Page last updated at 03:45 GMT, Saturday, 27 December 2008

Technology we have loved in 2008

What technology has turned us on this year?

From dongles to netbooks and services to applications, the BBC News technology team talk through what they have loved in the world of technology during 2008.


Technology, for me, has to be almost invisible. And very very simple.

And that is why a stripped-bare video camera the size of a mobile phone has become my favourite piece of technology for 2008.

The Flip Mino camcorder only boasts 60 minutes of recording time, an internal memory of 2GB and a resolution of 640 by 480 but the specs are not important to me.

What I love about it is the fact that it allows for the kind of spontaneous recording that a clunky camcorder never did.

This proved very useful when I realised I had forgotten to bring my traditional camera to my son's first ever Christmas play but did have a Flip lying in the bottom of my bag.

The Mino is very much designed for the YouTube generation, allowing clips to be instantly uploaded to the video site, and as such is part of a new tranche of devices aimed at allowing people to contribute back to the web.

It can be plugged directly into the USB port of a computer and, with all the editing software built in, makes video sharing child's play.

And there is an awful lot of child's play on my Mino, a document of their lives that will prove priceless in the years to come. And that for me is what good technology should be all about.


Mozilla's Geode project
Everyone is going geolocation crrazy

The technology that most frequently caught my attention this year is an old dog doing a new trick: mobile phone geolocation services.

The range of applications that is springing up in response to the question "Where am I?" is staggering.

The bottleneck for now is simply that only high-end handsets have GPS chipsets inside but industry insiders see that balance shifting, so that within a couple of years the majority of handsets will have GPS capability. Then it's down to the ingenuity of programmers and content developers.

And what will that bring? The buzzword is "context". Leave bulky city guidebooks behind and tap into an online guide such as Pocket Places that knows where you are, providing multimedia content relevant to the monument you're standing in front of.

Task-specific websites and applications will abound; an early example is Sit or Squat - a mobile application you can use to find out the location of your nearest public toilet.

Social networks such as Brightkite will - if you wish - keep tabs on where you and your friends are and let you know when a friend happens to be nearby. Finding a recommended restaurant in an unfamiliar corner of town? Absurdly easy.

For my money, it'll be worth it if I never again need to make that "Where are you?" phone call to a friend - services like Navmii will mean that precise map of where we both are will be near to hand.


Man using laptop in the field
Rory is addicted to mobile broadband...

For me, this has been the year of the dongle. In other words, 2008 was when the mobile internet really took off - not just on phones, but on laptops with a 3G USB dongle plugged in.

The mobile networks suddenly discovered a whole new market and a way to use all that 3G capacity they had spent billions building.

They started pushing mobile broadband hard - and it showed in their data figures. One operator, Three, has seen the data throughput on its network increase fortyfold in 18 months as all of those mobile surfers started using their laptops on the move - or even at home.

Dongles are now being plugged into routers and used as an easy way for a household to share a broadband connection without using a fixed line.

Coverage can be patchy, pricing plans opaque, and speed claims questionable - but having once got 2Mbps from a moving train, I am now addicted to mobile broadband.


Screenshot of Twitter website
While Darren can't stop Twittering..

For me, the last 12 months have been about services and less about hardware technology.

I did succumb to the iPhone hysteria and buy one of the 3G phones. All I'll say is: great iPod and pocket computer, shame about the phone. The battery life is dreadful and the 3G network just isn't fast enough or widely available enough to make true mobile comms a reality.

It's also still a passive device. Until it launches live alerts for key services it will remain so. Of course, the introduction of such alerts are liable to drain the battery further.

But back to those services. There's only one that I've used above all others: Twitter. I've been a user for sometime but it's only in the last year, with the launch of web apps like Twhirl, and the mobile client Twitterific that the service has become indispensable.

It's part communication tool, part messenger service, but for me at least, it's mainly a tool for filtering content. I use the Twitter feeds of key services and the feeds of key thought leaders to help inform me about the wider world.

The other services I've been using are video on demand streaming services, mainly the iPlayer and

I won't talk too much about iPlayer - I don't want to be accused of bias - but I will say it has been impressive to see the speed of rollout of new features, from the mobile versions to the PlayStation 3.

Hulu is similar to iPlayer. It too is a video streaming device but it incorporates videos from a number of different networks.

The quality is high - there's even some HD content - the service is robust, the choice is wide and the implementation of advertising is done sympathetically.

Together Hulu and iPlayer represent the next shift in TV consumption, and a precursor of how the web and TV are beginning to merge at last.


My epiphany about the most important technology of 2008 was prompted by one of the better science fiction novels I read this year - Halting State by Charles Stross.

Though set in a fictional future it is, like much SF, more about the problems of today than tomorrow. Net access via mobile is central to the book's plot and that emphasis struck a chord - particularly when it is matched with some of the other things happening in the mobile world.

This year has seen the rise of the netbook - the cheap, web-connected laptop that folk can tote around and do that web stuff.

At the same time the iPhone 3G has shown now mobile web access blooms when the right interface is presented to owners.

The likely diminishing use of wi-fi and wholesale conversion by laptop owners to 3G and USB dongles feeds my hunch that the web on a mobile has caught on and is here to stay.

Problems remain, of course. The payment model for the mobile web is broken in a much more serious manner than that for fixed net access.

Operators have to repair that given their need to ensure data revenues offset all the money they will lose as the cash they make from voice and text dips. But there are deals in the wings that promise to change things for the better.

This year then we have seen the first murmurs of the movement that looks set to be the standard way we connect to anything and everything online. 2008 was the year that it became impossible to doubt that the future is already in our hands.


Steve Jobs on stage
Apple scores another hit with its apps store

To my mind Apple's App Store has been one of the big technology hits of the year. And the numbers certainly seem to bear that out with more than 300 million downloads since July.

Such staggering figures have been too hard to ignore for the competition.

Apple has made the app store into a real game changer and has broken all the rules for mobile media. Never has being on the go been such fun.

I admit a certain addiction to a couple of favourites namely Tap Tap Revenge which I have written about, and boasts over three million users. Another is my own personal radio station thanks to Pandora and some old fashioned throwbacks such as Pac-Man.

And I should mention the BBC reader to keep up to date with all the marvellous musings and writings of my colleagues around the globe.

While developers might be rushing to get their app on Apple devices, there is a growing amount of frustration with how the company evaluates applications.

It is a secretive process and no one seems to know why their app gets the green light or not. In true fashion, Apple didn't return any calls about the app store. But some developers have warned that this lack of communication could well stifle innovation.

One might be minded to chide Apple and tell it to buck up its ideas in this department because while it is the dominant player at the moment, that surely won't always be so.

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