Behind the headlines
From the super-slim Motorola Razr phone to the ultra-sleek and skinny iPod Nano, design ruled the land of gadgets in 2005.
After becoming the party favor of choice at this year's Oscars, the Razr helped Motorola regain its rank as the world's No. 2 cell phone maker, knocking Samsung back to the No. 3 spot. The stylish handset, half an inch thick and just 3.5 ounces, was the top-selling mobile phone in the third quarter, when phones sales leapt 30 percent in the U.S.
Now available in pink, the Razr has helped revive the Motorola brand in the eyes of consumers, as has the company's tie-up with Apple Computer. This fall, the companies introduced the Rokr phone, which can hold up to 100 iTunes songs. Yet analysts still question whether consumers are ready for phone-music player hybrids.
A new generation of super-thin iPods kept consumers enthralled with Apple's popular portable music players. Unveiled in September, the tiny iPod Nano, which is not much bulkier than a credit card, replaced the iPod Mini, and holiday shoppers are clamoring for them. Retailers were selling out of them ahead after Thanksgiving, despite complaints that the the device scratches easily--a gripe that led to a class action lawsuit being filed on behalf of Nano owners.
Apple followed up on the Nano with a new video iPod that plays music videos and TV shows--both for sale at iTunes. It's sending ripples through Hollywood, as networks get hip to the idea of offering television shows through the digital music player.
But devices that fit in your pocket were only part of the gadget story in 2005. At the other end of the size spectrum, digital, big-screen TVs were in hot demand, and that set prices tumbling. Forty-two-inch liquid crystal display sets were expected to dip to $2,800 by the end of the year, slicing 41 percent off last year's prices, analysts predicted. The price of plasma TVs and rear-projection, digital light processing sets fell too.
Meanwhile, notebook computer manufacturers made energy efficiency a big focus. Chipmaker Intel pushed its partners to produce a laptop that can run for eight hours straight on a single battery by 2008. Other companies made fashion and luxury a priority, coming out with suede-covered notebooks and portable computers featuring wood paneling.
And while your laptop may look good, it could leave you feeling bad. Doctors this year reported a growing number of computer-related injuries linked to the machines as people spend more of their workday using them. While the machines' compressed design is great for portability, it can wreak havoc on posture, some experts said.
In an effort to narrow the digital divide, MIT Media Lab led the charge in developing $100 laptops for schools in developing nations. The proposed machines feature a hand-crank and built-in wireless and are expected to hit schools in Brazil and Thailand late next year.--Alorie Gilbert
Behind the headlines