Innovation in the gadget business rarely comes in great leaps forward. Most of the time, somebody will take an existing idea and implement it at a cheaper cost, at a larger scale or in a new context, and that change is enough to shake up our sense of what technology can do.
And that's exactly what these five breakthroughs have done for me this year.
1. "Retina displays" grow up, and out. Two years after Apple's iPhone 4 introduced a display so sharp that you could no longer distinguish its constituent pixels, "Retina displays" started showing up in the Cupertino company's other gadgets (and many competing smartphones). On this spring's iPad, the results were amazing, instantly making the old model's screen look bad.
But on Apple's laptops, Retina displays have jacked up prices substantially. And on flat-panel TVs, ultra-high-resolution "4K" and "8K" resolution suffers from the fact that at typical couch-viewing distance, even mere HD resolution can exceed our visual acuity.
2. Cheaper smartphone service. This year, the cost of keeping a new smartphone finally started ratcheting down in a big way. The prepaid carrier Cricket Wireless slashed the monthly bill for an iPhone to $55, then its competitor Virgin Mobile beat even that with a $30 deal.