Page last updated at 08:29 GMT, Monday, 28 December 2009

Technology we have loved in 2009

Clockwork robot

The last 12 months have offered a swathe of new technologies and seen others cemented as firm favourites.

Here, the BBC News technology team members pick out their choice technology of 2009.


My technology of the year goes to something I've had little chance to actually use much myself yet - the iPlayer on Wii.

On-demand TV is not new but increasingly it is finding its way away from the PC screen to its far more natural home on the box in the corner of the living room.

BBC iplayer
Programmes on the Wii are a hit with Jane's daughter

Games consoles will kick-start this and next year will see a glut of internet-ready TVs and even, towards the end of the year, the first set-top box developed by the BBC and other partners to bring on-demand content direct to the TV.

I live in an on-demand household and at the moment the thing "on demand" is Cbeebies show Gigglebiz - for the uninitiated Gigglebiz is a show best described as Little Britain for the under-fives.

I love technology to be simple and my six-year-old son has no problem finding the iPlayer channel on the Wii and finding exactly what he wants to watch.

But I think the moment I realised the real power of the technology was when I caught my little girl explaining to her friend that if she misses Gigglebiz she can always "catch up on the iPlayer".

When a technology has entered the vocabulary of a three-year-old it can truly be said to have arrived.

Its ever-availability hasn't been without problems though. Once upon a time there was a clear cut-off between children's TV and adult time when Cbeebies went off air at 7pm.

Alas, no more.


It's still got a long way to go but I have been really impressed with improvements in web search.

A good friend of mine is using genealogy websites to trace her family tree and persuaded me to have a go at mine too.

Hand on book
Algorithms have replaced trips to the library for Zoe

I have quite a few relatives who have tried and fallen at almost the first hurdle as nobody has ever been able to find a copy of my paternal grandmother's birth certificate.

Even a search by Somerset House proved fruitless, and when she died we had to estimate her age as nobody - including her - knew for sure when she was born.

We all knew her as Cissie, which we presumed was short for Cecilia.

But this particular website - - threw up the name Zesel - it turns out that her Russian parents had anglicised her birth name very early on, and it had stuck. Oh - and her maiden name had also been mis-spelt on the document.

I never thought I would say this - but well done to the algorithm that put 2 and 9 together and came up with that.


This was the year that I put my trust in the cloud - perhaps foolishly.

Rory has tentatively put his life into the clouds

In other words, I started to rely more and more on services which take much of the storage and processing of my data off my computer and into giant data-centres dotted around the world.

So I now write just about everything as a Google document, and use Evernote to store important e-mails, pictures and other notes.

Then there is Spotify, which streams music from its cloud to my computer, and the various online photo-sharing services, from Flickr to MobileMe.

Towards the end of the year Google unveiled an operating system, Chrome, which would store most of its users' data and applications in the cloud.

Having got used to watching the vast empty space on the hard disk of each new computer rapidly fill up, this is the first year I can remember when I haven't worried about spare storage capacity. That has been replaced by another concern - just how secure is all that data I have entrusted to those various clouds?


For me, 2009 has been the year of the mobile app, the small, specialist pieces of software that run on a smartphone.

iPhone screengrab
Jonathan - and his wife - have embraced the world of apps

It is a market still dominated by Apple's App store, which now offers more than 100,000 of them. However, everyone from Nokia and Google to Symbian and Research in Motion (Blackberry) now offer apps.

Over the last 5 months I've collected more than 70 of them on my iPhone, and tried, tested and discarded many more. Some I've paid for, but many others have been free.

I use some on a daily basis, browsing Twitter (Tweetdeck) or the news (New York Times, Guardian, WSJ or FT) over breakfast or on the train to work.

They allow me to keep in touch with my social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Yammer), upload pictures to Flickr (Mobile Fotos or Flickr), listen to music (Spotify) or play games (Crash Kart, Rolando and Worms.)

They really come into their own when the app taps into the phone's in-built GPS. For example when I hit the Next Train Home button on the National Rail app it works out where I am, the nearest station and the times of the services which will get me home most quickly. Useful for making sure you catch the last train home.

I've also tried out augmented reality apps, such as Nearest Tube, which overlays large colourful arrows on to the view through the camera to point you towards the nearest Tube stop. It's a compelling use of the technology but not one that I find myself using every day.

That, however, cannot be said about an app that my wife has discovered. BabyBrain allows her to keep track of our newborn - his feeds, nappies and sleeping patterns.

It's become her surrogate brain - invaluable when you're operating on less than four hours sleep a day.


For me the technology of the year has been Google, but only in the sense that I'm turning away from it.

Google logo
Mark and Google have grown apart

This is because its myriad services are proving less and less useful to me.

I've switched to NetVibes because it is far more customisable than iGoogle.

Twitter helps keep up with news about the people I need to watch as does Facebook. I'm also about to start the process of migrating away from Gmail.

Perhaps most worryingly for Google is that its raw search leads me to the right places less than ever.

Increasingly I find myself forlornly clicking through the pages of results to see if it what I want is hidden elsewhere.

Even when sites such as Google Without Google and Give Me Back my Google strip out the search giant's ancillary services, other sites and tools are proving more helpful.


I wracked my brain long and hard to think about what new and exciting gadget has wowed me this last year.

I confess my choice is not something new and earth shattering, but it has made a massive difference in my life. It is my BlackBerry smartphone. And the killer app remains an old favourite: e-mail.

Maggie can't live without her smart phone

I am in good company here with Jen-Hsun Huang, the president and co-founder of graphic-chip firm Nvidia, agreeing with me.

"I am willing to give up my PC but not my BlackBerry. I would even give up the phone and squint at a small screen but I am not willing to not have my computing device with me at all times and so that says something about the future of computers."

Indeed it does, which is perhaps why Google, with it Android operating system for phones, is set to launch its own hardware.

The blogosphere has been ripe with rumours, photos and discussion of the so called Nexus, but at Google's xmas party at the Googleplex not one member of staff would admit to owning one. It seems they all checked them at the door with their coats.

Still the big rumour is that come January, the wraps will be taken off the Nexus at the Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

And while my smartphone might be seen as a lame choice by some, it is undoubtedly going to be the basis of one mighty land grab over the next year or so.

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