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Top Tech Breakthroughs of 2008 116

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the r&d-still-hard-at-work dept.
As we approach the end of the year it's time once again for the never-ending stream of retrospectives and year-in-review discussions. Wired has their version of the best technology breakthroughs of 2008. From phones to shrinking laptops to flexible displays, there is no shortage of interesting advancements when looking back at this year. What other groundbreaking advancements were made this year, and what do we have to look forward to for 2009?
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Top Tech Breakthroughs of 2008

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  • by Katatsumuri (1137173) on Friday December 26, 2008 @09:59AM (#26234573)
    0. Year of Linux on the desktop!
  • WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:00AM (#26234581)

    The Memristor loses out to the Apple App Store..

    Wha-What?!!?

    • by Emb3rz (1210286)

      I feel the same way. Nothing inherently amazing about the technology that drives the App Store. I'll agree it's a breakthrough, insofar as it's highly divergent from an existing model. At the same time, I'm not at all impressed. :)

      • by Vastad (1299101)

        I'll agree it's a breakthrough, insofar as it's highly divergent from an existing model.

        I would argue that it isn't a technological breakthrough. Rather it is really a marketing, eCommerce or customer psychology breakthrough. A pretty interface that looks like iTunes that people are already familiar with and nurtures that brand loyalty factor. As is said elsewhere and you yourself seem to acknowledge, its all old ideas given that Apple polish.

        Bear in mind the memristor is a completely new technology. It didn't even exist beyond being a theoretical element of electronic circuits until this year

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Daimanta (1140543)

      It's easy.

      The word memristor has no reference to Apple whatsoever. The Apple app store on the other hand clearly portrays itself as being associated with Apple.

      The app store wins!

      • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Xerolooper (1247258) on Friday December 26, 2008 @01:37PM (#26235661)
        And I love the statement (yes I rtfa)

        Until this year, mobile app developers lacked an easy way to get their software into the hands of consumers, forcing them to make deals with finicky and power-hungry carriers if they wanted to get any distribution at all.

        This as apposed to forcing them to make deals with a finicky and power-hungry hardware manufacturer.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          And here I thought they just uploaded their apps to PalmGear [palmgear.com]. I guess I must be missing something...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Based on the number of times Apple was unnecessarily mentioned in the article, I'm guessing they are a big advertiser with Wired.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Based on the number of times Apple was unnecessarily mentioned in the article, I'm guessing they are a big advertiser with Wired.

        Don't underestimate the Fanboi Factor, either.

    • App store is not new technology... It's just known technology applied in a way the makes it usable... In fact, package management isn't a new technology, though *intentional* the backdoor is kind of innovative...
      The only thing that's new about it, is that existing technology, e.g. package manager and payment system, have been integrated in a user friendly manner....
  • Blecchhh (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cornwallis (1188489) *
    So I go to read the "Top Technology Breakthroughs" in TFA and see the link opens a WIRED article. In the space of the article's three pages there are three annoying for a survey and ads - including one from Porsche (how friggin appropriate in these times). I just realized my technology "breakthrough" is to give up on technology because all it seems to do is enable the friggin marketers to "reach" me in new ways.
    • left out the word "pop-ups" - (there are three annoying pop-ups for a) SORRY!
    • by Sepodati (746220)

      I read all three pages of the article and I couldn't tell you what a single ad was for, right now. Don't even see them. I'm not blocking them.. they're there... just read right through them and pay no attention, though.

      Maybe you should get off the tubes, though, and make some room for the rest of us...

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Cornwallis (1188489) *
        "I read all three pages of the article and I couldn't tell you what a single ad was for, right now. Don't even see them. I'm not blocking them.. they're there... just read right through them and pay no attention, though." Ahhh...but the fact is they ARE there and they are taking bandwidth. I use adblocker and noscript on my home PC (unfortunately not available as I'm not home) so I think my original point is valid. And don't be so sure about not paying them any attention! The impressions are being made...
      • by popeye44 (929152)

        Quote: Maybe you should get off the tubes, though, and make some room for the rest of us...

        Umm maybe you should block ad's and make some room for yourself.. Ehh?

