Daniel Raffel's Favorite New Geek Stuff Of 2010

Daniel Raffel is a former Yahoo product manager and a newbie entrepreneur. A year ago we asked him to write a guest post telling us about his favorite new products, projects and features of 2009. The post below is an updated list of his favorite new geek stuff from 2010.

Looking back at 2010, I’m particularly struck by the quantity and quality of new projects that launched. Just when I thought I had time to start reflecting on the year another project popped up onto my radar! And then another. And another! I count myself lucky to be working in an industry with so much creativity and energy.

As I started assembling a list of launches from 2010 that caught my eye, I grouped them into the categories I used last year: New Products and Services, New Projects, Feature Updates, and Mobile Apps. Rather than restrict myself to an arbitrary number for each category, I decided once again to list all the things that stood out to me. This list is an admittedly subjective batch. or instance, like last year you’ll notice I am clearly interested in specific trends: games, geo services, HTML5, identity, mobile, music, news, social updates, and web development.. I’d love to hear what exciting developments you discovered in 2010!

New Products/Services
Apple Airplay, iBooks, iPad, Magic Trackpad
My iPad can just about always be found in my backpack. While it’s probably more of a guilty pleasure than a necessary device, I’ve found so many use cases for it that it’s hard to imagine giving it up now. Adoption was definitely assisted by the fact that my 2nd generation Kindle died shortly after my iPad arrived. iPad sales blew analyst expectations out of the market and at the end of the year there’s still no real competition. It’s looking a lot like the iPhone playbook from 2007 all over again. While the screen on an iPad is nowhere near as readable as a Kindle the introduction of iBooks gave consumers another outlet for purchasing and consuming their favorite reading materials. The Magic Trackpad hooked me enough that I bought one for my desk at home and work. I’ve gone all in on adopting a variety of trackpad friendly gestures. Approximately six months in I haven’t missed using a mouse. Airplay introduces easy ways to share media content from one Apple device to another, it’s super handy around the house. Erica Sadun has taken things a logical step further and created AirPlayer and AirFlick which do a few extra things you can’t with Airplay.

Bagcheck / Fancy / Pinterest / Svpply
Each of these services deserves to be reviewed in their own right and I regret not doing each of them their proper justice because they are certainly not the same. But there’s a theme that’s undeniable when they’re grouped together: people enjoy using services that enable them to share objects that they love!

Blippy / Swipely
In the search for data sets and industries that hadn’t yet been disrupted by social elements, both of these companies appeared to stumble upon the same controversial, general idea with slight twists. While neither has compelled me to publicly share my purchasing data, I think they’re exploring interesting areas and someone will figure out something awesome in this space. Note: Blippy launched in 12/2009.

Boxee Box
The Boxee Box reminds me a bit of the Nexus One: it’s a very good, controlled demonstration of the power of the platform. Like Android it’s still easy to stumble on use cases that need work, but what’s there today greatly simplifies the way I consume, discover and share digital media. I’m very excited to keep watching them refine their offering and continue to get even better at what they’re doing. BTW the UI is total eye candy.

CloudApp / Droplr
Both of these services make it simple to share content from the cloud, such as images, links, music, videos and files. Dropbox is awesome but I haven’t found it to excel at simple sharing and distribution like these services. Each of these services is Apple focused with native OS X desktop apps as well as 3rd party support for Windows (here and here). CloudApp’s iOS app is coming soon and Droplr’s is live. Over the past few months I’ve noticed more and more services choosing to use these content sharing apps (specifically CloudApp) to distribute content.

Dribbble / Forrst / LoveDsgn
If it wasn’t for interaction and visual designers the tubes would be fugly. These services are valuable resources for IxD/VisD talent to share and get feedback on their latest work. It’s total design pr0n so prepare to be distracted.

A challenge of adopting multiple cloud services is knowing where your data lives. Greplin provides a single search box that lets you query against multiple services that host your data. This isn’t just handy, it’s becoming necessary. If you use Spotlight on the Mac, it will remind you a bit of Google’s Precipitate project which launched several years ago.

Coordinating in real-time with groups of friends can be painfully challenging. GroupMe provides a variety of features from group texting to simple conference calling that make it easier to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

There are lots of analytics tools out there to help you understand your webapp, but Kissmetrics has released invaluable tools that help you track how your users are engaging on your site. If you’re looking to make data driven business decisions their service can be a big help.

