This PCWorld list of the 100 greatest gadgets of the past 50 years is excellent — I was really glad to see old friends like the Texas Instruments Speak and Spell, the Motorola PageWriter, the Connectix QuickCam and Lego Mindstorms on the list, as well as the obvious iPod/Walkman/Atari 1977. Even the Newton and the Trash-80 made the list!
They're the butt of jokes these days, but 8-track tapes and decks changed car audio forever. The Stereo 8, which first appeared as an option on Fords, had minimal controls and was often mounted under the dashboard with ugly U-brackets, but aesthetics weren't the point. With an 8-track in your car, you were no longer at the mercy of local radio station playlists. That was a very big deal at a time when only the largest cities had stations that played what was then known as "album rock." And the sound! In those days 8-tracks blew the doors off anything coming from a radio station, despite their infamous fadeouts when the tracks switched. The 8-track didn't last all that long, falling out of favor in the early 1970s as smaller, more convenient cassette tapes (and later CDs) came along. Photo courtesy of 8-Track Heaven.