    • Echoing others, but with Adblock-Plus and a reasonable blacklist, it is surprising how often I see a comment somewhere about "annoying ads" and ask myself "They have ads on this site?" The underlying battle between the marketers' ability to push content regardless of the readers' wishes and the readers' ability to selectively filter content is probably as socially important as any of the technologies shown in the article.
  • by William Robinson (875390) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:06AM (#26234605)
    Solar powered laptops, is something I had been waiting for. Maybe I am day dreaming, but the back of LCD panel could be fully covered with Solar Cells and trickle charge the battery, which might run my laptop for 5-6 hours before needing recharge. I guess solar cells have not become that efficient yet, but, is anybody trying it?
    • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:34AM (#26234729) Homepage

      I live in Scotland, you insensitive clod.

    • by jacatro (456635)

      Ive heard that Apple's next Ipod will be solar charged- but I think you should get to work on a prototype for that laptop-

    • Solar powered laptops, is something I had been waiting for. Maybe I am day dreaming, but the back of LCD panel could be fully covered with Solar Cells and trickle charge the battery, which might run my laptop for 5-6 hours before needing recharge. I guess solar cells have not become that efficient yet, but, is anybody trying it?

      *Yawn* Call me when there is a shade powered laptop

    • Globalsolar (Score:5, Informative)

      by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:03AM (#26234851)
      Globalsolar of Tucson, Az. make 6W panels using the latest (and relatively efficient) non-silicon technology, but in most locations you will need at least 5 of them to run even a netbook. You certainly don't want them on the back of the lid as (a) they would take up far too much space but (b) do you really want to run a laptop while facing full sunlight?

      I am building an experimental rig to measure the actual power available from 2 of them mounted in the best position (i.e. facing south at the best angle for each season) over the year, and I hope to report on this for the south of the UK in early 2010. In the meantime, don't hold your breath for a feasible, lightweight solution.

    • by Carlosos (1342945)

      Just buy an Acer Aspire One with the 6 cell battery (or buy a 9 cell battery). The 6 cell battery version last 5-6 hours and only uses 13 Watt. If that isn't enough than you can put some solar panels on the back and you can probably double the time.

    • by xeoron (639412)
      Here is a solar power laptop solution. [ctsolar.com] It's not exactly what you want, but a step in the right direction.
    • by maeka (518272)

      Solar powered laptops, is something I had been waiting for. Maybe I am day dreaming, but the back of LCD panel could be fully covered with Solar Cells and trickle charge the battery, which might run my laptop for 5-6 hours before needing recharge. I guess solar cells have not become that efficient yet, but, is anybody trying it?

      My laptop (Dell 1420) has a 13.13"x9.61" surface area. That is 0.0814 square meters.
      Looking at a solar insolation map [wikipedia.org] most of the westernized world would be lucky to average 200W pe

    • by Dun Malg (230075)

      Maybe I am day dreaming, but the back of LCD panel could be fully covered with Solar Cells and trickle charge the battery

      Not really a good place to put solar panels. How much time does a laptop spend with its lid in the sun? Leaving it in the sun kinda' means leaving it out where people can see it... and steal it

      I guess solar cells have not become that efficient yet, but, is anybody trying it?

      Not really. Because--- just as you surmise--- the efficiency isn't there yet, solar is generally a larger stand alone power generation and storage system, which people then usually use to run their laptops via power cords.

    • by Algan (20532) on Friday December 26, 2008 @02:34PM (#26235971)

      Umm, this is impractical on so many levels... Let's see, first of all, I tend to use my laptop opened with about 120 degrees between the display and the keyboard. That means the back of the display is facing slightly down, below the horizon. Even if somehow you manage to use it opened at a sharp angle, you will have to face the sun to have any kind of efficiency. Also, some people prefer to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, and I presume most geeks fall into this category, which means most of them will use the device in the shade. Finally, I would be reluctant to leave my $2K machine out in the open to charge, which means I would have to keep an eye on it. Dunno about others but I don't find the idea of spending some hours watching a closed laptop charging in the sun too appealing... it sounds akin to watching grass grow.

      Now, a better idea would be to have a separate solar panel module that you can unfold and plug into your laptop. This would address most of the above concerns. I'm not sure if it would score you points with the ladies, though...

      • by earlymon (1116185)

        Now, a better idea would be to have a separate solar panel module that you can unfold and plug into your laptop.

        Make that sucker a tight-fitting hat with a foil lining and you've really got something!!!!

      • by bronney (638318)

        That means the back of the display is facing slightly down, below the horizon.

        Ever heard of a mirror?

    • The problem is power usage.

      I had your idea working a few years ago with a HP200LX - a 300 gram handheld, running DOS on a 186, with a terminal-sized black-and-white LCD display. It used two AA batteries.

