SLIDESHOW

2012's most innovative tech gear

Innovative gear in 2012 pushed the envelope, even if gadgets weren't a huge consumer hits.

Most innovative products

A lot of innovative products were announced in 2012, such as Google’s Project Glass augmented reality glasses , that are still in concept form. But let’s face it, concept gear and gadgets that may not come to market for several years (or ever) are no fun. That's why I decided to narrow my sights on ground-breaking gear available today to fill out a list of most innovative gear of 2012.

I won't argue that my picks represent the year's most popular products on the market—but I do insist they are the most innovative and brought the freshest ideas to the consumer tech world and show promise in shaping the future.

Nintendo Wii U

Nintendo’s latest standalone gaming console Wii U's controller boldly goes where no controller has gone before. The Wii U GamePad has a built-in accelerometer, gyroscope, camera, microphone, and touchscreen. That’s right—this gaming console’s controller has its own touchscreen. The Wii U can be played, like a typical game console, on a TV screen, but it also features an “Off TV Play” option that lets users play on the controller’s touchscreen.

Striiv smart pedometer

Striiv’s smart pedometer is a pedometer with the built-in spirit of a coach. Sure, it tracks your steps, stairs, distance, and calories, but it also introduces a new fitness feature: tech-inspired motivation. The Striiv smart pedometer has several ways to motivate you to get moving, including a FarmVille-style game called MyLand, a charity walkathon sponsored by GlobalGiving, and races and challenges against both the computer and your friends. Striiv is just one of many companies looking to shake up fitness tech with innovative ways to motivate people—other companies and products include Fitocracy, Nike+, and Fitbit.

Eers molded headphones

Custom molded headphones aren’t new—they’ve been around for ages, so long as you were willing to shell out big bucks for an audiologist to pump silicone into your ear canal. But Sonomax’s Eers brings custom fitting to the masses with its do-it-yourself molded headphones. All you have to do is pop the Eers custom fitting bladder into your ear, flick a switch, and silicone flows into the earbud, shaping it to your ear canal. The process takes less than 10 minutes, and voila—custom-fitted earphones are yours, for under $300.

Windows 8

Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 8, is innovative. Not only does Windows 8 throw just about everything you knew about Windows out the, well, window, it’s also the first real operating system designed for both computers and tablets. This touchscreen-optimized, Start button-less operating system has a whole new look, complete with a Windows app store, a funky interface, and (real) multiple-monitor support.

Lenovo Yoga

Windows 8 isn’t just an innovative operating system—it also inspired some pretty innovative products. One of these products is Lenovo’s transformable laptop-slash-tablet, the Lenovo Yoga. The Yoga looks like your typical laptop, but with a twist: it’s screen swivels 360 degrees around the hinge, transforming it into a somewhat heavy and bulky tablet. The Yoga is just one of several innovative laptop-tablet hybrids—others include the Lenovo Twist, the Dell XPS Duo 12, and the HP Envy X2.

Lytro light-field camera

The usefulness of Lytro’s light-field camera may be debatable, but its innovative-ness is not. This funky, square-tube-shaped camera uses a light-field sensor to record data about light traveling in every direction throughout 3D space. In other words, any picture that’s taken with the camera can be focused (or re-focused) after it has been shot. Although the Lytro technically debuted in late 2011, the company added some new, innovative features in 2012—such as Perspective Shift, which lets you interactively change your point of view in a picture, and shift the photo in any direction.

Nest learning thermostat

Undoubtedly, you have heard about the Nest learning thermostat and its ability to record your schedule and help you automatically adjust your home’s heating and cooling to help you save energy (and money). This smart technology is revolutionary, not just because it identifies behavior, but because it makes a connection between artificial intelligence and energy consumption. Where a smartphone can learn your behavior using GPS and profiling you as a digital consumer, and send you coupons, Nest has the promise of helping us use energy more efficiently.

Sculpteo

3D printing is amazing in its own right, but who really has the extra money to pick a printer up that has a $2300 price tag? Nobody, which is why Sculpteo, an online 3D printing service, exists. Sculpteo prints items for you, so you don’t have to drop dollars on a MakerBot. You can upload your own 3D files to Sculpteo, or design items right on the company’s website. There’s even an option to open your own store and sell your creations through Sculpteo (with the company taking its own cut of the profits, of course).

AfterShokz bone conduction headphones

People are becoming more and more connected to, and dependent on, their mobile devices—and when they’re connected to those devices by headphones, that can cause some problems. AfterShokz hopes to fix this problem with its innovative bone-conduction headphones, which rest on the cheekbone and deliver sound directly to the inner ear. This method is better for outdoor joggers and pedestrians because the headphones don’t block out ambient noise—such as car horns, sirens, and people talking (or yelling).

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