Some lists pick themselves. Then there’s the list of the most influential technology. After a good amount of debate around the PCMag offices, we’ve opted to let you, the reader, help us choose the winners. We’ve split our coverage up into five categories—desktops and laptops, software, cell phones, consumer electronics, and gaming.
Each round, we’re offering up four products that we believe have had a profound impact on the industry as we know it. When we say “profound impact,” we don’t necessarily mean that they were the first (though in many cases they were). In some cases, the product is the first in its class to really capture the imagination of the development community or the public at large.
Perhaps no other round better demonstrates how far we come in a short amount of time than the cell phone category. The first entry on this list, Motorola’s StarTAC, dates back to 1996—a mere decade and a half ago. The StarTAC’s clamshell design was groundbreaking at the time—a model of gadget portability.
Fast forward to the iPhone in 2007—the most recent entry on the list—and it’s difficult to fathom that we’re talking about the same space. Apple’s handset is, for all intents and purposes, a pocket computer, and in many ways, the device’s functionality as a phone is really secondary to its ability to browse the Web and perform countless tasks via its ever-expanding App Store.
Here’s round three: Cell Phones. Each slide features an image of the product and an explanation about why it was so important and influential. The poll is on the final page.
Motorola StarTAC, 1996
Before the StarTAC came along, cell phones were bricks. Motorola wowed the industry with this 3.1 ounce wonder. The handset is best remembered today as being the first clamshell phone—a form factor that set the design precedent for years to come. The StarTAC helped drive mainstream cell phone adoption, selling around 60 million units over the course of its long life. The phone also gets points for introducing the vibrating ring.
Palm Pilot, 1996
This is where the PDA went mainstream. Sure Apple beat palm out by a few years, but the Newton just didn’t cut it with business professional, thanks in part to its poor handwriting recognition. Available as either the Pilot 1000 (128KB) or Pilot 5000 (512KB), this pocket-sized handheld gave busy professionals freedom from their PCs with a syncable address book, date book, memo pad, and more
Motorola Razr, 2004
Motorola’s second finalist on the list showed the world that the phone could also be a fashion accessory. It was razor thin, lightweight, and just really damn cool looking. But the Razr’s beauty was more than just skin deep—the phone also had state of the art features. In the four years that Motorola produced the handset, some 110 million Razrs were sold—a downright phenomenon.
Apple iPhone, 2007
Here’s the phone that changed it all. Apple’s first cell phone wasn’t the first smartphone, but it’s the one that completely changed the game. Apple brought its trademark ease-of-use interface to a space that was too often overly convoluted. The iPhone gave mobile users multi-touch control on a brilliant large screen and a Web browsing experience that cast off the walled garden of its predecessors. And then Apple completely reinvented the device the following year, with the launch of its App Store, a vast market of third party programs that redefined mobile software. All these years later, the iPhone is still the gold standard—Android, Windows, Palm, and the rest are still playing catch up.