Best of 2010: The 10 Biggest Game Changers In Tech

Much as we hate to admit it, Steve Jobs changed the game again with the iPad. Instead of a novelty size iPhone, Apple produced blockbuster sales and a new product category they essentially own. With a slew of imitators set to hit the market in 2011, the question is not how the iPad will compete, but what revolutionary device Jobs will unveil while everyone else is still playing catch up.

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Wikileaks front man Julian Assange

While Steig Larson's story about the romance between hackers and journalists was topping the bestseller lists and the box office, Wikileaks was doing the real thing. It's release of top secret documents and video provided the source material for front page stories that occupied the traditional media for months on end and rewrote the rulebook for diplomacy, perhaps for all time. Assange, increasingly under fire from without and within, is quickly becoming a full fledged enemy of the state.

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Android started 2010 as a marginal player, well behind competitors like Apple and RIM. My how things have changed. Google's strategy was a validation of a more open approach, although their dream of a mobile phone the average consumer could purchase without a carrier contract withered with the Nexus One. A rumored sequel, the Nexus S, is on the way, however, and Google's confidence in the mobile sector is booming.

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HFT has been around for a while, but came out of the shadows in May, when the Dow Jones dropped a staggering 1000 points in the span of minutes. The "Flash Crash" was a wake up call, highlighting the fact that more than 70 percent of daily stock trading is now executed by high speed algorithms, not humans.

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From Verizon Wireless to Microsoft Kinect, tech titans best known for their closed attitude have begun to slowly embrace a more liberated approach. The wild success of mobile app stores has convinced corporate America that its time to rethink their stance towards the developer community and the strategies, if not ideals, of the open source movement.

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For most people these days, location status is a spotty affair, recorded only when we check-in. But in the near future, as GPS and battery life improves, persistent, highly accurate location status will be possible, opening up an Orwellian wealth of commercial, social and privacy developments.

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"There's an app for that" has become shorthand for the ubiquity of mobile software, much as "Google it" became the shorthand for search. Both reflect a profound change in human behavior, in which tasks, questions and communication are filtered through a new interface. The result is big business, except instead of a monolithic Google, the app ecosystem has created hundreds of thousands of small, independent businesses. It's the desktop PC revolution, but 10X bigger and happening much faster.

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2010 was the year that advertisers went too far. Led by the Wall Street Journal, the media inflamed public concern over what kind of information advertisers are learning and sharing about web users lives, both online and off. After years of failing to reform itself, the ad industry now faces the strong possibility of government regulation.

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As privacy outrage over his latest moves roiled the media and a dark portrayal of his early career filled the theaters, Mark Zuckerberg continued to emerge as a formidable CEO, and the company he built became one of the most powerful forces in global commerce. Facebook passed half a billion users, with no signs of slowing, and the company's valuation, on revenues north of $1 billion, passed the $30 billion mark. Entire industries are being built on top of Facebook, yet Zuckerberg continues to live simply. At least he occasionally he skips the Tevas these days.

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One of the biggest themes of 2010 has been the resurgence of the walled garden. The explosion of apps, resurgence of paywalls and rise of the siloed social networks has folks like Tim Berners-Lee, architect of the world wide web, worried that the open nature of his creation is under attack.

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Jason Schneider

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