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12 technologies that changed the world

From a TV remote to broadband

New technology crops up daily, but only the rare breakthroughs really change our lives. Here are a dozen advances that transformed our world.

11. Capacitive touchscreens (2006)

What made the iPhone different? It wasn't the groovy geek in the black turtleneck; it was that magical capacitive touchscreen, which uses your body's own electrical properties to sense the location of your finger.

Patented in 1999 by Dr. Andrew Hsu of Synaptics, capacitive screens made their mobile-phone debut on the LG Prada in 2006. But the iPhone catapulted the technology into the mainstream, leading to a new generation of apps that let you tap, swipe, stroke, and pinch your way to handset Nirvana.

"Apple didn't invent the capacitive touchscreen, but it was the implementation of the technology in the original iPhone that completely altered the face of the smartphone market," notes Ben Lang, senior editor of CarryPad, a website focused on mobile internet devices.

"Apple realised that with touch input consistent enough for mainstream use and an intelligent soft keyboard, it could dedicate nearly the entire front of the phone to a screen. A 'soft' keyboard' can be removed when it isn't necessary, and make room for a rich and intuitive user interface."

Now, of course, we expect every cool new mobile device to have this functionality. The multitouch screen made smartphones and their larger cousins like the iPad the 'it' devices for the new millennium - no turtleneck required.

12. The Cloud (2010)

Vaporous? Possibly. Overhyped, most definitely. Still, the always-accessible internet will change the game more than any of these other technologies combined. Why? Because the cloud will essentially turn the net into a utility - just flip a switch or turn a spigot and it's ready to use, says Peter Chang, CEO of Oxygen Cloud, a cloud-based collaboration and data storage vendor.

"Just as we use utilities like water and electricity instead of wells and generators, we leverage the utility of the cloud to store, access, and replicate data - whether it's Flickr photos, YouTube videos, Facebook, Salesforce, Google Docs, or online games," says Chang.

"Cloud storage liberates users from the confines of attached storage and empowers them to take their data anywhere."

The net began with a satellite shot into low-earth orbit. Now its future lies in the cloud. There's something innately satisfying about that.

See also: 10 obsolete technologies that refuse to die

  1. From a TV remote to broadband
  2. Atari Pong
  3. The IBM ThinkPad 700C
  4. Apple iTunes
  5. Capacitive touchscreens

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