Rory Cellan-Jones

Gadgets of the Noughties

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 30 Dec 09, 09:40 GMT

Just before Christmas I spent a very enjoyable day at home playing with gadgets with two technology pundits. Yes, I know it doesn't sound arduous, but it was work - we were filming a report for BBC Breakfast on the gadgets of the Noughties.

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We went to some effort to assemble a collection of devices dating from around 2000 to help us illustrate how much has changed. So we had a Psion Revo, a first-generation iPod, one of those Nokia "Matrix" slider phones, and the first Canon Ixus digital camera.

To someone as old as I am, 2000 seems like yesterday, so I was amazed to find how antique these gadgets felt. The iPod was a chunky brick, with no colour screen, the camera provided two-megapixel snaps at an outlandish price and the phone seemed incapable of going online or updating my Facebook.

Psion 3AMind you, the Revo still looked like a very capable mini-computer, the kind of device that might have one day evolved into a multimedia tablet. I had a series of Psion organisers and I remember making a far-sighted piece at the end of 1999 predicting that this fast-growing British firm might put the wind up Microsoft over the coming decade - well, we all make mistakes.

We asked Stuart Miles of Pocket Lint and Kat Hannaford of Gizmodo to think back to 2000 and try to remember what really excited them then about technology. Kat, who was 14 and living on a remote farm in Australia, was gripped by gaming:

"The Playstation 2 was coming out, but I had to wait a bit because it was quite expensive. And then there was the internet, which we didn't get until later that year."

Stuart, who was 24 and working as a technology correspondent for the Times, had just got himself an APS camera - which turned out to be an interim technology:

"Digital cameras were just starting to make their way onto the scene - 1 or 2 megapixels and very expensive - but the possibilities seemed endless."

In the last decade, we've seen all sorts of technologies become obsolete as the pace of change has accelerated.

BBC News website in 2000The cathode ray tube is becoming a distant memory for many as televisions have become flatter, bigger, and high definition. VHS has disappeared from most living rooms, to be replaced first by DVD, and perhaps now by Blu-Ray (though that too looks like an interim technology) and increasingly by IPTV such as the iPlayer. Big music systems with CD players and separate amplifiers are also vanishing quickly, with docks for portable players and streaming music devices popping up in many homes. And of course, more and more phones are now smartphones, with users rushing to install applications that help them run their lives or simply enjoy themselves on the move.

But, I asked my two pundits: if you had to choose a gadget of the decade, what would it be?

After a certain amount of umming and ahing, Stuart Miles came up with two:

"For me, it's either the launch of the Canon 300D - the first sub-£1,000 digital SLR camera, or the launch of Sky+ - as it's changed the way I watch television and freed me from the schedules."

For Kat, though, the real advance is the advent of high-definition technology:

"It's revolutionised all aspects of home entertainment. With the introduction of flat-screen HD TVs, the Blu-Ray format and subsequent players, and consoles like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation3 capable of playing the most brilliantly-detailed games, the quality of home viewing has changed forever."

Well, my two gadget pundits are very knowledgeable - but I'm afraid they're also both completely wrong. The "gadget" of the decade has to be the one thing that has made every other development possible - broadband.

modemWe started the Noughties listening to that annoying dial-up noise as we connected to the net at 56kbps; we ended it with nearly three quarters of British homes enjoying a permanent connection at up to 50Mbps, and increasing numbers able to enjoy mobile broadband at speeds home users would have killed for in 2000. We may moan about unsatisfactory broadband services, and look enviously at countries like South Korea - but living in a connected world became a reality in the Noughties.


  • Comment number 1.

    Subjectively, "The Matrix" doesn't seem like it came out so long ago, and I remember how stylish the Nokia 7110 seemed at the time when Neo pressed the button and the spring-loaded cover opened on the phone. Some movies from the 90s are not so lucky with their technology choices, showing great big brick phones that date the movie as surely as synthesizer music dates movies from the 80s.

    Between modems and broadband there was enthusiasm for another transitional technology you didn't mention, and that is ISDN. In my house we had the advantage of relatively fast connection and throughput with ISDN. This was a technology "blip" that lasted probably 3 years before broadband proper became available.

  • Comment number 2.

    Frankly if the evidence of the video is anything to go by then it doesn't surprise me in the slightest that you are such a fan of Spotify and the rest of places supplying low-resolution facsimiles either streamed or downloadable music. Even in 2000 that micro-system would have been considered lo-fi rubbish.

