the action, but they needed an operating system that could compete with iOS. Android was originally created as an open source OS for cameras, but was bought by Google in 2005 and launched as a mobile OS in 2008. It is now the primary operating system for Samsung, Sony, LG and HTC phones, among others, and boasts over 80 per cent marketshare worldwide. It has also spawned a new wave of cheaper smartphone companies, such as Xiaomi and Micromax, in China and India.

Spotify (2008)

Music streaming service Spotify arrived at a time when music piracy was at its height, offering a free and legal alternative. Users could choose whether to stream music for free with intermittent adverts, or pay a subscription for ad-free music streaming. The number of subscribers surged following the release of the Spotify mobile service, which allowed users to stream music on the go. It now has 75 million users with 20 million subscribers.

4G (2008)

In 2008, the International Telecommunications Union specified a set of requirements for fourth generation (4G) standards. 4G provided significantly faster mobile broadband internet access than 3G, with a much higher data capacity, supporting IP telephony, gaming services, HD mobile TV, video conferencing, and cloud computing. 4G services are now available to around 75 per cent of the UK’s population.

Apple iPad (2010)

Apple did it again in 2010 with the launch of its tablet PC, the iPad. It was by no means the first device of its kind, but it succeeded in capturing the public’s imagination, and kickstarted a new trend. It has remained the single most popular tablet PC ever since, but Android overtook Apple iOS to become the number one tablet operating system in terms of user numbers earlier this year, thanks to a wide variety of cheap alternatives. Apple’s new iPad Pro is aimed at enterprises as a replacement for computers.

Nissan Leaf (2010)

Electric cars are still considered a bit of a fad, and there are only around 30 mass production highway-capable all-electric passenger cars on the market today, but the environmental benefits continue to make them an attractive option for many. The world’s top selling highway-capable electric car is the Nissan Leaf, with global sales of over 170,000 units in 35 countries.

IBM Watson (2011)

IBM Watson is an artificially intelligent computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language. In 2011, it competed on the American quiz show Jeopardy and beat the two all-time greatest champions at their own game. It represented an important milestone in the development of artificial intelligence – a field that has been progressing rapidly with innovations like Microsoft Kinect and Apple Siri.

Google driverless car (2014)

Google is yet to launch its driverless cars, but it began testing the vehicles in California earlier this year, and has indicated that it wants to roll them out broadly by 2017. The cars have a top speed of 25mph and are designed to be perpetually in motion, powered by Google’s detailed knowledge of traffic flow. If the concept takes off, it is thought that driverless cars could transform the way we move around cities in the future.