10 innovations that made 2015 better

We saw countless pieces of new tech in 2015, but this list cares about only one thing: stuff that’s actually made our lives better. Some of the items below are laying the foundations of a better future, while some have had a real impact already. One thing’s for sure: 2015 has been a great year for tech innovations, and we’re thoroughly looking forward to 2016.

1. Hydrogen-powered cars

Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell: We drive the UK’s first mass-produced Hydrogen car around London

We aren’t pretending for a second that 2016 will see our petrol-guzzling cars replaced by zero-emission, hydrogen-powered wonder vehicles – but we have seen a shift towards eco-friendly cars in 2015, exemplified by the UK’s first mass-produced hydrogen car, the Hyundai ix35. As we found when we drove it, one big problem is that everyone expects a car to be noisy, and London pedestrians have an odd habit of defying natural selection by walking out into the road without looking. A lack of a recharging stations doesn’t help. But this is surely a sign of things to come.

2. Android Wear watches

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Android Wear watches are nothing new, but 2015 saw a stream of smart timepieces we’d be happy to put on our wrists – and we couldn’t say that at the end of 2014. Whether it’s the super-stylish Huawei Watch, the Motorola Moto 360 2 or the Sony SmartWatch 3, the combination of hardware and software is now a match for the Apple Watch – and, arguably, even better. Just get used to putting them on charge.

3. BBC micro:bit

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Just as the 1980s generation of schoolkids was inspired by the BBC Micro, so – it’s hoped – the current generation will be inspired by the micro:bit. With more than a hint of the Raspberry Pi ethos, it’s a tiny computer with a motion detector, magnetometer, two programmable buttons, 25 red LEDs, Bluetooth and five I/O rings for connecting to other devices or sensors. The idea is that children (and teachers) will unleash their imaginations and create all sorts of Internet of Things devices, creating their own code along the way. The only glitch: delays mean mass release has been pushed back to the start of 2016, but you can register your interest here.

4. Windows 10

Windows 10 review: The new Maps app

Its back was against the wall. Criticism from all sides. No way out. But then, like a digitised Bruce Willis in Die Hard 8.1, Microsoft pulled Windows 10 out of the bag. We now have a sophisticated OS for tablet, PC and laptop, and the hardware manufacturers are rising to the challenge with some superb designs such as the HP Elite x2 1012. Things look even better now that Windows 10 Mobile is here. All we need now are top-quality apps to take advantage of.

5. NVMe SSDs

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It’s the hidden enemy, but if there’s one thing that still causes your laptop or desktop PC to stutter, it’s the storage system. And that’s true even if you’ve made the switch from mechanical hard disk to SSD. This is why we’re celebrating the arrival of NVMe, Non-Volatile Memory Express to its friends. If you own a desktop PC with a spare PCI Express slot you can upgrade right now, with Samsung’s 950 Pro M.2 SSD costing around £150 for a 256GB disk. That’s not cheap, but as always these drives will just keep on getting cheaper and more ubiquitous.

6. Reusable rockets

Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket may have just changed the course of space travel

It hasn’t been a straightforward year for Elon Musk’s vision of privatised space exploration, with a SpaceX rocket exploding moments after launch in June, but in the past week there was a massive breakthrough: the return of a launch rocket, potentially cutting mission costs in half. With a fresh wave of enthusiasm for space exploration, helped in the UK at least by Tim Peake’s six-month visit to the International Space Station, 2015 could be a landmark year for space.

7. USB Type-C (aka USB-C)

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Anyone who’s tried to stick a cable into a USB slot the wrong way up will appreciate the joy of USB-C, which hit the mainstream in 2015. For a start, it works either way up. Genius! Not only that, but it’s fast – up to 10Gbits/sec – and has a much higher power output than previous USB standards. Apple’s 12in MacBook uses its USB-C socket as its sole means of charging, for instance. That points to a bright future too: super-fast USB-C external hard disks with just one cable for charging and connections. No more proprietary power adapters. In short, one connector to rule them all.

8. Streaming music services

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This has been an amazing year for streaming music, with the UK finally catching up with the US when it comes to music services – and then some. Summer saw a flurry of activity, first with Apple Music for £10 per month and then Amazon Prime Music bundled “free” for Prime customers. Audiophiles also have more services to choose from than ever, with Jay-Z’s Tidal joining the likes of Deezer Elite. Heck, even HP has joined in the fun with its Windows 10 app, HP Lounge. If you love music, you’ve never had it so good.

9. Google Photos

Google Photos

Photos are a problem. We take them on our phones, our cameras, and we’ve got years’ worth sitting on CDs and hard disks. How on earth do you keep track of it all and find what you need? At this year’s Google I/O, Google announced Google Photos, an extension to its existing photo-storage system, that will converge all your photos into one place – and tag them so you can find all the photos of your cousin Jean, should you need to. Yes, this raises privacy issues, but it also solves one of the great problems of our time.

10. HP ColorSphere 3

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Think a laser toner innovation is too dull for this list? Not if you think about the benefits first of all. Incredibly low warm-up times so that the first page emerges from your office printer in under ten seconds. Much less wasted toner, meaning the cartridges can be smaller and the printers themselves more compact. Fuss-free swap-outs, with no risk of toner leaking onto your crisply ironed white shirt. More pages per cartridge. And as it happens, all the new printers are quieter (and a tad sexier) too. Read all about HP ColorSphere 3 on our sister site IT Pro.

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