Microsoft Kinect
It will take dozens and dozens of games (and service integrations) to fully unleash the Kinect’s potential. This product is very fun and feels downright futuristic. When you first interact with the system it’s understandable why so many people are inspired to hack their Kinects.

Microsoft Windows Mobile Phone 7 (aka Windows Phone)
Microsoft definitely deserves props for delivering a deep-rethink of their mobile platform that’s not derivative, offers a very aesthetic look and feel, feels f-a-s-t and has awesome Facebook integration. I’m currently carrying Android and iOS devices right now, and have no plans to add a Windows Phone to the mix, but this has definitely caught my attention.

New York Times Chrome App
I am a very big fan of the design and technical directions that the NYTimes chrome application has taken. It’s attractive, functional, minimal, works across a growing variety of devices, is semi-customizable and is a great use of HTML5. A definite work in progress but a big step in the right direction.

Nuance Dragon Mobile SDK
Earlier in the year Eric Schmidt mentioned that 25% of Android-based searches in the US market are initiated by voice. Integrating voice recognition into mobile services is a trend that’s likely to accelerate next year and the good news is that it’s never been easier. Nuance has released an SDK for iOS and Android mobile app developers who wish to enhance their applications with voice recognition input and text-to-speech output. Already in use by applications like Amazon’s Price Check, Ask.com’s Ask for iPhone, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Siri, this is shaping up to be a great cross-platform voice framework for mobile app developers.

Parrot Ar.Drone
iPhone remote controlled augmented reality quadricopter video games? Sold!

If had to pick just one new web product of the year this was definitely my favorite. It has been both an invaluable resource for me and an extremely inspiring product to watch develop. I could easily elaborate on their impressive tech stack; their appealing visual design; the awesome content and community; or numerous clever product features that demonstrate how thoughtful many of their social interactions are.

It’s hard not to respect what Rdio has pulled off: it’s a streaming music service that’s social, available on multiple platforms, has a decent sized library, is fairly priced, and currently available in the US. This is a very tough space and 2011 should be even more crowded with rumored launches from Apple, Google and Spotify. It will be interesting to see what Rdio has up their sleeves to stave off some stiff competition.

If you don’t have your own wheels and aren’t taking public transport, then finding a clean, safe, unplanned ride in a city like San Francisco can be a bit daunting. Uber’s goals appear to stretch beyond the creature comforts of simplifying a pickup via a mobile app and offering a high quality ride. They seem to want to deeply reset an industry and experience that has seen so little innovation, you kind of wonder if Louie De Palma is still working the dispatch.

New Projects
Design then Code
I’m a little early with this one because it has yet to publicly launch but I’m optimistic and really like the idea. Mike Rundle describes his projects goals here but essentially he wants to share what he has learned about iPhone UI design and development. He intends to convert small projects he’s worked on into elaborate tutorials that articulate what he learned and how to reproduce them. “Each tutorial has two parts: design and development. The design half discusses how to create a particular app’s user interface in Photoshop with all steps explained along the way including lots of screenshots. It includes the PSD file as well. The development half discusses how to execute that design in code. This half includes the Xcode project.” Signup now to be notified when it launches and get a special bonus treat.

This project was developed by four NYU students who shared a common desire to build an open source, distributed social network that allowed members to retain complete control over their personal information. The money their project was raising through Kickstarter became a bit of a media frenzy. The project continues to be actively developed.

Glyphish / Noun Project
Quality icons are hard to design and often not worth re-inventing. If you use popular mobile applications like Dribbble, Instagram, Flipboard, Twitter, WordPress, or over 1,000 others you’ve almost certainly seen a few of the Glyphish icons. The Pro version is available for sale on their site. A Kickstarter project gave its designer Joseph Wain the financial initiative to give away a portion of his existing work and further invest in developing this highly attractive and useful icon set to include support for iOS Retina Displays, amongst other things. While its mission is a bit different, the Noun Project has also taken a Kickstarter funding approach. The Noun Project’s goal is “to collect and organize all the symbols that form our language into one easy-to-use online library that can be accessed by anyone. All the symbols on our site are completely free to download, and can be used for design projects, architecture presentations, art pieces – just about anything.”

HTML5 Rocks Interactive Presentation
Google did a lot to evangelize HTML5 in 2010! If you’re a web designer looking to learn more about HTML5 books like HTML5 for Web Designers and CSS3 for Web Designers are great places to start.

