ReadWriteReflect offers a look back at major technology trends, products and companies of the past year.

Real companies making real products that real people, you know, spend real money on. That's what ReadWrite predicted would be the hottest of hot startups in 2013 and, for the most part, we were right.

2013 showed us new hardware built by smaller companies for what seems like the first time in a long time. They were birthed from places like Kickstarter and delivered (almost) as promised. The Pebble smartwatch had its humble origins on the crowdfunding platform and so did the top startup on our list, Ouya. Leap Motion promised to change how we interact with computers and got off to a pretty good start in accomplishing that goal. 

Snapchat may be a company with no revenue and an unrealistic valuation, but it is changing the way people think of messaging. This has power, even if it is another one of those smoke & mirror San Francisco startups that ultimately dies off in a few years. Or it could be the next Facebook. Time will tell.

While there are certainly still products and services fetching big price tags with little to no revenue, the majority of companies in our year-end roundup are building products that will have an impact on how we think about technology. The hottest startups may not have been in enterprise and business-to-business channels (through companies like Parse, StackMob were acquired and Dropbox is growing like gangbusters), but the big business startup market performed well this year.

Startups abounded in every sector. Humanized robots are making headlines. Machine and home automation, 3D printing and "smart manufacturing" are all of a sudden popular. Hack stars making app development and learning to code easier are abundant. Evolution and innovation continue in 2013, unabated and unafraid. 

Here's our list of 10 of the top small companies that helped define the ever burgeoning startup industry in 2013.

Ouya

Ouya is an open source Android-based gaming platform that is looking to compete with PlayStation and Xbox. It was a Kickstarter success, and the anything-goes game system appeals to gamers and developers alike.

As Lauren Orsini pointed out in her review this year, “Today’s gaming landscape is shrinking, filled with increasing DRM limits that keep us from fully owning the games and consoles we thought we bought.” Which makes the Ouya game system that gives players unlimited ability to hack and build software and games to their liking, a leg up on other gaming platforms.

CyanogenMod

The custom Android ROM company that has found favor with hackers and hobbyists is looking to become the next mobile operating system. CyanogenMod can reboot your Android’s OS, improving memory, features and the operation of the device. The company picked up $23 million in additional funding and now boasts over 11 million active users. 

CyanogenMod is looking to become more mainstream and announced its first device partnership earlier this year with Oppo, a Chinese hardware manufacturer.

Unbounded Robotics

Unbounded Robotics is a spinoff of robotics studio Willow Garage, makers of the PR2, which was, at its time, the country’s most sophisticated robot. Unbounded Robotics new UBR-1 (pronounced Uber One) is the latest and greatest of humanoid robots.

The one-armed robot fetches a $35,000 price tag, and in the world of robotics, is relatively inexpensive. Unbounded Robotics is paving the way of robotic development and the UBR-1 could be the granddaddy of your in-home future robot. 

Leap Motion

Leap Motion, the device that lets you control a computer interface with hand gestures, is ideal for gaming and design and also lets you explore cities or the environment via Google Earth and other apps. The gadget is three inches long and plugs into your computer through its USB port. 

The Leap Motion Controller tracks your hands and fingers, and is hypersensitive to movements including pinching, grasping and swiping. This year, the company partnered with HP and plans on embedding the motion-control technology on future HP devices. Leap Motion retails for $79.99, so it’s an inexpensive way to begin experimenting with gesture-controlled technologies.

Snapchat

Source: Snapchat Source: Snapchat

The ephemeral messaging service launched itself into the hearts of teens everywhere and was, in large part, a driver of the competitive messaging trend. Snapchat lets users send disappearing photos and videos to friends. However, the messages aren’t entirely deleted from the server. 

Snapchat made waves earlier this year when the company reportedly rebuffed a $3 billion acquisition attempt from Facebook and $4 billion from Google. The public scoffed at the startup led by 23-year-old cofounder Evan Spiegel dismissing billion-dollar buyouts when his company has zero revenue, but with the red-hot messaging market growing in 2014, Snapchat might prove the naysayers wrong.

IFTTT

IFTTT=If This Then That. The service is a productivity tool that combines a variety of APIs to enable your online accounts to communicate with each other. IFTTT is built on channels—or different platforms and services that can send and receive triggers and actions—the if and then requests. 

IFTTT users can create “recipes” that connect different channels; for instance, a recipe can save all your favorite tweets to Evernote, email you every Instagram photo tagged from a certain location, or turn on lights in your home at sunset. 

Right now IFTTT has 71 channels, but it’s likely the company will support hundreds connected services with open APIs soon. 

SmartThings

Readers who have been following our coverage of the connected home might recognize SmartThings. The home automation platform lets users control their homes from a mobile device. Whether it’s unlocking the door, turning on the lights, or setting a thermostat, SmartThings simplifies home automation. 

The company has its roots in crowdfunding; it raised over $1 million on Kickstarter in 2012, more than four times its original goal. As more people begin to adopt connected home technologies, SmartThings, popular with early adopters, could become one of the leaders in its field. 

Homejoy

The affordable cleaning company provides house cleaning for just $20 an hour. Homejoy is now in over 30 cities nationwide, and backs its services with a guarantee that if you’re not satisfied with the job, it will re-clean it for free.

The company picked up $38 million in Series B funding earlier this month, so it’s likely we’ll see Homejoy appear in more cities this year. While dusting and mopping might not be glamorous (we like non-traditional startups here at ReadWrite), many people want an inexpensive cleaning service that prevents them from getting their own hands dirty. 

Coin

The controversial startup aims to simplify in-person transactions. Coin puts the information from all your credit cards into one digital credit card that has a button on the card to switch payment forms. The idea behind Coin is that people have too many credit cards that take up space in wallets and are often forgotten at home or in stores. Coin eliminates both problems by storing credit card information on the smart card and alerting users via push notifications that their Coin was left behind. 

Some pundits have dubbed Coin “vaporware”, as the product is still in its development phase, but the company promises to start shipping the cards next summer. Coin is available to pre-order now for $100. 

Medium

Twitter cofounders Ev Williams and Biz Stone created another content distribution platform, this time letting users write more than 140 characters. Medium, the blogging site that got all the best online writers to forget about their personal blogs, became exceedingly popular this year. Originally an invite-only platform, Medium opened up to everyone in October. 

There is some controversy over whether or not you own the content you write for Medium. But Ev Williams told ReadWrite that the company requires the right to display content, but it does not take ownership of what's published.

It will be interesting to see what the company does with the quality writing generated on Medium. Whether or not the company turns into a publication remains to be seen, but the high-quality content published on the site keeps me coming back. 

Correction, Jan. 6, 2014: A previous version of this article incorrectly described Medium's treatment of copyright. It does not own the content that you publish on the platform, but has the right to use it for as long as it is published on the site.

Honorable Mentions

  • Pebble - The smartwatch that’s leading the wearable revolution.
  • Circa - Circa is taking news and current events and breaking it down into mobile, digestible chunks. 
  • Freight Farms - By using industrial freights to grow produce, FreightFarms is poised to bring sustainable agriculture to urban centers across the U.S. 
  • The Startup Institute - The eight week program helps people build the skills necessary to work in an entrepreneurial business environment and, after graduation, helps students find jobs.
  • littleBits - Tiny modules that can snap together, programmed to help people create and prototype engineering projects. 

What were the startups that interested you the most this year? Let us know in the comments!

Lead image by mightyohm on Flickr, CyanogenMod image via johanl on Flickr, Ouya photo via Lauren Orsini for ReadWrite, all other images provided by company mentioned.