In a year punctuated by groundbreaking gadgetry, brand-new design and innovative technological achievement, how on earth do you go about picking the 25 best of 2012? For me, it was made easier by my weekly Top 10 Tech columns, pinpointing the innovations and products I thought were the most future-forward and world-changing.
25. Microsoft Surface
It took a while, but Microsoft blasted into the tablet market with Surface, which is not quite a tablet, nor is it a computer. In fact, it's a PC in tablet's clothing. While it's not perfect yet, we called it "the tablet for Windows fans." It won’t win over Apple iPad owners, but for all those who hate Apple, find Android confusing and underwhelming, and are ready to enter the world of touchscreen computing, this is the alternative you’ve been waiting for.
24. LiquiGlide Super-Slippery Coating
Here's an invention that will enhance your quality of life in a small way. Made of proven-safe substances that are already used in foods, this super-slippery coating will make it so normally stubborn semi-liquids like ketchup and mayonnaise will come out of their containers as if they really wanted to.
23. Windows 8
In the works for years, Microsoft officially rolled out the golden master of Windows 8 on Oct. 26. A dramatic departure from Windows 7, it introduced the controversial Start Screen, eliminating that start orb that many had gotten so accustomed to. We've been using it here, and find it to be bold and powerful.
22. Super-High-Def 4K TVs
At the big IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin in August, one of the major trends was the rollout of 4K TV, those super-high resolution displays that offer four times the resolution of ordinary HDTV. A variety of companies were getting into the act, such as LG, with an 84-inch 3D TV that's already shipping in Korea. Now that the hardware is here, all they need to do is bring the price down -- these sets are costing upwards of $20,000. Oh yeah, someone has to create content for them and a good way to deliver it to those lucky early adopters, too.
21. Audi E-Tron: First Hybrid to Win Le Mans
This is a watershed event: An Audi E-Tron race car became the first hybrid vehicle to win the 24 hours of Le Mans race. Not only did it come in first, but another Audi E-Tron came in second. Hybrid vehicles: Do ya think they'll catch on?
This is not the first Kindle reader -- and it certainly won't be the last -- but Amazon struck a near-perfect equilibrium with this iteration. Graced with a built-in light with a series of LEDs that evenly illuminate its 6-inch display, its excellent performance and Amazon's established ecosystem of products and services are tough to beat. Not bad, considering that you can get one for as little as $119.
4. iPad 4
Apple shipped its quad-core iPad 3 on March 16, and its Retina display screen was super-sharp. Then in October, Apple topped itself with the iPad 4, with the same lovely Retina display as its predecessor but performance that's at least twice as fast in our testing. In my view, no other tablet comes close in terms of experience. "Come to your senses and get an iPad already," said our reviewer Pete Pachal. "There’s a reason it’s the most popular tablet in the world, and it’s never been clearer than in the iPad 4."
3. Google Fiber Launch
Leave it to Google to show all those slacker broadband providers how Internet access ought to be done. Google Fiber is a combination broadband and television service that's lighting up the Kansas City, Kan. and Kansas City, Mo. area with unheard-of 1Gb-per-second connectivity. Residents are paying a mere $70 a month to take part in this unprecedented experiment. Now, Google, spread it all over everywhere.
2. Samsung Galaxy S III
Behold, the hit smartphone of the year, officially announced on May 3. Its 4.8-inch touchscreen, Android Ice Cream Sandwich software and 8-megapixel camera made it a worldwide hit, smacking down the iPhone and taking the honors as the best-selling smartphone in the world.
1. MacBook Pro with Retina Display
Even those of us who aren't Apple fanboys were impressed with this MacBook Pro with Retina display, a laptop that seems like it was delivered to me by a time machine from the future. Its lovely design and responsive performance are surpassed only by its exquisite Retina display, simply the finest screen I've ever seen on any computer. Its sharpness and color saturation is downright astonishing. Overall, it's the best laptop I've ever seen, earning it the top spot for 2012.
It's faster, it has a bigger 4-inch 16:9 screen, it keeps that iconic iPhone design from the previous generation, and it costs just about the same. Its most impressive feature is how unusually light it is, astonishing everyone who holds it for the first time. And now there's faster LTE connectivity on board, too. It's the world's best smartphone, made even better.
9. Faster, Better Wi-Fi: 802.11ac
No matter how fast your connection, it never seems fast enough. Enter 802.11ac, a new Wi-Fi protocol that will soon be ubiquitous, offering wider bandwidth and faster speeds, as well as a wider coverage area. The first routers rolled out this year, but this is a development that will make everything seem faster within the next couple of years.