      Today's laptops use too much power, even the netbooks like the eeePC. Maybe electronic-paper displays, as in Amazon's Kindle, will make this possible again...

  • Oh dear (Score:5, Insightful)

    by netsavior (627338) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:08AM (#26234619)
    So lets see the advancements are:
    Finally implementing a 37 year old technology
    A website for buying programs - Apple App store
    Actually using flash memory, a fairly old technology
    a bathing suit
    Actually using a 1978 technology - GPS
    A slightly better consumer digital video camera
    The third major revision of an old technology - USB 3.0
    Microchips that are small
    A cellphone operating system
    and, presenting, the ONLY actual innovation of 2008

    Flexible displays that barely work!

    so glad I live in the age of technological miracles
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      You forgot to mention that most things touted as breakthroughs over the last year won't be on the market for quite some time, and wont be affordable for quite some time after that.

      Just look at E-paper, from what I understand it's not nearly as expensive as an equivalently sized LCD display and yet it costs considerably more to get an ebook reader which is for all intents and purposes nothing more than a giant palm pilot.

      • Just look at E-paper, from what I understand it's not nearly as expensive as an equivalently sized LCD display and yet it costs considerably more to get an ebook reader which is for all intents and purposes nothing more than a giant palm pilot.

        If you mean eInk, then it is actually quite a bit more expensive. More than half the price of a typical eInk-based ebook reader is for the screen.

        • I thought the whole point was that it was simpler and quicker to make than an LCD and was better for use in brightly lit areas but beat out elsewhere...

          • was better for use in brightly lit areas

            Correct, though some models already come with built-in lighting (not a backlight though, as the screen is not transparent).

            it was simpler and quicker to make than an LCD

            Not really. Well, maybe they'll get there eventually, but it's certainly not a priority goal today.

            eInk is better because it doesn't shine a powerful lamp right in your face, as active TFT essentially does, and in general looks much more like paper with printed text, which is easier on the eyes (and I

            • Now if only they could make one that's actually comfortable to hold for long periods of time. All the ones i've had the opportunity of tinkering with so far seemed to be trying very hard to put the controls exactly where your thumb wouldn't be while holding it in any remotely comfortable position.

    • Hey, give them a break. It was a slow year for tech breakthroughs and those end-of-the-year tech articles won't pad themselves you know!

    • Re:Oh dear (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Albert Sandberg (315235) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:28AM (#26234695) Homepage

      I don't know if the LHC should be accounted for this year, but if it missed the list, something is not right.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        yes, it should be accounted, but after a long debate the wired team opted to take the money from apple and put the appstore instead.
      • I don't know if the LHC should be accounted for this year, but if it missed the list, something is not right.

        If you start accounting for technology conceived prior to this year, you'll open a black hole in that article that not even light can escape. (Plus there have been other colliders, smaller, perhaps, but isn't this more of an engineering marvel?)

      • by radtea (464814)

        The LHC turn-on was an important milestone, but given its current state (broken) it's probably better to wait for actual physics results before talking too much more about it.

        Maybe the 2009 "breakthrough" in journalism will be to stop using the word "breakthrough" to describe interesting but incremental improvements.

      • Re:Oh dear (Score:5, Funny)

        by lxs (131946) on Friday December 26, 2008 @03:20PM (#26236205)
        Read the headline. This is about top tech breakthroughs, not top tech breakdowns.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jellomizer (103300)

      2008 was a slow year. But slow years are good too. When break-threws' are smaller that means companies are putting more effort in making the technology more reliable, and better. For example remember all the Crap that was produced during the .COM boom, then after the bubble popped the technology got refined and became productive. Things like usable Web Mail services, Google Maps with features that would have required a special plugin back in the late 90's. I am sure people with professional software develop

      • Yes, the article really underlines that 2008 was a boring year in technology. Flash memory? GPS? Sure, both are technologies that continue to evolve and get new applications, but if the top ten list can't find anything that isn't this old, it really must have been a year not much happened. Better Speedos? Really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

        I'd go for Tesla motors [teslamotors.com] shipping their first electric roadster as top ten news, myself, but that may be so old hat for/. readers nobody cares to read it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by tsa (15680)

          I would put the same thing on top. For the first time in over 100 years we have an electric car again that can do over 100 km/h! And not a bit over, but more than twice as fast! Now if it only ran on fuel cells instead of batteries. Or better, you could choose between batteries and solar cells. That would be a real breakthrough.

