Are These The Top 12 Tech Products Of The Last 22 Years?

Tyler Durden's picture

After 22 years of reviewing tech products for the Wall Street Journal, Walt Mossberg is leaving; but before he does, he unveils what he believes are the 12 products that were the most-influential during his tenure at the "paper" (remember that: paper?). Remember the Apple Newton? How about Netscape? Mossberg believes even if these products did not last until the present, they left their mark in the evolution of personal technology. Do readers agree or disagree? And if not, which product that did not make the list should be on it?


Via WSJ,

Some readers will complain that Apple is overrepresented. My answer: Apple introduced more influential, breakthrough products for average consumers than any other company over the years of this column.

1. Newton MessagePad (1993)

Newton MessagePad foreshadowed some of today's most cutting-edge technology.

This hand-held computer from Apple was a failure, even a joke, mainly because the company promised it could flawlessly recognize handwriting. It didn't. But it had one feature that foreshadowed some of today's most cutting-edge technology: an early form of artificial intelligence. You could scrawl "lunch with Linda Jones on Thursday" and it would create a calendar entry for the right time with the right person.

2. Netscape Navigator (1994)

The first successful consumer Web browser, it was later crushed by Microsoft's Internet Explorer. But it made the Web a reality for millions and its influence has been incalculable. Every time you go to a Web page, you are seeing the legacy of Netscape in action.

3. Windows 95 (1995)

Windows 95 made the mouse a mainstay for computer users.

This was the Microsoft operating system that cemented the graphical user interface and the mouse as the way to operate a computer. While Apple's Macintosh had been using the system for a decade and cruder versions of Windows had followed, Windows 95 was much more refined and spread to a vastly larger audience than the Mac did.

4. The Palm Pilot (1997)

The Palm Pilot led to one of the first smartphones, the Treo.

The first successful personal digital assistant, the Pilot was also the first hand-held computer to be widely adopted. It led to one of the first smartphones, the Treo, and attracted a library of third-party apps, foreshadowing today's giant app stores.

5. Google Search (1998)

From the start, Google was faster than its predecessors.

The minute I used Google, it was obvious it was much faster and more accurate than previous search engines. It's impossible to overstate its importance, even today. In many ways, Google search propelled the entire Web.

6. The iPod (2001)

Apple's iPod was the first mainstream digital media player.

Apple's iPod was the first mainstream digital media player, able to hold 1,000 songs in a device the size of a deck of playing cards. It lifted the struggling computer maker to a new level and led to the wildly successful iTunes store and a line of popular mobile devices. (Apple Brings Design Flair To Its Digital Music Player 11/1/2001)

7. Facebook (2004)

Just as Netscape opened the Web, Facebook made the Internet into a social medium. There were some earlier social networks. But Facebook became the social network of choice, a place where you could share everything from a photo of a sunset to the news of a birth or death with a few friends, or with hundreds of thousands. Today, over a billion people use it and it has changed the entire concept of the Internet.

8. Twitter (2006)

Like Facebook, Twitter changed the way people live digitally.

Often seen as Facebook's chief competitor, Twitter is really something different—a sort of global instant-messaging system. It is used every second to alert huge audiences to everything from revolutions to interesting Web posts, or just to offer opinions on almost anything—as long as they fit in 140 characters. Like Facebook, it has changed the way people live digitally.

9. The iPhone (2007)

The iPhone was the first truly smart smartphone.

Apple electrified the tech world with this device—the first truly smart smartphone. It is an iPod, an Internet device and a phone combined in one small gadget. Its revolutionary multi-touch user interface is gradually replacing the PC's graphical user interface on many devices.

A year after it was introduced, it was joined by the App Store, which allowed third-party developers to sell programs, or apps, for the phone. They now number about a million. It has spawned many competitors that have collectively moved the Internet from a PC-centric system to a mobile-centric one.

