Best innovation 2011: Pocket-lint Awards contenders

Innovation is key to keeping technology interesting. It is a risky business coming up with something that goes against the grain or changes the way the average consumer views electronics but getting it right can result in serious big bucks as we saw with the Microsoft Kinect. 

Picking out the best innovation of 2011 requires some slightly sideways thinking as a lot of it came not in the usual physical product form, but in infrastructure and online. We don't have all the answers, but we have a few tips for those trying to think up their nominations for Best Innovation 2011 at the 8th Pocket-lint Awards. Remember to send us your ideas before 14 November either in the comments below or the feedback address.

 

Hardware

Inventing the wheel was probably pretty easy given that there were neither a) not many professional inventors around at the time and b) not many intelligent individuals in the past to have come up with anything like it. These days, of course, our conceit is that coming up with more and more interesting bits of kit to play with is a seriously tough assignment which, let's face it, it probably is. All the same, here are a few ideas for what's been revolutionary on the hardware front in 2011.

Lytro

The first time we came across the Lytro concept we were seriously sceptical. A camera that you could selectively focus post shot? Not possible we thought. Then we saw what it looked like and our doubts grew even more. The Lytro camera appears to be a kaleidoscope put together for an 8-year-old. Ultimately, however, it is the photos that count when it comes to photography and there the Lytro more than proved us wrong.

There has never been anything like the Lytro before in what it means for photography as a medium. Traditionally the expense behind a lens has been out of three parts; sharpness, f-stop and focussing speed. With the Lytro the last part is entirely eliminated as you can recompose a shot after you have pressed the shutter.

Virgin Media TV powered by TiVo

Television will always be television. You need good programming for it to be enjoyable. Problem is that most paid-for TV services are inundated with piles of poo. Enter Virgin Media's TiVo box which asks you to pay a bit extra so it can do the filtering for you.

You leave TiVo on and it will just sit and record what it thinks you like. It will start to learn your telly watching habits. The result is that a few months down the line, TiVo is recording nothing but what you love.

OnLive

Another import from the US, on top of TiVo, was OnLive. Gamers had never seen anything quite like it, an entirely cloud-based system which allowed you to play games on multiple platforms including laptops and tablets. OnLive works by streaming up to 720p feeds of a game straight to the OnLive app or microconsole plugged into your TV. 

Playing games like this means you can pick at a title wherever you are, keeping yourself entertained. The service is also set to arrive on tablets like the iPad which could revolutionise the way we think about gaming on portables. It still has the odd hiccup and would benefit from a bigger game library, but right now we can't think of a more exciting way of gaming than OnLive. 

Sony Personal 3D Viewer

If you were one of the select few who picked up a Nintendo Virtual Boy all those years ago then the concept of the Sony 3D Viewer might be familiar. Essentially a 3D TV that you slap on your face, the idea is that you get a crosstalk free 3D experience. 

Sony has taken a risk pushing such a bonkers product like this to market and for that alone the company deserves a clap, but to attempt to release something where Nintendo failed all those years ago, that's a full on standing ovation. It's a product that is as mad as it is fun and, whilst it might never sell, we have to give praise to Sony for just trying something different.

 

Software

While the world of hardware might be a tough nut to crack; software, services and certainly apps - web, desktop, mobile or otherwise - are still relatively new markets with off-piste skiing as fresh and powdery as you could hope for. Of course, with it so easy to set something up, the catch is that someone might have already beaten you to the punch.

All the same, there are some big companies you can rely on to churn out ideas no matter how well conceived, which is exactly where we kick off this brainstorm.

Google+

Google decided to enter itself into the social networking game this year with its Google+ setup. Referred to by the big G as a project and not a product, it's been in a slowly expanding embryonic state since launch.

The design and layout of Google+ is a cleaner way of communicating with friends. It's simple to manage contacts by dragging them into different circles. Hangouts make talking with groups of people easier and Sparks make sharing mutual interests a doddle. We also like the ease of use that the mobile app provided - particularly when it comes to uploading photos straight to the website, which Facebook has never quite managed to get right.

Siri

"Open the pod bay doors Siri"..."Sigh" it replies, as we repeatedly ask it the same question over and over again to show off our iPhone 4S to friends. Siri behaves like an in-built personal assistant in the iPhone 4S, allowing you to control multiple phone functions without ever having to touch the screen.

It also learns your voice and gets used to the type of commands and the way you phrase them. For example Siri now understands, or appears to, when we say 'I want to hear the Beatles', it will play them. How's that for innovation? Sure it is an iPhone 4S-only feature and doesn't exactly enrich our lives in anyway, or make them easier, but it is the beginning of true voice control.

Ice Cream Sandwich

Android is now celebrating its 4.0 birthday in the form of Ice Cream Sandwich and one of the most significant revamps of the OS yet. ICS acts as a unifying force between Android-powered smartphones and tablets. It is very much Google's answer to iOS and built to allow you to get the same or similar UI experience across different devices.

The other element of ICS which really innovates is Android Beam, an NFC-based means of transferring lots of information. Stick a device back to back with another and NFC and Beam will do the rest. You can send maps by just hitting touch to beam from within the app or even use the setup to launch multiplayer games. It's a simple yet highly logical and useful addition to the smartphone OS. 

Google Wallet

NFC connectivity has become a bit of a must have in top spec smartphones this year. While it's not entirely necessary quite yet, particularly in the UK, the infrastructure that is beginning to evolve around it is hard to ignore. None more so than Google Wallet, which has proven yet again that when it comes to innovation, the Big G knows what is best. 

In creating Google Wallet tech lovers have begun to take advantage of the NFC capability that many already had in their Nexus S handsets. The addition of this little Android app means you can put down hassle-free payments straight from your phone to participating stores. No innovation, however, is worth anything if it's overly complex, which is where Google Wallet triumphs. It makes the idea of using your smartphone as a bankcard extremely simple - something which you would presume would be a complex task.

There is plenty else out there that we're sure you can think of, so let us know in the comments below...