OAuth 2.0
OAuth 2.0 is a completely new open protocol inspired by OAuth 1.0 and based on the OAuth WRAP proposal. OAuth 2.0 allows secure API authorization in a simple and standard method from desktop, web, mobile and other applications. Eran Hammer-Lahav does an excellent job providing additional color and introducing what’s new.

The Pylons Project
The Python community has been developing a wide range of competing web frameworks each with relatively small market share compared to Django and with very similar approaches. The Pylons Project is an attempt by many projects (specifically Pylons, repoze.bfg, and TurboGears) to consolidate their efforts. Chris McDonough’s original post and Ben Bangert’s follow-up announcement are great places to start learning more.

This Windows worm was almost certainly the result of a multi-nation state sponsored effort. Technically this cyberweapon was probably developed and released years ago but it was only discovered this year. Its target was specific industrial hardware used in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. Its goal was to sabotage uranium enrichment production at very specific facilities. I found this story behind Stuxnet fascinating.

TikTok and Lunatik Multi-Touch Watch Kits
These kits provide a simple way to “mod” the latest generation Apple iPod Nano and transform it into an attractive multi-touch wristwatch. It became so popular that it ended up becoming the most funded project of all time on Kickstarter raising nearly $1 million.

I’d have a hard time articulating the importance of Wikileaks better than how Yishan Wong summed things up so I’m just going to paraphrase what he wrote on Quora, “In the past, media was newspapers and the leaking of information to the people of the single country. Much has been made about the internet’s capability to spread knowledge across borders and link the peoples of the world. Wikileaks is the first such internet product to have used this technology to provide true journalistic service to an audience that is no less than all the people of the world. This is citizen journalism of a global nature.“

Feature Updates
Gawkergate woke me up and made me a 1password believer. This is one of those apps I should have adopted last year. With new applications available on iOS, Android and desktop applications and browser extensions available for Windows and OS X it’s hard to see a reason why any savvy internet user wouldn’t be using 1password on all their devices. It’s never been easier to manage unique passwords across all of your favorite internet services on the devices you access them from.

23andme for $99
I took the opportunity to have my DNA genotyped via 23andMe during their $99 DNA day deal. They went on to offer a similar deal on Cyber Monday. While my results were chock-full of data, I found their interpretations underwhelming. I look forward to watching this field evolve and my results become more insightful. Through the hard work of many others I’ve come to realize that the understanding of human genetics is much more complex than were originally anticipated when the Human Genome Project was initiated. Considering what I learned I’d have a hard time justifying paying more than $99 until this field matures. Hopefully, they can find ways to permanently keep the price down. If you had your DNA genotyped you can export your SNPs and run it in 3rd party applications like Promethease and learn quite a bit more.

Amazon Web Services
I’ve been using AWS for a few years and am really impressed with how many features were introduced in 2010. They’ve definitely been listening and responding to customer requests. The list of launches in 2010 is large: combined data transfer pricing tiers, consolidated billing, Identity and Access Management, Micro Instances, Cluster and GPU Instances, CloudFront streaming (technically this is from 12/2009), new relational database features from Amazon RDS, Route 53 (a DNS service), significant additional console support, and more. Amazon has done a simply awesome job making this an even greater place for businesses and developers to setup shop.

Apple iOS4, iPhone 4, iPod Nano, MacBook Air, MacMini, Mobile Safari
This year I had to restrain myself from buying practically the entire Apple hardware product line. Apple makes it look easy to design beautiful, innovative products that are also fun to use. I totally regret buying a MacBook Pro earlier in the year and have a hard time accepting the fact that the MacBook Air in our house belongs to my wife. It’s fast, lightweight, and beautifully designed. The iOS 4.2 update is described in detail here but it delivered a welcome slew of changes to my iPad and iPhone (most notably a unified email inbox and multitasking.) Apple introduced a ton of updates to Mobile Safari in iOS 4.2, which continues to make it my favorite mobile browser. Maximiliano Firtman did an exceptional job uncovering and detailing them even before Apple got around to documenting them on their developer site. I could go on about the updates to the iPhone 4, iPod Nano and MacMini too, but I think these got adequate press coverage.

Chartbeat v2
This real-time analytics dashboard got even better. You can learn more about what’s new as well as get some insight into the decisions that drove their design changes. If you’re into fresh data about what’s happening on your site you’ll almost certainly want to give this service a try.

