In the past 12 months we’ve seen a few innovative products that have turned science fiction concepts into reality, as well as the introduction of entirely new generations of tech that will shape the future. Some of these products are evolutions of previous ones, while others came as complete surprises. Here are our picks for the most significant tech innovations of 2012, and why we’re excited about what they mean for the future.
Epson Moverio BT-100
The Moverio isn’t just a personal movie screen that sits on your nose instead of on a wall. It can play 3D videos with virtual surround sound and even run Android apps and games with a hand-held controller. Best of all, it isn’t completely opaque so you stay aware of your surroundings. You can watch movies in complete privacy even on airplanes and in bed at night. It’s a first-gen product, so it’s a bit bulky and has limited connectivity, but Epson is trying to build a community of developers around it to harness the potential for augmented reality applications that project information into your field of view while you’re working, so you could potentially pull up engineering schematics or test records while examining a machine, or overlay virtual furniture on the floor of a bare construction site. With nearly unlimited potential ahead of it, the Moverio was one of our favourite products to review in 2012.
Nintendo Wii U
Nintendo decided not to compete with the Xbox 360 and PS3’s high-def graphics and instead took the world by storm with the unique, affordable, family-friendly Wii, effectively turning everyone’s expectations of what a game console should be upside down. Its successor, the Wii U, expands on that formula with decidedly non-cutting-edge hardware but a funky controller called the GamePad with an enormous touchscreen that either augments or replaces your TV. There’s no standard way for games to make use of the touchscreen; early games use it to select inventory items and see statistics or swipe and scribble to control characters. Some games need you to twist the entire GamePad like a steering wheel, blow into its mic, or make facial expressions for the camera to pick up. Not all games make use of the GamePad, but the ones that do make the Wii U a fun, engaging, and totally innovative product.
Google has pretty much set the standard when it comes to data retrieval on the Web, but the new frontier is your personal information. The search giant has tied a lot of its properties together with Google Now, an intelligent voice-enabled assistant that not only knows where you are and what you’re doing, but can also anticipate what you want to know. Google Now debuted with Android 4.1 this July and has been expanded since then. Using your phone’s GPS, your email and calendar, it can show you things you need before you knew you needed them. Examples include reminders, traffic on your commute route, sports scores for matches you’re interested in, flight delay information, events you’ve bought tickets for, events nearby, related searches, and local recommendations. Everything’s accessible with just a flick on your Android homescreen.
Intel Next Unit of Computing
It’s a tiny four-inch-square box with enough horsepower to knock the the tower right off your desktop. While the size comes at the cost of some features and space for a standard SSD, it’s a sign of things to come. The NUC is basically an Ultrabook in a box without the screen, keyboard and trackpad, so you get the latest-gen hardware with all its power-saving refinements as well as Thunderbolt for external dongles and adapters. It could serve quite handily as an HTPC in your living room and is also unobtrusive enough to find place in a kitchen or bedroom. It’s also attractive for business applications, kiosks and smart displays. Intel will be selling these directly to consumers, though the price doesn’t include RAM, SSD or Wi-Fi adapter. We hope other manufacturers build on this platform and offer products with different configurations for different needs.
LG UHD TV
Ultra HD TVs and projectors
2012 saw the launch of actual consumer TVs and projectors with 4K resolution (3840×2160), which is HD doubled in height and width. It makes most sense for displays larger than 60 inches since even HD begins looking bad when it’s blown up beyond that size. We had the pleasure of testing the LG 84LM9600, a behemoth that needed six people to get it out of its box. The effect was absolutely beyond compare. UHD will eventually make its way to smaller screens, making movies and TV sharper and more vivid than they’ve ever been.
Dell XPS 12
Reductions in power consumption and the touch-friendly Windows 8 have allowed manufacturers to experiment with unique shapes and designs for laptops with the goal of offering the best of laptops and tablets in a single package. We’ve seen sliders, twisters, benders, flippers and all manner of contortionists at trade shows and previews, and are excited get our hands on them in our own lab now. Our favourites include the Dell XPS 12 and Lenovo Ideabook Yoga.
Microsoft Surface covers
Microsoft Surface Touch and Type Covers
When Microsoft announced its plan to launch tablet devices running Windows 8 and RT, the obvious question on everyone’s minds was how they would position the products as superior to the iPad. Software aside, there’s only so much you can do with a glass and metal rectangle. That’s why the Touch and Type covers came as a breath of fresh air and gave people confidence in Microsoft’s ability to innovate. You can choose between the light, flexible Touch cover with virtual buttons and trackpad embedded in its fabric, or the more solid Type cover with comfortable mechanical keys.
Samsung Galaxy Camera
Samsung Galaxy Camera
This product didn’t get it quite right, but deserves a mention in our list of innovations anyway. Samsung tried jamming the internals of a smartphone into a compact camera’s body in order to give users the power of Android apps and 3D connectivity. Sadly, the pictures it takes just aren’t all that good, and the end result is too bulky and expensive to live up to that promise. Full marks for trying, though, and we’re looking forward to version 2.0.
Windows 8 UI
Windows 8 Modern UI
This one had us on the fence. It’s wildly innovative and disruptive, but the fact is there are a lot of people who just don’t like what Windows has become. We found ourselves wishing for a way to turn it off altogether when we tried Windows 8 on a desktop, but tablet and touchscreen laptop users seem not to mind having the tiled interface and apps around. The Windows Store has filled up considerably over the last few months, so we might give it another try too.
Check out our other G.O.T.Y 2012 award lists here.
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