11 Points

The Time Magazine 50 Most Influential Gadgets, Judged
written by Sam Greenspan

Earlier this week, Time magazine put out a list ranking the "50 most influential gadgets of all time." The rankings are based on the collective/debated opinions of their tech and business writers and editors and, really, are all over the map.

While they never officially define "gadget," the requirement seems to be in the electronic technology space only; for example, they didn't pick things like the blender or doorbell. Or, ya know, the wheel.

Here are their 50 picks, along with my snap judgments on whether the ranking is too high, too low or the third bowl of porridge.
  1. Apple iPhone. Too high. All-touchscreen phones and the introduction of apps and an app store are all important -- but I think it got the number one spot as an emblem of the smartphone revolution and it's never had the dominating market share to really deserve full credit. Feels more like a #2 pick than a number one.

  2. Sony Trinitron color TV. Too high. Picked as a representation of color TV; also probably one step too high.

  3. Apple Macintosh. Too low. Should've been #1. Fundamentally changed the expectations of a personal computer -- that it should have a user-friendly interface to make it accessible and usable by everyone -- and now everyone does use a home computer.



  4. Sony Walkman. About right.

  5. IBM Model 5150. About right. Emblematic of the initial PC boom.

  6. Victrola record player. Slightly too high The first big step in home audio. I think there are a few more influential things it bumped, but it's a nice relief to see something old fashioned get recognized this high.

  7. Regency TR-1 Transistor Radio. Way too high. So many things below it on this list had more significant, more lasting impact.

  8. Kodak Brownie camera. Slightly too high. Cheap, personal, point-and-shoot(ish) cameras are important, although I would've ranked digital cameras higher.

  9. Apple iPod. Too low. Took digital music widespread and mainstream.

  10. Hitachi Magic Wand. Way too high. A funny pick, and perhaps here as the safe-for-Time representative of the entire sex toy industry -- but if it'd been left off the list, no one would've noticed.

  11. Canon Pocketronic Calculator. Too low. Genuinely changed the world and accelerated technology and innovation. I had to use a slide rule in a math class in high school once. The calculator was a really important discovery.



  12. Phillips N1500 VCR. Too low. Even though VCRs are now dead, the first one to allow people to record their favorite TV shows altered everything from the way people spent their time to social and family dynamics.

  13. Atari 2600. Slightly too high. I would've put the NES as the lead video game console on the list (and higher).

  14. US Robotics Sportster 56K Modem. Slightly too high. Certainly an important early part of the Internet's expansion (or, at least, America Online's expansion). But feels like obsolete ancient history at this point.

  15. Nintendo Entertainment System. Way, way too low. The NES took home video games further than anyone ever thought they could go -- especially since right before the NES's debut, they were virtually declared dead -- and is singlehandedly responsible for every home video game console since.

  16. Nintendo Game Boy. Too high. The mobile gaming revolution was big, but didn't truly explode until two decades later with smartphones.

  17. IBM Selectric Typewriter. About right. This is a tough call, so I'm just going to leave it where it is as a representative of both the typewriter and word processor.

  18. Motorola Bravo Pager. About right.

  19. JVC VideoMovie Camcorder. Way too low. A huge part of the proliferation of home videos, getting everyone in the world comfortable with being on camera, and eventually begetting smartphone video and YouTube.

  20. Motorola Droid. Way too high. I'm not even sure any Android phone needed to be on the list at all; just let the iPhone represent the modern smartphones and we're fine. Like, they didn't include a second brand of phonograph anywhere on the list.

  21. IBM Thinkpad 700C. Slightly too low. As a representative of the potential of laptops -- which are now the dominant type of computer -- it deserves a little bit more.

  22. TomTom GPS. Too low. Even if GPS-only units are giving way to GPS on phones, the mere introduction of GPS as an affordable, mainstream option had a drastic impact on society. Under the parameters of being "influential," this deserved better.

  23. Phonemate 400 Answering Machine. About right. Even back when home phone calls were the only method of communication and we would all agonize over what to put on our outgoing message, answering machines weren't that life-changing.

  24. BlackBerry 6210. About right. Wildly important, but only to the niche of business people and then early smartphone adopters.



  25. Apple iPad. Too high. I've owned one for almost five years and I'm still not 100 percent sure the world needed them. If tablets didn't exist, would anyone really mind? Definitely the most superfluous gadget so far on the list.

