- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

If 2008 is remembered as the year of change, then the tech biz is an area where that change has manifested itself in abundance. Here’s my take on the best of year that ended a scant seven days ago:

• Best technology: Independent applications for Apple Inc.’s iPhone, and the App Store available at Apple’s iTunes online store. This thing is sheer genius. I’ve been using hand-held personal digital devices for more than 10 years now, and I believe 2008 will be seen as the year when they truly arrived.

The iPhone’s second-generation device, dubbed the 3G model for the kind of wireless service it supports, is perhaps the gold standard, while Research in Motion’s BlackBerry, most notably the Bold, is close behind. Interestingly, there’s been an explosion of applications for BlackBerry devices this year, too. Perhaps there’s some understanding that users want to do more than the basics with their hand-helds.

This all goes back to Apple, I think: Having surveyed the best features of BlackBerry, Palm and its own iPod, the firm has come up with a platform for the ages - or at least the next few years. By opening up that platform to third-party developers, Apple created one of the few economic bright spots in 2008, as well as provided a great service to users.

• Best video experience: I´m repeating myself here, but it’s true: Blu-ray, baby, Blu-ray. It is amazing.

In a sense, though, Blu-ray is an adjunct, albeit a vital and growing one, to the overall digital TV revolution, which will reach its U.S. consummation Feb. 17. That’s when over-the-air television drops analog transmission for digital, opening a wide range of possibilities for consumers.

True, this is coming during an economic downturn, and splurging on a flat-panel TV might be tough for some. But those who can get into the swim will be overwhelmed by the variety and quality (from bad to good, but mostly good) of high-def digital programming. This is a true advance for viewers, and while many couch potatoes, including your columnist, could benefit from more outdoor activity, the sights and sounds of high-def during the cold of winter will warm just about any heart.

Blu-ray movies, though, take the prize here: I love ‘em and recommend the technology highly. Look at it this way: You’ll spend some money for the player and discs, but you’ll save on movie theater ticket — and popcorn — prices.

• Best social technology: Facebook, no contest there. The MySpace denizens will hate me, but Facebook is clean, well-organized and immune to the garish, eye-bleeding inducements with which MySpace is littered.

I’ll confess: When I met Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg a couple of years ago, before the site allowed just anyone to join, I didn’t “get” the concept. Now, I start and end my day on Facebook, connecting with people far and wide. It’s an incredible accomplishment that we’re all able to do this, and for free. Facebook, like MySpace, is ad-supported, but the ads are by and large unobtrusive on Facebook, another plus in my view.

• Best peripheral: A toughie, but the vote goes to the Flip Mino (www.theflip.com), a palm-size video recorder that’ll capture class lectures or a child’s birthday party; now in an HD version. It’ll record 60 minutes of video and audio and upload via a USB port to a computer, Windows or Mac. The maker supplies software for both platforms to handle the videos, but I’ve used QuickTime on the Mac as well.

The usefulness of this tool cannot be overstated: It’s just a great, great way to make quick videos, and I look forward to deploying it in many situations this year.

• Best overall computer: Once again, Apple Inc. wins hands down. Not because I’m in their pocket, but because Apple’s 2008 products, notably the MacBook Air and the new MacBook, are just nice, solid, working products that don’t balk at a user’s requests.

Other companies, such as Hewlett-Packard, which tops the 2008 runner-up list, are making very good notebooks. But Apple’s lead is as formidable as it ever has been in terms of quality and performance. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s something to emulate.

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