2004: TomTom GO
Fraser Macdonald (Stuff since 2001):
In the early noughties, successful satellite navigation required a big dollop of geekery. With the enthusiasm of youth, and having arrived in Big London recently enough to still have a car, I was that geek. I spent hours sitting in a cold Sierra trying to convince a hiker-orientated Garmin not to take me up bridleways. Or watching as a Windows palmtop struggled to combine a GPS backpack with mapping software, then crashed. Again.
And then a group of Dutch people brought the GO into the office. Designed specifically for cars, it had a colour touchscreen and an integrated GPS receiver, a bold, intuitive UI and colourful, stylised maps. But more importantly, it actually worked – I just stuck it to the windscreen, plugged it in and drove. And it never directed me along a coast-to-coast path.
2006: Google Earth
Mark Wilson (Stuff since 2004):
Before Google Earth, only shiny gadgets and free pizza attracted gaggles of excited Stuff staff. But the “search giant”, as we innocently called Google before it turned into Skynet, changed all that with its new web service. Minutes after I’d download the first Mac version, people were queuing up to type their addresses into the “fly to” box to see who was parked on their drive in 2001.
Strange to think that as recently as June 1999, Stuff had written with wonder about a company weaving together satellite maps of Europe. The only place to see them was in a £25 book. Now we had an entire, searchable planet on our computer. Of course, these days we’re spoilt with the ability to fly to (and inside) the world’s buildings in Street View. But it was Google Earth that first made us take web miracles for granted.
More after the break...
Tom Wiggins (Stuff since 2006):
There are times when I realise this job isn’t like others. It’s usually when somebody rides a motorised pogo stick around the car park in the name of “testing”, but sometimes it’s when we get our hands on big-name kit before it hits the shops.
We got our PS3 when it launched in Japan, about six months before it reached the UK, and the one game that hooked us all was MotorStorm: it was fast, it looked amazing and it was as competitive as Cristiano Ronaldo playing Mario Kart with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It was the little things that really made it come alive, like switching to the first-person view riding a dirt bike and seeing the mud get kicked up around you. Or boosting to the point of an explosion in an attempt to finish first. With MotorStorm, the next gen had truly arrived.
2007: Apple iPhone
Tom Dunmore (Stuff 1999-2009):
It seems impossible to believe in this age of rumour and leak, but the arrival of the iPhone was a complete shock. Sure, we suspected Apple had plans to build on the success of the iPod with an iTunes phone. But when Steve Jobs walked on stage at MacWorld San Francisco in January 2007 and announced that Apple was launching a new widescreen iPod, mobile phone and internet device, we thought he was talking about three separate products.
I was lucky enough to witness seven Steve Jobs keynotes in my decade at Stuff, and this was his best. As the demonstrations began, I realised that he was controlling the audience in exactly the same way as the iPhone, eliciting an extraordinary response with the lightest of touches.
When he finished, everyone rose to their feet to give a wild ovation. Well, everyone except us cynical British hacks: the iPhone was too good to be true. But then six of us were whisked backstage and given exactly two minutes each to fondle it. We passed it around as if it were some alien artefact, our eyes widening as we realised it really did work like Steve had said. We were used to dim, unresponsive touchscreens that needed to be prodded with a stylus, but the iPhone offered a bright control panel to a universe of features that could, with a stroke, reconfigure to whatever function was necessary.
Convergence had arrived. I left the room and called the Stuff newsdesk. “This isn’t just the greatest gadget ever,” I gushed, “it’s the coolest thing in the universe!” And even today, I still believe that’s true.
2007: Rock Band
Tom Wiggins (Stuff since 2006):
For me, the Battle of Trafalgar wasn’t a sea scuffle in 1805, but rather an epic duel fought with plastic instruments in front of tens of people (and ringmasters Dick and Dom from Da Bungalow).
With Rock Band still a year away from a UK release, EA offered us the chance to form our own beat combo and enter a battle of the bands in London’s Trafalgar Square. As a Guitar Hero veteran, I jumped at the chance and recruited three bandmates. In hindsight, Radiohead’s "Creep" might not have been the best song to win over a crowd of curious tourists, but we certainly looked the best. And that’s what rock’n’roll’s about.