The last year was defined by a broad range of significant technology trends and events, several of which stemmed from the iPad launch. Here's our list of the top 10:
1) Launch of the iPad: The iPad jump-started the tablet market in the big way. Sure, there were early pioneers in the market, like Apple's Newton in the mid-1990s and Microsoft's (MSFT) tablet launch in 2001, but it was the iPad that drew a flood of other me-too tablets to the market, from Dell's Streak to Samsung's Galaxy Tab. As James Ragan, senior equity analyst of Crowell, Weedon & Co., puts it: "The iPad launched the whole tablet segment and proved groundbreaking."
2) E-Readers Take Off: At least partly thanks to the iPad launch, e-readers like Amazon.com's (AMZN) Kindle and Barnes & Noble's (BKS) Nook gained far more traction in 2010. "We were so early in the S-curve of e-readers that the iPad helped increase interest," says Mark Mahaney, a Citigroup analyst. "The iPad exploded interest in e-readers, and that benefited Amazon." Jeff Bezos says the latest generation Kindle became the top-selling product in the company's history during the critical holiday selling season. Research firm Gartner predicts worldwide e-reader sales will soar 79.8% to 6.6 million units in 2010.
3) Cell-Phone Firms Develop Tablets: Cell-phone manufacturers have begun morphing into computer makers with the development of their own tablets. Samsung officially launched its Galaxy Tab in September. Motorola Mobility's CEO Sanjay Jha said his company is coming out with a tablet computer in the new year, as is Research in Motion (RIMM), which is planning to release its BlackBerry PlayBook in the first quarter.
4) It's All About the Apps: Still talking about the hardware features on your cell phone? That's so 2009. The bells and whistles of cell phones today are all about the software. The trend became even more apparent when the world's largest handset maker, Nokia, pushed out its longtime CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo in favor of former Microsoft executive and software veteran Stephen Elop in September.
5) Android Beats Apple iOS: Google's (GOOG) Android mobile operating system pummeled Apple's iOS this year, demonstrating how quickly things can change in the world of smartphones. During the third quarter, Android-powered phones jumped to the No. 2 spot in worldwide smartphone sales. Android captured 25.5% of the market, up from a mere 3.5% a year ago. Apple's iOS, which ranked No. 3, saw its market share fall to 16.7% that quarter from 17.1% in the year-ago quarter. That marked the first time Apple's iOS posted a year-over-year decline.
6) Wireless Goes Everywhere: Smartphones, notebooks and tablets made "mobility" a buzzword in 2010. "It was the year you could access the Internet over the wireless infrastructure from anywhere," analyst Raglan says.
7) Internet Stocks Boom: The year saw an Internet supernova as stocks exploded with triple-digit gains, leaving investors awestruck. From Jan. 4 through Wednesday's close, movie-rental site Netflix (NFLX) had soared 237% to $180.27 a share. "Netflix captured the greatest gains during the year, as consumption of video streaming took off," analyst Mahaney says. OpenTable (OPEN) blew up with a 190% gain to $71.88 a share, and Chinese search giant Baidu (BIDU) flagged a 141.7% gain to close at $99.11 a share.
8) Google Leaves China: Google's exit from mainland China captured headlines earlier this year, after the search giant and the Chinese government butted heads over censorship issues. In the end, Google lost the battle. The search giant created a landing page for Chinese users to access information from its Hong Kong site.
9) Companies Head for the Cloud: Cloud computing demonstrated strong growth in 2010, Ragan notes. Indeed. Earlier this year, research firm Gartner forecast that worldwide cloud services would see revenues jump 16.6% to $68.3 billion by the end of 2010. And by the time 2014 rolls around, those revenues are expected to reach $148.8 billion.
10) IPO Letdown: The prospect of hot IPOs from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn kept investors on edge for most of the year, but these companies left folks with long faces as none of them filed an S-1 IPO filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission
If you didn't participate in any of 2010's top 10, don't worry. The next year promises to come with its own set of hot new tech trends and key events. One of the first big tech events happens Jan. 4, when Motorola (MOT) plans to split into two companies.
As for trends, Wall Street analysts expect tablet computers to take an even bigger bite of the consumer-notebook market next year. They also forecast that some of the largest advertising budgets will migrate over to Internet videos from TV. And, of course, all eyes are watching Verizon Wireless with the anticipation that the behemoth cellular network will soon finally carry Apple's iPhone .