This service further establishes itself as one of the most useful utilities I have for sharing and backing up my data. This year they squashed a lot of bugs, released iPad and Android apps, and launched their 1.0 desktop product. Additionally, they added a much requested selective sync feature.

It was another huge year for Facebook. There were so many announcements I’m bound to be missing a few obvious big ones. What stood out to me were Friendship Pages, Groups Overhaul (wow, did they quickly collect a lot of metadata about each of us), HipHop for PHP, Places, New Facebook Profiles, Facebook Messages, Open Graph Protocol, Graph API, Mobile SSO (how can nobody else be doing anything innovative here), Instant Personalization, Navigation Redesign, Numerous updates to Photos, the Platform adopted OAuth2, and there were a few cool Updates on their adoption of HTML5. I’m extremely impressed with their pace and focus.

I’m digging the recent implementation of pushState to tree browsing on GitHub. They describe how they achieve it using the “new HTML5 History API (which really has nothing to do with HTML — it’s a JavaScript API) that allows them to manage the URL changes while CSS3 transitions handle the sliding.” Very cool stuff.

I’ve always respected Google’s technical prowess and capability to deliver on big, disruptive projects. The self-driving car that they’ve been working on simply reinforces this reputation. This year they shipped a number of things I’ve enjoyed using on a daily basis. What stands out in particular are gMail Priority Inbox, Google Instant Search, Google Voice Calls in gMail, Google Voice Actions, Google TV, Chrome keeps getting faster and more stable, Google Prediction API, Android 2.2 and Android 2.3, and big updates to Google Maps on Android including Vector maps. I’m extremely eager to see what they are planning for 2011.

iOS Hackers
It’s hard not to appreciate all the tireless work 3rd parties have put into reverse engineering iOS so that consumers have more choice over their devices than Apple provides out of the box. I track what’s happening on the Dev-Team Blog but I’m sure there are lots of places to follow along. Each OS update is a huge challenge for the folks looking to find exploits that will make Apple mobile hardware more flexible. I am very appreciative of their efforts, which find their way to countless projects like Pwnage, etc. This year saw them defeat many challenges as well as hit a few new roadblocks.

jQuery 1.4.x
If you’re doing any front-end development work and aren’t using it already, jQuery is a javascript library that is highly worth checking out. They shipped 4 big updates in 2010. The amount of new awesome stuff is too long to cover but I certainly suggest you explore what’s new in 1.4, 1.4.2, 1.4.3 and 1.4.4!

It’s been around for a while but this was the year Kickstarter started showing how revolutionary it has become. Their Most Funded Projects Hall of Fame is a testament to how much money it’s helping numerous projects raise. This list happens to feature four projects that were funded through it: Diaspora, Glyphish, The Noun Project, and the TikTok and Lunatik Multi-Touch Watch Kits. While they might have launched some new features it was how people used it this year that was so impressive.

There’s a lot of excitement around Node.js and while it’s certainly not new there were a lot more people hacking on it in 2010. Some things that stood out over the past year included: Bayjax inviting Ryan Dahl to give an introductory talk on Node.js at Yahoo!, Douglas Crockford’s talk on event loops and the importance of server side javascript, the Node.js Knockout coding contest, NPM a Node Package Manager by Isaac Schlueter, announcement of the new JavaScript Services System in webOS 2.0, express.js a fast and tiny server-side JavaScript web development framework inspired by Sinatra, and probably lots more I haven’t even begun to hear about or look into.

Spotify Facebook Integration and Local Library Support
The Spotify desktop application got a ton of new features in 2010 but the most meaningful to me was the Facebook integration. Sharing music with friends has never been easier. I absolutely can’t wait for it to come to the US so more of my network can discover this truly awesome service that keeps getting better. Their support for local file library management was also a very welcome update.

Twitter (aka #newtwitter)
Sometimes change takes awhile to appreciate. I’ve been using Twitter since 2006 and it was hard for me to initially wrap my head around #newtwitter. While I didn’t like it at first it has definitely grown on me. I’ve discovered a lot of little features that I initially overlooked and which are thoughtfully designed and implemented. The ability to browse some media content inline was a very welcome addition. I still find I prefer to interact with Twitter via a desktop app or mobile device. While some of that is because there are features Twitter chooses not to natively support I suspect the real reason is that my previous patterns are fairly ingrained in me.

