This year was likely the last of an era where vendors could afford to shotgun out products and services and hope that buyers would take them. 2009 will be much harsher on practices like this, as funding will be very short and misses will be career limiting, severely for some. Looking back, there were a number of products we covered that stood out as being amazing, and one I can’t picture living without at the moment.
Let’s take a look back at the products of 2008 that I think stand above the rest.
This is the one product that came out in 2008 that I can now not live without. The Kindle for me is what the MP3 player is for many others, because I travel a lot and am often waiting places for meetings to start, doctor’s appointments, or my wife’s shopping adventures.
I’m approaching 30 books read on the thing and can hardly wait for the second generation that is expected next year. What makes this product is the wireless connection and the Amazon store back end, which assures that I always have something to read. It has been reliable and, I think, it has done for the e-book reader what the iPod did for MP3 players. But, like the iPod, most won’t use it until its second or third generation.
Slacker G2 Player and Service
I hate managing music. I think I should just be able to turn on the music player and listen to tunes, but with most music players you have to do a lot of work. I’m not a fan of iTunes because, while it did improve in 2008, it is the worst of the lot in this regard. The Slacker service is the easiest service I’ve ever used, and while the G2 player isn’t the most attractive, trailing many of the others, it is the most useful and it is small enough. I don’t need to stare at my music player, I just want it to play music, and this product is the best for just doing that. It’s also the only one I got in that has a free unlimited music plan, and there is something to be said for that.
There are few notebooks that have approached perfection; each has major trade-offs that often make having several attractive, if that practice wasn’t so impractical. If you want something light, it has to be small, or expensive, or have bad battery life and lousy performance. The Lenovo X301 is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a perfect storm product, with its only shortcomings being the use of Intel Graphics and a mid-US$2,000 price tag. This thing is light but large enough to live off, it has 7-plus hours of battery life with a bay battery, and you can carry a spare if you need to go to 10.
It is dead quiet and its performance is great for everything but gaming. It is the closest thing to a perfect laptop I’ve ever seen, and it will be very difficult for even Lenovo to top it.
Antec Skeleton Case
One of my hobbies is building computers, and I truly hate to pull one apart once I have it built. This means I tend to spend a lot of money on cases that I could otherwise reuse. The Antec Skeleton PC case is an amazing piece of engineering because it is designed with rebuilding in mind and you can easily replace all of the major components — even the motherboard and power supply — in a few minutes. It looks really wild as well, and the cantilevered massive lighted fan is a real attention getter. For someone like me, this case was a godsend in 2008.
Second Generation HP TouchSmart PC
The TouchSmart is the only all-in-one PC that I know of that has ever outsold the iMac, and that says a lot for the product. It also beat the touch leader, Apple, to market with a touchscreen product by over a year. To out-innovate and outsell Apple on a signature product is nearly impossible, and this offering showcased for the rest of us what Windows 7 will look like next year at Microsoft’s PDC.
A vastly improved design over the first generation, almost dead quiet, and with peripherals that enhanced the overall experience — and even a keyboard light — this product is one of the best desktop PCs ever made and was a flagship for HP this year.
This wonderful Syncing product saved my bacon several times in 2008 as I found myself in meetings with a new laptop that wouldn’t have had the presentation I was supposed to have brought with me. SugarSync made sure my stuff was always with me and helped prevent a number of “oh crap” moments. It is one of those simple products that does what it is supposed to elegantly and well, and it helped make 2008 memorable for more of the good experiences rather than the blunders.
Xobni Finds It
Another little utility that I got hooked on was Xobni, which is an offering that makes search in Outlook magical. It’s free, and if you have Outlook, you really need to try it. When you highlight an e-mail it brings up the other people the person who wrote it is networked to (so you don’t say questionable things to someone connected to your boss), your other recent correspondence, and the files you have exchanged, and ranks them according to how often you correspond with them.
And search with it is just magical. Microsoft should buy these guys and make this part of Office 2010, it is that wonderful.
I have a lot of folks on IM, and I hate having three or more IM clients open. Trillian is the first multi-service IM client that seems to work and work well. Trillian cleans up my desktop and I don’t have to worry if Yahoo, or AIM, or Microsoft IM has launched because Trillian handles all of it.
This third-generation product is incredibly useful and about the only thing better would be finally having the IM product owners decide to interoperate. Gee, communication products that work with other communication products, what a novel idea.
Linksys Dual-N Router
I live a wireless life, and moving both media and files around the home office has often been a nightmare of crashed routers and saturated wireless networks. The Dual-N Router from Cisco’s Linksys group is the first product they have brought out to truly deliver on their Visual Networking promise and it both has worked flawlessly and provided the network performance, for once wirelessly, I needed in 2008. It’s hard to get excited about a router that works well, but having stuff that actually does the job in networking is a rare occurrence for me, and this did the job.
Intel Atom and 80 GB SSD
Atom-based Netbooks were the only truly bright star in the fourth quarter in terms of sales. Thin, sexy, inexpensive and designed to connect to the Web, these products lit a fire under a market that was otherwise very tepid.
Literally the right product at the right price. However, another Intel product was the performance leader. Intel’s Flash drives, particularly the 80 GB drive, outperformed everything else in the market, and this is really Intel’s first real attempt to do a drive. This is like having your very first race be in the Olympics and taking gold. Amazing effort.
My last product isn’t a product at all but a platform that could save the world or my life someday. Cuda is Nvidia’s platform effort to put applications on graphics chips, and it has turned out to be a huge success for the supercomputer set.
What it is allowing is for people who otherwise either couldn’t afford, or couldn’t get access to, supercomputing resources the critical capability to get their work done. The kind of work ranges from medical to environmental research, and the result could be the safety of the human race. I’m big on living, so Cuda is a technology I expect great things from in 2009.
The various product managers for these offerings have a right to be very proud of what they have done. These are amazing products that helped define 2008, and some set us up for 2009. It isn’t often we recognize excellence, but the people behind these products helped assure the future of their companies, and in one instance, perhaps the future of humanity. Very nicely done!
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.