8. Intel Ivy Bridge Processors
Intel's Ivy Bridge processors have a magical combination that's music to any techno-geeks's ears: These quad-core processors are not only faster than their predecessors, but they use less power. The first Ivy Bridge chips were available in late April, and then in June, dual-core ultrabook versions rolled out.
7. Porsche 918 Hybrid
A prototype of the highly anticipated Porsche 918 hybrid hit the streets this year, and it promises to be one of the most formidable cars of its type in the world. This 770hp beast has a midships gasoline engine, along with a couple of electric motors -- one on the front wheels and another on the back. The result? A 0-to-60 time of 3 seconds and top speed of 200mph. Oh yeah, it reaches that breakneck speed while sipping fuel at the equivalent of 78 miles per gallon.
6. SpaceX Dragon Delivers Cargo to ISS
After a flawless launch, delicate pirouettes in low-Earth orbit, a rendezvous with the space station, some serious grappling and now docking, the Dragon spacecraft built by private space company headed up by Elon Musk made history in May. Then in October, the company sent the Dragon to the space station again, loaded with cargo for the first time. The era of commercial space exploration has begun.
"Dude, where's my flying car?" you ask. Here it is, finally rolled out and flown to the New York International Auto Show in April. But you'll have to wait until 2013 to pick one up for $279,000.
14. Google Project Glass
Check out these futuristic augmented reality specs, giving us a heads-up display with which to see the output of our Android smartphones. Or so says Google. On the gorgeous models Google presented, these weirdo glasses don't look half bad. First introduced in April, Google was passing out prototypes for $1,500 in July.
13. IBM 500-Mile Battery
IBM figured out a way to make a battery that could propel an electric vehicle for 500 miles before it needs recharging. This lithium air battery tech uses nanotechnology, and it was one of the breakthroughs of the year -- although you'll have to wait until at least 2020 to see it coming into fruition.
12. Nokia Lumia 920
Here's Nokia's first Windows Phone 8 handset -- decked out with a curved 4.5-inch screen that can display 720p resolution with aplomb. It's got the juice, too, hiding a dual-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 processor under the hood. The star of the show? Its killer camera, one of the best ever built into a smartphone. It's made even better with Nokia's PureView, which uses optical image stabilization to make your photos and videos sharper and smoother.
11. Ferrari F70
When a new Ferrari flagship is in the works, it has the automotive world's undivided attention. Ultra-clean renderings of the Ferrari F70 supercar were gleaned from snapshots taken of the test car, which has been spotted all year as it was marauding around Europe in gaudy camouflage. The exotic car's 900 horsepower V12/electric motor combo results in a rumored 0-to-60 time of 2.5 seconds and top speed of 250mph. Those numbers had jaws dropping all over the world, but there was some disappointment at the same time -- it won't be rolling out for an official introduction until the 2013 Geneva Motor Show.
There was no shortage of ultrabooks rolled out this year, but the $1,500 Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook is a worthy poster child. The lightest ultrabook ever when it was announced in mid-May, this 14-inch sub-3-pound laptop has extraordinary thinness and power, and rocks a backlit keyboard, high-definition display and a battery that charges in less than half an hour.
19. Windows Phone 8
Finally, someone rolls out a smartphone operating system that doesn't look like the iPhone's rows of icons. This time it was Microsoft pulling its smartphone OS kicking and screaming into the future. And those "live tiles" work a lot like they do in Windows 8, showing actual useful information instead of just sitting there like most icons do. Bravo.
18. Curiosity Lands on Mars
Sure, we landed rovers on Mars before, but never have they been so sophisticated, nor have they arrived on the planet's surface in such a Rube Goldbergian way. Curiosity had the most complicated landing procedure ever attempted, involving a supersonic parachute and a sky crane. And now, Curiosity is traveling across the planet's surface, and testing what it finds in its sophisticated onboard lab.
17. HTC One X+
When we reviewed the HTC One X smartphone, we thought it was one of the best Android devices available. That was before we saw the HTC One X+, which has a faster processor and much longer battery life.
16. Logitech Harmony Touch Remote
If you've enjoyed the convenience and performance of Logitech Harmony universal remotes, you'll probably be interested in this long-awaited update. The Harmony Touch costs $250, but it's a terrific upgrade in every sense of the word. It's faster, more powerful and prettier than its predecessor, and it comes in an attractive new streamlined package that's easier to use.