The webkit community introduced a slew of awesome new consumer features but it was the developer focused features that surfaced in the Timeline panel, Audits Panel, and Dedicated Console Panel that proved to be most useful to me on a daily basis.

YUI3 Grids
This is a major update to YUI Grids, it’s simpler to use, has a much smaller file size, supports nesting more elegantly, and is significantly more flexible than prior versions. If you are looking for a simple way to handle complicated web page layouts this just might be for you.

Mobile apps
Angry Birds (Android, iOS, Symbian)
Technically launched in 2009 but it’s hard to ignore this as one of the breakaway mobile apps of 2010. It’s a fun, addictive physics game that has been faithfully re-created across multiple platforms.

Chrome to Phone (Android and Chrome Browser Extension)
This simple chrome Extension and Android App makes it super easy to send links from your Chrome desktop browser to your Android device.

Colorbind (iOS)
The graphics in this puzzle game lured me in but the more challenging levels kept me interested. Unfortunately, there’s no optimized support for the iPad and it doesn’t look like it’s being actively maintained.

Cut the Rope (iOS)
This is a highly enjoyable puzzle game that sucked me in on my iPad.

Facetime (iOS and a beta app for OS X)
The iPhone 4 shipped with a simple way to start taking widespread advantage of mobile video calls. Problem is it’s currently closed, only supports limited hardware profiles and only works on mobile devices over WiFi. I’m looking forward to seeing additional details behind the “open standards” stack find their way into the public domain so that 3rd party integrations can become possible.

Glee (iOS)
Entertaining and original karaoke app that lets you sing popular songs from the show Glee along with other people from around the world. I’m not a fan of the show and this app is not my cup of tea but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s very well executed.

iElectribe (iOS specifically iPad)
Korg’s faithful software reproduction of the ELECTRIBE·R drum machine was a great early example of the opportunity for music creation apps on the iPad. Unfortunately, the introductory price has gone up and it’s now a bit expensive.

Instagram (iOS)
Pictures that have been processed by this app instantly feel like they have just a bit more soul. The attractive images it churns out, simple social features and integrations with numerous popular photo sharing services make it a highly useful and addictive application.

Keynote (iOS)
Apple made the iPad a great device for both creating and sharing presentations.

Marco Friend Locator (iOS)
I dig this simple service for sharing one-way location fixes that timeout in 30-minutes. Bonus points for not requiring everyone to have the application installed or force bi-directional sharing. If you’re in the “share my location now with others” market, Glympse, which launched a year back, is more complicated and has more dependencies but is also interesting.

Netflix (iOS)
The native iPhone and iPad apps now enable Netflix to be usable on mobile devices on the go. Super awesome.

Pulse (Android and iOS)
Aesthetic newsreader that makes it easy to skim your favorite news sources.

Remote (iOS)
Apple provided a long overdue update that now optimizes support for controlling iTunes (and any Airport Expresses on your local network) via your iPad.

Skype Video (iOS)
Very similar to Apple’s Facetime service, this feature adds video calling to other Skype users on iOS. The big advantage over Facetime is that it works over both 3G and WiFi and Skype has a significantly larger network of users.

Square (Android and iOS)
These mobile apps continue to make it easier for vendors to accept payment with common off the shelf mobile devices. The iPad app, which launched this year, is particularly powerful given the flexibility of the additional real estate.

SwiftKey / Swype (both on Android)
If you’re running Android and find the keyboard to be challenging to use give these a peek. In the case of Swype, the hard part for me was rewiring my brain to adapt to it. In their own unique ways each of these apps made it faster for me to input text and more easily adapt to using Android. I hope the default keyboard improves and I will not have to continue to hunt for 3rd party premium add-ons in future versions of Android.

Twitter (Android and iOS)
The iPad application that launched this year is definitely one of those things you’ll either love or hate. The user interface takes a variety of unique approaches at displaying, and framing, 3rd party content within the app itself. The port of Tweetie as the official iPhone client was well done although the signup UI could use some more love. The Android app is a faithful reproduction that feels more buggy than it should.

Venmo (Android and iOS)
Dead simple mobile payment system for splitting bills with friends and trying to keep things even.

Word Lens (iOS)
Augmented reality finds a perfect use case in this real-time language translator that superimposes translated text over words contained in a live video stream. It doesn’t work perfectly but that it even works at all is crazy.

OK, I’m out. What’s on your list?