    • Re:Oh dear (Score:5, Funny)

      by MightyYar (622222) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:02AM (#26234847)

      Seriously... My stock market crashing device didn't even make the list!

      • by ignavus (213578)

        Seriously... My stock market crashing device didn't even make the list!

        Nor did my stock market crashing device turbo power booster.

    • by owlnation (858981)
      Yeah... as a professional filmmaker, the "HD" abilities of SLR's is a little interesting. I'm all for new advances in tech, and allowing new people and new ideas to enter the field more easily. I can see some situations where this could be useful. For example, an SLR 10mm lens is vastly cheaper than that equivalent for a professional video camera. For (very) short scenes, this could be useful. It may be also useful for tight spaces or for action sequences to have the SLR.

      However, the grandiose claims in
      • by Pulzar (81031)

        For example, an SLR 10mm lens is vastly cheaper than that equivalent for a professional video camera.

        SLR lenses are much cheaper than video lenses because they don't have to keep the same focal distance through different zoom ranges, while video lenses do... I.e. while taking pictures, you can zoom in/out and refocus, while with video lenses you have to be able to keep focus while zooming.

        That's just one of many limitations of doing video on an SLR camera. I look at it as a great addition to current video e

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by Draek (916851)

      a bathing suit

      And a computer is just 'another calculator', right? don't oversimplify.

      A slightly better consumer digital video camera

      If you knew anything about how digital cameras are made, specially large-sensor SLRs, you'd know how significant it is.

      Flexible displays that barely work!

      Gee, I wonder, how good was GPS on 1978?

      so glad I live in the age of technological miracles

      The fact that we can create such a list out of a *single* year of our lifetimes proves this is the age of technological miracles.

      • by khallow (566160)
        For me the problem is product endorsement. Most of these including the swimsuit, the fancy camera, GPS, flash memory, etc aren't impressive or truly all that new to be honest. But I bet they'll help sell some product. I think the first successful launch of the Falcon I rocket beats everything on that list easily. I haven't been keeping up, but there's got to be more out there where that came from.
    • Re:Oh dear (Score:5, Funny)

      by dylan_- (1661) on Friday December 26, 2008 @12:24PM (#26235253) Homepage

      so glad I live in the age of technological miracles

      Actually, this is *the* age of technological miracles. If technology continues to improve at an exponential rate, then we'll hit the "Singularity". If it doesn't and we plateau for some reason, that means we won't see this kind of progress again.

      However, people like you (PLY?) will never see this progress. Let me give you an example (may not be real (hah! DYSWID?)) of how this works:

      Progress 1990: "In 15 years time we'll be showing video on your computer that will be better than you have on a TV set!"
      PLY: "Yeah, right. Like I want to watch TV on a crappy little monitor and how come these things are always 15 years away?"

      Progress 1995: Demonstration of streaming some video over the Internet
      PLY: "Oh, that's great. Barely working video that's the size of a postage stamp. Wake me up when it's anywhere near as good as my old TV!"

      Progress 2000: Demonstration of near TV quality streaming on your computer.
      PLY: "Huh, what's the use when you can't get the bandwidth to watch anything, it's still not as good quality as TV, and there's no choice of programmes!"

      Progress 2005: Demonstration of full screen, HD TV streaming on your computer
      PLY: "Please! This is progress? I remember seeing video streaming way back in 1995!"

      Check your post to see which stage you're at for each of these...

      (p.s. Just joking. Don't take it seriously or personally. Have a great Christmas and New Year! Slainte!)

      • Re:Oh dear (Score:4, Insightful)

        by netsavior (627338) on Friday December 26, 2008 @01:24PM (#26235573)
        hah the irony of your fake mocking at my fake mocking is that I frequently bitch about streaming video :P

        Streaming video is still broken! I have to "steal" movies off of bittorrent even with my 5mbps connection because Amazon onebox sucks, netflix streaming sucks. I don't give a whole hell of a damn about quality. I prefer non-HD content because I feel like the message of the movie(the plot not the special effects) is more important than the visual experience, and currently the variety of non-HD content is significantly greater than that of HD. I must admit though that I am guilty of downloading Sarah Connercles in HD format because their website is so broken that it cannot stream to my ubuntu machine (or linux is so broken that adobe refuses to keep Flash up to date or whatever). At any rate, We have all this wonderful streaming content bla bla bla, I still download files in full and then play them because streaming is still 98% unusable in my experience :P how is that for a self fulfiling rant prophecy?
    • by kwerle (39371)

      Thanks for the summary. I didn't miss anything, and I found that out in 10 lines of text with no ads.