  26. Commodore 64. Too high. A nice step in home computing, but not more influential than many of the things trailing it.

  27. Polaroid instant camera. Slightly too low. Instant photography was a massive evolution in the technology, and even though it's more or less obsolete today, we're still addicted to the instant gratification of knowing what a photo looks like. (We just look at it on a screen.)

  28. Amazon Kindle. Slightly too low. Managed to usher in a seismic change to the 650-year-old institution of books.

  29. TiVo. Way too low. DVR technology changed our relationship with the role of television in our lives and schedules and made the on-demand/Netflix era the next logical step.

  30. Toshiba DVD player. Too high. DVDs aren't going to go down in media history as being all that important.

  31. Sony PlayStation. About right. Time picked this as the representation of video game consoles skewing older and getting more juiced up. Seems fair to be around this spot.

  32. Nintendo Wii. About right. It was a hit, especially with people who weren't gamers (or young), and motion-based video games were incorporated by Sony and Microsoft within a few years, so that qualifies as "influential." But the jury's still out on whether people will ever really go all-in on motion-based gaming. A decade later, pretty much everyone is back to sitting on the couch with a controller in their hand.

  33. Jerrold cable box. Too high. Cable TV was coming regardless; hard to give credit to the cable box.

  34. Nokia 3210. Way too high. When I saw it made the list, I joked (to myself, naturally), "What was its influence? Snake?" And... um... yeah. Time credits it for being "the first phone with an internal antenna and the first to come with games like Snake preloaded." Look, I owned this phone. I like Snake as much as the next guy. But this phone didn't need to be on this list.

  35. HP DeskJet. Way too low. The end of dot matrix printers AND home color printing -- how is this only 35th?

  36. Palm Pilot. About right. I'm not sure PDAs ever transcended novelty status for the vast majority of people, but it is the Homo erectus to the smartphone's Homo sapien.

  37. Motorola Dynatac 8000x. Too low. The first truly portable cell phone AND Zack Morris's signature accessory. Which those ivory tower elitists didn't even mention.

  38. Apple iBook. Too high. Goofy multicolored laptops didn't catch on. Time says it was the first laptop to offer wireless networking -- but (1) it came out in 1999, four or five years before Wifi was really a viable option and (2) wireless networking would've been integrated into other laptops regardless.



  39. Oculus Rift. Too high. Virtual reality may very well be the next big thing. But I also sat on a friend's couch six years ago to watch his 3D TV, which was also supposed to be the next big thing. This gets a "too soon."

  40. Sony Discman D-50. About right. Helped usher CDs in and cassettes out -- but now they're both gone.

  41. Roku player. Too low. I never really thought about how much the Roku (and subsequent competitors) changed things, but the Roku's introduction was a big moment in the modern evolution of entertainment consumption. It took things like Netflix and Hulu from "lean forward" (watching at your desk on a computer screen) to "lean back" (watching on a couch).

  42. Fitbit. About right. Fitness trackers are popular (at least as gifts, perhaps less so as something to really use) but no one's particularly wild for them.

  43. Osborne 1 personal computer. Too high. Feels like they were just filling out the list here.

  44. Nest thermostat. Slightly too low -- for now. Assuming "smart" homes are coming, the Nest is the first major step.

  45. Raspberry Pi. About right. Very cool to a small number of people building their own computer devices but not yet an influential game changer.

  46. DJI Phantom drone. About right. The bottom of the list is all stuff that looks like it could be influential but hasn't gotten there yet.

  47. Yamaha Clavinova Digital Piano. Too high. Oh, except this one. Weird pick. Why not go with the Casio keyboard instead? It could play those awesome pre-programmed riffs like samba and calypso.

  48. Segway. Too high. Shouldn't have made the list. Segways were designed to revolutionize transportation; instead they just remain a curiosity used by mall security and tour groups. And the only thing they've influenced are those (not) hoverboards that keep exploding.

  49. Makerbot Replicator. Too low. History will likely be kinder to home 3D printing than Segways, drones or digital pianos.

  50. Google Glass. Too high. It was a flop, so its influence will be "people had to figure out a different solution for 'eye computing.'" It could easily be replaced on this list by a smartwatch, HD TV, tape recorder, TI-82, boombox, police radar detector, Tamagotchi, credit card skimmer, two-way pager (impetus for texting), karaoke machine, or, of course, a digital camera. How did a digital camera not make the list?

Well that was fun. Please don't audit me on how the list would look with all my changes; I feel like it would be like an NFL forecast where somehow half the teams have 10 wins and none have fewer than five.


This post was originally published on Friday, May 6, 2016 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Web & Tech.

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