  • Comment number 3.

    Off the top of my head - and in no particular order - I'd go with DVDs, affordable digital cameras, mobile phones that included digicams, iPods, WiFi & mobile broadband, Bluetooth earpieces, touch screens (iPhone), the Blackberry, digital and high definition TVs, Sky Plus, flat-screens, GPS SatNav, USB sticks, the Xbox, PS2, PS3, Nintendo's Wii and Apple's OS X as the tech that excited the public most.

    The one that was worst received was MS Vista.

    On the web it has to be the rise of Google, Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, Flickr etc and YouTube; it feels incredible that YouTube is only five years old!

    The buzz meme of the noughties has to be Web 2.0.

    Looking ahead I'd like less 'interim' tech. i.e. Spend lots of money just to keep up only to find that what you've bought soon becomes obsolete.

    If someone manages to pull off the trick of a 3D screen for mobiles and PCs - that doesn't require glasses - then 3D could be here to stay.

  • Comment number 4.

    I agree - Broadband has to be the gadget. Good choice

  • Comment number 5.

    Is broadband really a gadget? I think of a gadget as something tangible that you can touch and feel, something which you don't really need but which makes you feel good. The best 'gadget' of the decade: the iPod which has transformed the music industry and is doing the same for broadcasting and the mobile industry too (no iPod, no iPhone).

  • Comment number 6.

    Completely agree with broadband being the most important development of the noughties. Its status as a 'gadget' may be up for debate but the effect it has had on modern day life is enormous. As far as gadgets go, I have to say the DVD is probably the most important. It symbolises our transition from and analogue to a digital age (even though analogue components are still present in a large number of our electronic devices). DVDs have brought huge advances in quality due to the large amounts of data they can store compared with videos. For gaming, they drastically increased the amount of detail and depth that could realistically be put into games compared with regular CDs. Despite the emergence of Blu-Ray, I still see DVDs remaining as the mainstream form of physical data purchases for the next few years.

    Finally, the iPlayer deserves a mention, as it is where most people first encountered 'on demand' television for free.

  • Comment number 7.

    I find it odd that Sky+ became the popular choice, despite Virgin TV offering a techincalyl superior product. I suppose that shows the power of advertising (see also VHS vs. Betamax).

  • Comment number 8.

    @7 tom_p_willis - Good point, and to extend it even further ntl (the company now re-branded as Virgin Media) have always had a technically superior product to Sky even before Sky+. Alas they were badly let down by a vastly inferior set-top-boxes.

    The VHS vs Betamax battle had simpler issues. Anyone who wanted could make a VHS player but Sony didn't license the technology (initially...they relented when they realised the mistake) so only Sony could make the Betamax (as you hint at, the Betamax was a superior product). It would be the modern-day equivalent of iPod having its own music format while all other players use MP3, or Sony using its own video format while everyone else uses the DVD format. The death of Betamax has greatly shaped the interoperability of today's technology.

    In a chilling forewarning the greater run-time of VHS tapes also made them the pirates' and pornographers' favourite format which helped VHS win the battle.

    While there will always be format wars (HD-DVD vs Blu-ray for example) company's now realise restricting technology formats are not always a good idea (even Microsoft is preparing to publish details of it's proprietary Office document formats).

  • Comment number 9.


    $ky+ is available in much more of the country than V+ is.
    Advertising is one thing, but if don't have the cable, you're not going to buy it!

  • Comment number 10.

    @ Martyn Davies #1 At the risk of setting off on a "when I was a lad" rant, the Nokia 7110 was NOT the phone used in the Matrix. The Banana Phone in the film was an 8110 modified to add spring opening.

    Such details may not seem important but with the likelihood that a statement on a BBC website will both last a long (that is internet long) time and be considered to have a degree of authority the perpetration of untruths however much of an urban legend they may be can not go uncorrected.

    And yes the phone in the clip was an 8110 note no wheel on the front and no trigger on the back.

  • Comment number 11.

    It should be remembered that Sky+ is a rip-off of Tivo. That was the first true PVR in this country, but unfortunately suffered from bad marketing* and a high price compared with VHS (although of course it did so much more but the bad marketing didn't really convey the advantages very well).

    I still have my Tivo (one of the last ones sold when Tivo abandoned the UK after poor sales). Despite being ten years old, other than being capable of recording only one channel at a time, it still beats Sky+ in most ways, and is certainly more reliable based on experiences of most people I know that have had Sky+.

