Think of the gear you can't live without: The smartphone you constantly check. The camera that goes with you on every vacation. The TV that serves as a portal to binge-watching and -gaming. Each owes its influence to one model that changed the course of technology for good. Some of these, like Sony's Walkman, were the first of their kind. Others, such as the iPod, propelled an existing idea into the mainstream. Some were unsuccessful commercially, but influential nonetheless. And a few represent exciting but unproven new concepts (looking at you Oculus Rift). Rather than rank technologies--writing, electricity, and so on--we chose to rank gadgets, the devices by with consumers let the future creep into their present. The list--which is ordered by influence--was assembled and deliberated on at (extreme) length by TIME's technology and business editors, writers and reporters.
In many ways, the world in 2016 was defined by its mistakes. Companies let products languish, and when they did release updates, they often made questionable design choices. And of course, one of Samsung's most important phones literally went up in smoke. This year was a different story though. Some previous offenders learned their lesson while others set themselves up for success down the road. Not that everything was rosy. There were plenty of errors along the way, including glitchy products and misguided strategies. With that in mind, let's look at the hits and misses of 2017 -- and more importantly, consider how they'll affect what happens in 2018.
You'd think having dominated search and email, created Chrome and YouTube, plus a self-driving car project, a handful of save-the-world enterprises, and the greatest advertising business in the history of the universe would be enough to keep Google busy. You certainly wouldn't think the folks in Mountain View would suddenly feel the urge to get into the smartphone game, a remarkably mature market where nobody but Samsung and Apple makes any money, and where Google's already ubiquitous thanks to Android. And yet, tomorrow, Google will reportedly launch the next generation of its smartphone with the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL. At the same time, the company will reportedly introduce a new Chrome OS-based laptop called the Pixelbook, a small smart speaker called the Google Home Mini, and new hardware for the Daydream VR platform. The announcements come on the heels of Google's $1.1 billion acqui-hire of 2,000 HTC engineers, who will help Google make more hardware, more quickly.
My how things have changed. Steve Jobs' pitch for the original iPhone in 2007 as a phone, music player and internet communicator was a landmark moment in the tech world. It crystalized the iPhone's almost mythic reputation from the start -- remember the nickname, the Jesus phone? But looking back, those three capabilities barely scratched the surface of what we can do with the modern smartphone. What can you do with one now?
Android is in a very different place than it was when 2016 began. While the last 12 months were filled with much of the usual pomp and circumstance surrounding the release of new handsets, connected gadgets, and OS refreshes, the state of Android has never been more promising or less predictable. Google stepped out from behind the curtain and into the spotlight. Headsets took over smartwatches as the trend of the moment. And Samsung's phablet woes opened the door for smaller players to make big gains.