Remember when accessing the Internet meant sitting down at a desk with a clunky computer and CRT monitor on it and then waiting for the dial-up modem to finish making that awful noise? Those days are thankfully long gone and today we are speedily using the Web from a variety of devices, big and small.
Tablets and smartphones were huge in 2011, but that's only the beginning. Game consoles and televisions can connect to the Internet today as well, and the number of devices and objects that do so in the future will only grow. Crucially, the form factors we use to browse and interact with the Web today are beginning to change the way the Web itself is built.
5. XBox 360 + Kinect
Microsoft is rarely thought of being at the forefront of the Web these days, what with the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple hogging all the spotlight. And the XBox 360 has been on the market for six years, so it's not exactly a new device. Yet in 2011 the XBox 360 took major steps from being just a gaming console toward being an all-in-one entertainment platform for consumers, fueled in large part by the Internet.
In December, Microsoft announced a major software upgrade to the XBox that will bring a wide array of content apps, pitting it against Google TV, Apple TV, Boxee and Roku. Crucially, consumers can also now get get traditional pay TV services through the XBox platform, which gives it a leg up over those other providers.
filed a patent of its own to bring motion-based controlled to its devices as well.Last year, XBox managed to refresh its own brand and paint itself as a more innovative product with the launch of the Kinect. The motion-controlled sensor bar is more of a user interface mechanism than a device whose functionality relies on the Web. Still, it represents one of a few new ways that consumers can interact with digital content and the Web. It's been a hit with consumers and Apple has
While the device came out in 2010, much of the action happened this year as developers hacked the device to do its bidding. Instead of shutting them down, Microsoft has openly embraced the tinkering by making an SDK available and is even offering a cash prize to whoever can come up with the best hack.
4. Your TV
The future of television is still very much being forged, but 2011 was a big year in its ongoing formation. The aforementioned update to XBox 360 was just one step toward that future. Its voice-controlled search feature may offer a glimpse at part of what Apple has up its sleeve for the HDTV market. For now, Apple's current offering in the TV space remains its "hobby" set top box, which has several competitors.
It frankly could have been a better year for Google TV, whose hyped 2010 launched fell somewhat flat due to user experience and content-related issues. Google assures us they're ironing those issues out and the company been smoothing over its relationship with premium content providers.
On the other hand, Roku launched a major upgrade to its product this year, adding more content apps and putting a new focus on games such as Angry Birds. Boxee's platform progressed only incrementally, but its support for live TV signals may make it a bit more palatable for the average consumer.
In addition to the slow but steady growth of set-top boxes and smart TVs, 2011 saw a shift toward increased usage of second screen apps like GetGlue and a more defined relationship between social media and television content. The television set is not necessarily the "Internet device" in these scenarios, but it is the content displayed on the TV that gets people chatting on Twitter and other social networks, which in turn can affect ratings, which have an influence on the programming itself.
We may be a few years away from a seamless convergence of the Web and television, but we're headed there and 2011 provided quite a few of the stepping stones.
3. iPad 2
a bigger iterative jump from its predecessor than we saw with the iPhone 4S this year. It's thinner, has a faster processor and comes equipped two cameras.We have to be honest. The iPad 2 lands on this in part by virtue of the fact that it's an iPad. The second generation of Apple's beloved and dominant tablet did represent
When it comes to browsing the Web, it isn't all that different from the iPad 1. However, with this iteration, the device became much more of a content creation and publishing tool, which helps fuel creativity on the two-way Web. The Safari Web browser did see some improvements with the launch of iOS 5, and there are some very capable third party browsers available for the iPad.
Perhaps the device's biggest impact on the Web has been due to its leadership position in the tablet market in general. Since the 2010 launch of the iPad, consumers have been snatching up tablets on a huge scale, and competing devices stand to push adoption even further.
This shift toward tablet computing - still in its early days - has already had a major affect on the way people use the Web and how websites are constructed. HTML5 was one of the key buzzwords of the year, in no small part because adoption of the technology makes it easier for Web developers for forge a presence on any screen. Apple's refusal to support Flash, coupled with the popularity of its devices, has led developers to more aggressively adopt open standards like HTML5 and even caused Adobe to abandon the mobile version of Flash altogether.
2. The Kindle Fire
Kindle Fire was finally unveiled and it began shipping on November 15.We heard rumors about Amazon launching its own tablet computer for pretty much the duration of the year. In late September, the
When held up alongside Apple's leading tablet, the Kindle Fire leaves much to be desired. It's not an iPad killer, nor is it meant to be. Instead, the Kindle Fire represents one of the stronger implementations of Android on a tablet and at $200 it opens the tablet market up to a whole new set of consumers.
While the Kindle Fire is explicitly designed to encourage you to consume more of Amazon's content (a goal so important that they're selling the devices at a loss), it does more than that. In addition to offering a limited selection of popular Android apps, the Fire comes with a Web browser that shows promise.
Silk is Amazon's "cloud-accelerated" browser that uses the company's vast cloud infrastructure to lift some of the page-loading burden off of the browser itself and, in theory, make it faster. Early tests indicate the implementation of the technology has some growing to do, but the concept could lend itself to a faster Web browsing experience for consumers.
1. iPhone 4S + Siri
Apple may not have launched the iPhone 5 everybody was hoping for in October, but the device they unveiled has nonetheless had a major impact. On the surface, the iPhone 4S appears to be just another slight iteration in the iPhone product line, and in a sense it is. Its camera is slightly better and its processor faster than that of the iPhone 4. The screen resolution is the same, as is the amount of memory and the physical design of the device.
Despite the fact that it wasn't a radical overhaul of the product, the iPhone 4S broke Apple's own sales records within the first few days of its availability.
It also introduced the world to Siri, the voice-controlled mobile "personal assistant" that has been the subject of both awe and ridicule. Siri is not an Apple invention, but rather comes from a company Apple acquired in 2010. The artificial intelligence and voice search technology has its roots in the same U.S. military research agency that gave birth to the Internet itself.
Siri isn't the first voice search application of its kind, but it's probably the most powerful and its deep integration with Apple's hot-selling handset automatically makes puts it in the hands of millions of consumers. For many, its a new way to interact with the Web, and one that we don't see going away anytime soon.
As neat as Siri seems now, it's real potential lies in the future. Many expect to see it in future Apple products, quite possibly including desktop computers and even its much-rumored HDTV set. Whether Apple likes it or not, developers have already hacked the technology and are putting it to use in new, ever more mind-blowing ways. And this is only the beginning.