    Sky deserve credit for making the PVR a popular item, but Tivo deserve all the credit for doing it first, and better (especially of you look at the newer models available in the US).

    *The name of the company that did the marketing for Tivo in the UK? Sky TV! Shortly after Tivo pulled out of the UK market Sky amazingly came out with their own (and at the time significantly worse) product.

  • Comment number 12.

    mmmm, decade of gadgets? digital decade? not so sure! OK advances have been made in terms of capability of mobiles, of speed of internet access (to most of country - arent there still some areas with no broadband?), in mass market appeal but I dont think advances in the 00s match the change in the 90s.

    in mid 90s home PC market huge (fewer had one), dialup internet affordable (yes slow but mainly text/little video so no need for broadband), internet social sites developing (mainly dating but special interest groups too & people developing personal web space), IM common on AOL + it had a searchable user directory to find people with common interests. MiniDisk had brought random access digital recording devices to the pocket granted limited in number of tracks but better quality.

    By 2000 I had a Garmin Etrex GPS cost approx £100 and although not turn by turn I could use software to plan a route and download waypoints to find a destination.

    Sky+/V+ is a change to how we used to view TV / use VHS but the original PVRs (eg TiVo) were a development of the late 90's launching in 2000.

    I do not think the gadget makers have leapt ahead, simply consolidated ideas and made improvements. In 2001 I had (still have) a touch screen pda capable of accessing the internet - web & email - using my 2G mobile's IR port as a wireless modem. I used this camping on the Aug bank holiday weekend 2001 to access BBC News website. Ok 9 years later iPhone/N96/... are colour, 3G, have GPS, camera, etc in one device but is this really 10 years worth of development? Also I suspect cost/performance has not obeyed Moore's law.

    Gadget-wise i think poor decade, consolidation and improvement in services ok, but could have done better.

  • Comment number 13.

    I'll go along with broadband in it's many guises being the development of the noughties. But, for the gadget, I'd have to say the mp3 player (not the ipod) but the many and varied portable music devices.

    The DVD, for all those proposing it, came out in the late nineties as I remember buying my first sony player in 1997/8.

  • Comment number 14.

    As technology progresses in ever-decreasing development cycles, new products are becoming obsolete even faster than before. Where a new typewriter would've lasted several years before needing an upgrade, [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] for example are ever-evolving; like Martyn wrote in the top post, The Matrix seems really dated with its use of brick phones. Ironic for a film setting that purported to be on the very edge of both technology and reality.

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    It's uncanny how that pic of the Psion 3A looks just like the new DSi XL, minus the lower screen of course DSi XL Images.

    For years technology seemed to always get smaller, but over the past few years I've noticed many handheld devices that have increased in size. Nintendo have been increasing the size of their handheld machine with each new release and mobile phones are getting bigger thanks to the inclusion of touchscreens.

    Maybe this is a result of more of the older generation getting comfortable with new technology and the younger generation getting older. At the end of the day a screen has to be big enough for someone to actually see and I don't think we'll see an iPhone with a prescription screen anytime soon.

  • Comment number 17.

    Gone are the days when Mobile Phones came with games like Snake and Tetris! I remember sitting there for hours on my old Nokia handset (with a long areal poking out the top) playing game after game.

    Now there are so many Phones on the market, all with high definition graphics, tilt control and bluetooth, it makes it hard to remember the phones of the good ol' days!

    Makes me wonder where mobile phone technology will be in a few years time. Surely they have covered most angles already?

  • Comment number 18.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 19.

    @Alan - I think you make a good point in regards to the price of 'old' technology.
    I certainly think that in 5 years the LCD TV's will be near worthless - but what remains to be seen is if the recent ecomonmy will have an adverse effect on the technology field? Will this slow down the production of new technologies / will the gadgets keep there value longer?

    As for the best Gadget I would have to say smartphones in general - the fact that we have gone from desktop computers to all the information in a hand held is amazing!

    The only question I have is where does it end ..........

  • Comment number 20.

    <RICHPOST>I absolutely love these BBC features on past and present gadgets, it still amazes me how quick we are flying into the technology age! <BR /><BR />Ive had some wicked gadgets in my time, but it seem to get on my nerves when you buy something new when its replaced in months rather than years with a newer version. <BR /><BR />My predictions for the next few years is the advancements in eyeware screen technology, powered by next generation smartphones. <BR /><p>Chris Brookfield<br><BR /><a href="">Augmented Reality</a></p></RICHPOST>


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