10. Android (2008)

Google quickly jumped into the mobile world the iPhone created with this operating system that has spread to hundreds of devices using the same type of multi-touch interface. Android is now the dominant smartphone platform, with its own huge selection of apps.

While iPhones have remained relatively pricey, Android is powering much less costly phones.

11. The MacBook Air (2008)

The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs introduced this iconic slim, light laptop by pulling it out of a standard manila envelope. It was one of the first computers to ditch the hard disk for solid-state storage and now can be seen all over—on office desks, on campuses and at coffee shops. It spawned a raft of Windows-based light laptops called Ultrabooks. I consider it the best laptop ever made.

12. The iPad (2010)

With this 10-inch tablet, Apple finally cracked the code on the long-languishing tablet category. Along with other tablets, it is gradually replacing the laptop for many uses and is popular with everyone from kids to CEOs. Developers have created nearly 500,000 apps for the iPad, far more than for any other tablet.

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ZerOhead's picture

I didn't see ShamWows on the list... please explain

Skateboarder's picture

Distinct lack of Hello Kitty vibrator.

Gene Parmesan's picture

I was hoping to see the HFT algos make the list.

Ham-bone's picture

12 tricks to have those washboard abs you (and all the ladies) have always wanted...WTF...I can pick up my daughters magazines to get nice fluffy articles...

Joe Davola's picture

Outside the Newton, I'm sure all of these have an official NSA backdoor.

Nothing like paying to lose you're privacy rights.

James_Cole's picture

Good list, but I'd move the iphone up / twitter down. Iphone was an incredible leap when it first came out, the maps app alone made it invaluable. 

BigJim's picture

 Are These The Top 12 Tech Products Of The Last 22 Years?

Wot?? No drones?

Stackers's picture

Actually MySpace should get the recognition for opening social media on the net.

Race Car Driver's picture

... or Friendster ... or UseNet, even?

Hell, the net itself is social media - the whole thing about the internet, besides the psyop, is communication.

This is a bullshit article written by a bullshit author for a bullshit propaganda rag.

kralizec's picture

They didn't build that!

All reverse-engineered from captured alien technology.

daxtonbrown's picture

What's absent from his list is a lot of bottom line utility. There should be things like spreadsheets, word processors, Mysql database, etc.

zerozulu's picture

Now I feel like these 12 are probably funded by too.

PT's picture

What a depressingly pedestrian list.  22 years and this is the best we can come up with?  I want to cry.  Would I have done better if I had not have dropped out of uni?  If not, then I didn't miss much... and I may as well hang myself now ...

The first depressing devolution of the last 22 years was when computer languages were no longer bundled with computers.  The computer lost its utility as a machine for creation and instead became dullware for the masses.  This coincided with the introduction of Windows, the operating system that, yes point and click is handy but at the expense of, decided that it was always right and knew what was good for you and don't you go asking any questions because you're just too dumb to understand anything so don't touch anything because you might make it bet- I mean fuck it up!

The next depressing devolution was the introduction of legalese.  As increasing computing power allowed us to copy music and screen resolution allowed us to copy movies, it was inevitable that hollywood and the music industry would try to find a "legal" way to protect themselves so that actors and musicians could continue to be viewed by society as having a million times greater utility than an office cleaner.  Okay, and action sequences don't come cheap, they need to make decent money to make decent movies.  The expense was much larger computer software, great losses to the utility of "copy" and "paste", and those industries lost a lot of pricing power anyway as TV execs competed for advertising dollars over a spread of 30 channels instead of 3.  Sorry, I drifted off point there.  Oh yeah, and it would be nice if software developers could get paid for their services too.

Windows 95 might have been wonderful for the masses, but face it, Windows as a whole is pathetic.  Do we really need ten different ways to turn a computer off?  Or 16 different ways to refresh a web page?  How much time do you really have with shich to re-learn simple shit?  Do you really need a new version of Windows every one or two years.   N O ! ! !

