The 25 Most Innovative Products of the Year

PC World
Saturday, December 29, 2007; 12:19 AM

Break on through: Among the Innovation Award winners (clockwise from top) are HP's TouchSmart (displaying Microsoft's Popfly), Toshiba's Portege R500 (displaying, Seagate's hybrid hard drive, NetGear's Digital Entertainer HD EVA8000, and--no surprise--Apple's iPhone.Make no mistake, the Web is taking over. Applications are moving to browsers en masse, and technology to take Web apps offline promises to smooth the road ahead. And let's not forget breakthrough devices advancing the Web-anywhere world: Apple has redefined the phone, and One Laptop per Child's sub-$200 laptop is delivering Internet-style collaboration to kids in developing nations. But innovation isn't all on the Web; the PC is evolving as well. Apple has reenvisioned backup, HP has created the first useful touch-screen PC, hybrid hard drives boost speed and battery life, and ultraportables have become even more useful. Chosen from the hundreds of products we reviewed in 2007, here are 25 that will change the way you work, communicate, and play this year--and beyond.

Innovation: Plug-in lets Web applications work offline.Google Gears

Benefit: Tackles the single biggest hurdle to making Web apps truly convenient.

Imagine firing up only one application--a Web browser--for handling all of your daily computer tasks. It's a nice dream, but it has one major problem: What do you do when you're offline? Google Gears, a Windows application now in beta, solves this problem by allowing service designers to create versions that still work when your PC doesn't have an Internet connection.Google Reader,Zoho Writer(which added offline editing via Gears in late 2007), and online task manager Remember the Milk already use it, and Google is working to add Gears to other applications in its stable. (If you're thinking of ditching desktop software entirely, read one writer's take in "Life Without Desktop Software.")

Innovation: Gee-whiz touch-screen interface and spartan case dial up a mobile revolution.

Benefit:Mac OS-simple software offering slide-and-glide access to bright, colorful menus sets this cell phone apart from its rivals.

The $399 iPhone hastaken some criticism for its shortcomings, mainly its lack of 3G connectivity, but you can't deny that the sleek handset is innovative. Apple made navigating via a touch screen--sure to be a staple in future PDA phones and other small devices--intuitive and fun. iPhone's Safari browser makes the handset a great mobile Web device (at least when you can get a Wi-Fi connection.) And, sure, many phones play music, but Cover Flow cranks the iPhone up to 11 as a music player. (See PC World'siPhone Centralfor much more.)

Innovation: $200 laptop does mesh networking, is sand- and waterproof, and works well in direct sunlight.One Laptop per Child XO

Benefit: What every child in the developing world needs; makes you ask, "When will my laptop be able to do that?"

Innovation isn't always about being bigger, better, and faster. One Laptop per Child's Linux-powered XO laptop, with a 7.5-inch display--designed for children in poor countries--is one of the cheapest, most power-conscious, and sturdy notebooks on the planet. It also has features you might wish you had on your mainstream laptop. One clear standout: XO's Wi-Fi allows it to function as a mesh-network node that can connect with other XOs, even when no Internet connection is available.

Innovation: Backs up changes hourly to an external drive behind the scenes, then lets you "go back in time" to restore data.Time Machine, in Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard)

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