    • I agree with the general sentiment, but you are being a tad unfair to the memristor. It is true that its existence was argued on a theoretical basis 37 years ago, but until this year, nobody had a clue how to build one. Finally figuring that one out is a genuine tech breakthrough (much more so than the flexible displays, which are the result of incremental improvements).

  • It was looking good till I saw the Andriod (cellphone operating system)? WTF? Regardless if it's open source or not it's a friggin' cell phone, where is the breakthrough in that?

    Pluheezzz...
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:10AM (#26234881)
    Most of the items listed have been around or known about for a long time.

    The thing that made them a success in 2008 (except for USB 3 - which shouldn't be on the list as it's merely an administrative milestone, so far - wait until the real products become mainstream) was being adopted in popular products. Flash, GPS and swimwear aren't new. Flexible screens and memristors are valid entries - and the rest simply shouldn't be there.

  • The OP forgot to mention this is about GADGETS, not "Technology" as a whole. If it were, it would be an embarrassing list. As it stands, a couple of the items are interesting, and most are more about implementation of fairly common ideas being the "breakthrough".

    Too bad no one will ever know because no one actually RTFA.

  • The fact that the App store is called the most incredible technological breakthrough of 2008 proves for me that Steves RDF is bigger than ever. Its not new )we have had internet shops for more than 10 years now', and no new technology is involved.

  • by Animats (122034) on Friday December 26, 2008 @12:44PM (#26235359) Homepage

    Part of the problem is Wired, or "Tired", which has turned into a sort of Sharper Image catalog. (Sharper Image itself is defunct.) Wired doesn't really have reporters any more; just "editors" and ad reps. Hence their product orientation.

    More significant tech events this year include:

    • Big Dog. [youtube.com] At last, robust legged robots.
    • Cheap "netbook" computers. The price point in laptops is dropping.
    • Wind farms that are really big. [metaefficient.com] The US has about 18 GW of installed wind capacity, more is going in at a rapid rate, and wind power companies are making money. At last, it's a serious source of power.
    • The Tesla car, first delivered in 2008. Yes, it's overpriced, but for the first time, the range and performance are there.

    Those are all more significant than anything in Wired's list.

    There's probably good stuff in the bio field too, but I don't follow that.

    • I have never heard of Big Dog, but I will check it out. I would not mind buying some Plastic Logic shares and letting them sit, never know. I thought that cell phone was impressive how it opened up to display another screen.

      I had always wished I had put money in Google when I knew about it in time to invest and make money off of their shares, but I missed it because well, I didn't have any expendable money to put in stocks like the small amount of money I do now because I had ten more years to build my
  • The clear big winner, in terms of impact for the world might be EEStore's supercapacitor.

    It was developed (it appears) in 2008. It will (if it's real and works) make electric cars actually happen and actually be good, radically change how we think about charging cell phones, IPods, etc.

    The problem is it might be snake oil.

    • You can't give EEStor any credit until they publicly demonstrate a working device.
    • EEStor has been making public claims for at least three years, possibly longer (I know I read the patent app more than two-and-a-half years ago). If it's real, it's definitely a breakthrough -- a relatively thin insulator layer that withstands 3500 volts. TTBOMK, they have yet to demonstrate a working device in public. Depending on how you want to determine the year to which it should be assigned, the breakthrough was either a few years back, or has yet to occur.
  • The memristor could potentially add 10-20 years to Moore's Law and the iPhone app store is worth more than it? These idiots don't even know what it is, memory RESISTOR not transistor.
  • I have a few issues with this list.

    First off. The author was clearly asleep from years. 2002 - 2007. As that was the time period of this list.

    Secondly where is the drum roll for number 1. David Letterman set the top ten standard and it's a good one. The #1 one slot should definitely be proceeded by:

    "and the top Top Tech Breakthrough of 2008 is................."
    When the LHC on 19 September 2008 had a liquid helium breakthrough saving man kind from the certain oblivion of a black whole on earth.

  • by Cally (10873)
    2008 waz teh yere of teh lolcat!!!!
  • Sigh. It's way too late to earn any karma, but I am inpressed no other geeks noticed it. "Yahoo's Firebird" should be "Yahoo's Fire Eagle", a GPS something or other. I can't believe I actually wikipedia'd this....

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