Google, Facebook and Twitter (and Windows):  Who the fuck is dumb enough to get excited about any of this shit???  Okay, the invention of the road, or even the wheel, was probably a pedestrian thing too, but they are actually quite useful.  But GFT (and even W) are programs that should be written and continually tweaked by the masses.  The fact that we rely on these three (or 4) companies shows how dumb we are as a species and to put all three (4) on a list of top 12 tech products over the last 22 years is truly depressing.  None of GFT had to be written by geniuses.  It was ignored by geniuses because they had more important things to think about.  No offence Zuckerberg et al, I believe you are smart guys, it obviously solved a little problem you had at the time and you did well.  Good luck to yous.  But admit it, you were just fiddling around at the time to solve a little problem and then you were going to get on with the rest of your lives, until you realised that this thing was worthy of more time due to the "money rolling in" ( errr, does the money roll in?  I don't know, whatever ...)  Point being, I don't believe Zuck et al believed that what they were doing at the time was significant, it just ended up that way due to the ignorance of the masses.  Again, that ain't your fault Zuck et al, good luck to yas.  Just saying that GFT and even W taking 4 of our top 12 "achievements" is depressingly bland.  Surely they would agree.

ipod:  excellent idea that came when the technology allowed it.  Seamlessly combining ipod with stereo systems:  Any music player / stereo manufacturer who did not think of combining the two is a bloody idiot.  This marriage was so obvious that it should have been seen a mile a way.  Kudos to jobs for actually doing something about it.

Believe it or not, I am supposed to be in a hurry right now.  Would like to say more but gotta go.

PT's picture

Flat screen TVs:  Anyone who doesn't understand the significance of the flat screen TV needs to ditch their 52 inch LCD and replace it with their 27 inch CRT ... if they still have enough space in their lounge room.

Now I'm really running late ... 

Lost Word's picture

The list is chronological.

Can you change history?

James_Cole's picture

Lol I missed that, makes a lot more sense now..

Ham-bone's picture

If ZH is in need of some's a potential story: 

Under what legitimate circumstance is it possible and/or probable (with a Fed course of tapering underway and finalized by 2014 YE) that Treasuries maintain existing'ish yields while equities continue to drive upward?  And while PM's dive to new multi year lows???  In other words, in what set of circumstances can we watch what we are watching now and not simply say FRAUD???

Redneck Hippy's picture

Pure arrogance.

Do you really think YOU know what Treasuries or stocks or PMs SHOULD sell for?

Guess what--It ain't up to you. You don't get to decide.

MeBizarro's picture

Much prefer Japanese sushi instead . . . . my favorite kind of Asian cuisine right after Vietnamese-French (one of the few benefits of French colonialism) fusion. 

Sudden Debt's picture

The Nokia 6210 cheap mobile phone that made everybody buy a cell phone in 2000

_ConanTheLibertarian_'s picture

Used my 6310 from 2001 until a few months ago, it still works (original battery). Now have a cheap Huawei.

Stuck on Zero's picture

Not to include Ferbie is a shame.


Exponere Mendaces's picture

Another thing Apple "pioneered" was their Digital Rights Management, which turns a device into a "captured computing" experience. The newer you are to computing in general, the better you'll typically think this is, until you actually want to do something.

Then, after shelling out $99 for the privilege, you'll discover the horror and foibles of XCode, Digital Certificates that must reside on the device at all times to run anything, and the vagaries of the iTunes Connect submission and review process.

After running the gauntlet of that particular obstacle course, you'll realize that being fenced in and dictated to isn't the best thing ever, even if the design aesthetic draws you in. You'll then ditch it for an Android, and discover that you can write applications and programs for your device without jumping through a shitload of hoops, or having to pay for the ability.

Something liberating about compiling an .apk file and sending it to someone to try out, versus asking your friend for their device serial, provisioning it on the Developer Portal, and juggling certificates just to get them to try it out.

