12 New Technologies That Lived Up To Their Hype

12 New Technologies That Lived Up To Their Hype

Technology enthusiasts and consumers are used to getting their hopes up about “the next big thing.” Sadly, the majority of hyped-up technologies fail to pan out as everyone had anticipated. Virtual reality, Internet appliances, superconductivity and RD-RAM come to mind as recent examples. But for every handful of new technologies that flame out, one or two materialize into the game-changing innovations we all hoped for. The best among these typically go on to change the landscape of entire industries and, sometimes, day to day life itself.

Today, Digigasms looks back on 12 new technologies that actually lived up to their lavish hype.

HDTV

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Few innovations in recent memory have caught on like high definition television. Using enhanced resolution of one or two million pixels per frame (about five times that of standard), high definition technology powers TV displays that are more realistic and lifelike than ever. To watch a baseball game on an HD-enabled TV, for instance, is to feel as though you are sitting behind home plate. Everything from the blades of grass to the dirt on a player’s uniform is seen in vivid, true-to-life color. Today, every major cable network offers HD channels and programming, although some charge for HD as an additional feature.

Broadband Internet

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Anyone who remembers connecting to the Internet with a 56K modem (or worse yet, a 36K or 28K modem) knows what a game-changer broadband was. Seemingly overnight, the earliest DSL and cable connections ran circles around dial-up. Websites that once took minutes to visit loaded in seconds. Images appeared instantly, and getting “kicked off” (a frequent problem on dial-up connections) became ancient history. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how today’s Internet, propelled by social media, dynamic websites and streaming video, could ever have come into being without the blazing speeds that broadband Internet provided.

P2P File Sharing

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The landscape of Internet downloading changed forever with the release of Napster, widely acknowledged as the world’s first peer-to-peer music trading service. Before P2P, files of any kind could only be downloaded from centralized servers. If a major company or website did not offer what you wanted for download, you usually had to go without it. Napster paved the way for countless other services (such as Limewire, Kazaa and BitTorrent) that enable people to share files with each other independently of any website or business. Today, virtually any song, movie, audio book or software program can be found simply by searching for it on your P2P network of choice.

MP3 Players

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It wasn’t long after CDs replaced cassette tapes that MP3 players replaced CDs. Of course, MP3 players were not immediately embraced by the public. In the early years, it seemed as though companies were simply rushing to put out a product of their own without much regard to quality or usability. All of that changed, however, when Apple introduced the iPod in 2001. While previous MP3 players were panned for being clunky and confusing, the iPod was an instant success, delighting users with the sleek look and ease of use for which Apple has become famous. Furthermore, the iPod made it possible for other MP3 players like Microsoft’s Zune to gain acceptance in the marketplace.

E-Commerce

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For all the hype and fads of the mid-late 1990’s, E-Commerce was a genuine and unquestioned innovation. While it was once merely a novelty to sell one’s products online, a business is now considered to be invisible without a website. Even purchases that are virtually always made in person (like cars and furniture) are routinely researched online, with retailers publishing in-depth photographs, product descriptions and order forms. Major retailers also frequently run online-only sales promotions to encourage Internet sales.

Smart Phones

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Skeptics were heard loud and clear when smart phones first emerged onto the scene. “Who wants to carry around a computer in their pocket?” was a common refrain. But the market has spoken, and smart phones are most emphatically here to stay. Though there are now several popular smart phones (including the Blackberry and Palm Pre), no product symbolizes the success of this technology like Apple’s iPhone. In 2009, the iPhone became the unquestioned best-seller among smart phones and has rapidly ascended as a cultural icon in the three years since its release. When photos of an iPhone 4G prototype leaked on Gizmodo.com, it immediately garnered headlines in major newspapers and magazines around the world.

Streaming Video

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In the web’s early years, “streaming video” was little more than an abstraction and a hoped-for possibility of an Internet located in the distant future. Today, it is embedded into the very fabric of the Internet itself. News services, sports teams and entertainers all make liberal use of streaming video on a daily basis. Whether it’s offered for free or reserved as “premium” content for paying customers, streaming video is viewable on just about every corner of the Internet. The younger generations of web users would likely have a difficult time picturing the Internet sans YouTube, Vimeo and similar services. They are, quite literally, the YouTube Generation.

WiFi

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In some respects, wireless broadband (or Wi-Fi) was as significant an innovation as broadband itself. The ability to roam around, using the web from the comfort of one’s kitchen or back porch, added an entirely new dimension of convenience and user-friendliness to the Internet. So popular is Wi-Fi today that companies like Starbucks and McDonalds frequently offer wireless “hot spots” for free or a nominal fee at their store locations. Airports, too, are a common provider of wireless Internet services, as are hotels and colleges. As the technology has improved, concerns about signal strength and security have largely faded away over the years.

64 Bit Processors

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It’s no secret that technology advances at a blistering pace. Computers, in particular, are known for becoming obsolete within two to five years of being purchased. But despite the many wonderful breakthroughs in memory and graphics cards, computer processors (or CPUs) remained quite stagnant for a long time. Save for the occasional bump in chip speeds, the basic, underlying architecture of the processor scarcely changed at all. With the introduction of 64 bit processors, the CPU took a bold step forward. For one thing, 64 bit chips permit the computer to utilize more than 4GB of RAM. This alone enabled a vast wave of new, more capable and agile software applications to flourish. As a general rule, computers can run more programs at once if more RAM is available. Today, most new computers and laptops ship with 64 bit processors.

Social Networking

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The very nature of the Internet was forever transformed by the emergence of social networking. Everything from video sharing websites like YouTube and Vimeo to socially generated news services like Digg to online profile networks like Facebook and MySpace fall under the banner of collaborative social networking. What was once a minor feature of the web (embodied by chat rooms in the “AOL Era”) is now a standard, expected, core component of daily Internet use. An Internet without these services would represent, to most people, a vastly different and inferior web.

Flash RAM

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Some of the most popular technology on the market today would cease to exist without flash memory. Everything from digital cameras to video recorders to MP3 players to smartphones all utilize flash memory to one degree or another. Unlike older types of memory, flash memory can be electrically programmed, re-programmed and erased. Furthermore, because flash memory is non-volatile, it does not require any electricity to run or to maintain the information stored on it. This quickly made it an ideal electronics component for both cost and performance reasons.

Digital Cameras

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There were some doubts early on about whether digital photography would ever truly catch on. Over a decade later, however, denying the success of digital cameras would be tantamount to denying the success of the automobile. Though some hardcore film enthusiasts have clung to old-fashioned cameras, the mainstream public has embraced digital photography by an overwhelming margin. After starting out as high-priced luxuries, digital cameras of varying capability are affordable today on virtually anyone’s budget.