But the large shiny Apple stores pull 'em in, because most don't know any better...

Skateboarder's picture

Spot on. Buying into a secret guild is a bad sign of business. I would not want to develop an iSomething app. Android apps are a breeze to develop.

Wyatt Junker's picture


You forgot Heroin.

NoDebt's picture

Last 22 years.  And a tech product.  Otherwise it would have made the list, I'm sure.

May I direct you to Skateboarder's absolutely correct observation that the 'Hello Kitty Vibrator' had every right to appear on this list, however?  Perhaps that would suffice in place of heroin?  OK, probably not, but that's what you got.


Debeachesand Jerseyshores's picture

Strong lineup there Walt,strong.

zipit's picture

Missed the Blackberry and it's stock run (before the smartphone induced crash and burn).

zerozulu's picture

Terrorism should be on the top.

Skateboarder's picture

The last few years have been a shame. Engineers have been pigeonholed into nonexistence, slavery, or some combination of the both. Here's a classic example of saying fuck you, from the Netscape days:

"As I write this, it's just a bit over ten years since I started working at Mosaic Communications Corporation. In memory of that, here's a piece of history I managed to dig up.

When we created and released (most of) the source code to Netscape Confusicator 4.x, Netscape's lawyers made us go through a big "sanitization" process on the source code. Largely this consisted of making sure we had the legal rights to all the code we were releasing, and making sure every file had proper and accurate copyright statements; but they also made us take out all the dirty words. Specifically, "any text containing vulgar or offensive words or expressions; any text that might be slanderous or libelous to individuals and/or institutions."

At our release party on April 1, 1998 Pierre Saslawsky was handing out guerilla party favors consisting of a CD-ROM archive of the mcom.bad-attitude newsgroup, and a single sheet of paper with some choice source code obscenities on it from the pre-sanitization tree.

I found that piece of paper, and typed it in, below.

For comparison, a similar set of searches from the Netscape 3.02 source tree follows. (We didn't search for the exact same sets of words, and I suspect he edited his more heavily than I did, so don't assume that because the second list is longer, the number of obscenities in the 4.x series was lower...)

Enjoy it. By which I mean to say, fuck you"

NoDebt's picture

I have to say I liked the 'Hello Kitty Vibrator' comment better.  But you get an up-arrow anyway.

CuttingEdge's picture

The General Atomics Obamadrone has to be up there, surely?

CuttingEdge's picture

And PRISM - the most influential tech out there by far...

docmac324's picture

What about those solid adult dolls vs. the blow-up kind.  Loved those flying around at the Marine Corps Ball....



Palladin's picture

One thing I've always wanted to do with one of those blow up doll is to fasten a hose outlet to one of the feet, then poke a bunch of small holes and throw it out on the front lawn and turn on the water. It would make a very unique sprinkler.

I think I'd call it a WaterBroad if the neighbors asked. Tell them I got it on late night TeeVee.



logicalman's picture

No fancy financial instruments on the list - I think, in the long run, they may change the world more than all of the above. (not for the better, I'm thinking)

Kirk2NCC1701's picture

Newsflash:  The Flat-screen LCD TV is WAAAAY bigger than some of these items.

A lot of these devices created a whole new paradigm (Yahoo, not Google), but the LCD is here to stay.

James_Cole's picture

LCDs predate his 22 years and are used in so many products it doesn't make a tonne of sense to single out the LCD TV (particularly in terms of evolutionary functionality). And then what about plasma tvs? Pretty similiar no?

rtalcott's picture

I guess Linux is not a product.

Blue Dog's picture

That's right. It's pretty useless too.

Zero Point's picture

Whah? A free, lightweight OS, is useless?

My "Raspberry Pi built into a projector" project laughs at you. Try building Doze into a projector.

Especially 8. No touch screen ha!

post turtle saver's picture

fuck you Blue Dog, you stupid slobbering son of a bitch