20 technologies that changed the world

We reveal the little things that made a big impact

The Sony Dual Shock Controller

How many bits of tech kit have won an Emmy award? Sony's 10-year-old Dual Shock controller got one for 'Peripheral Development and Technological Impact of Video Game Controllers' (Nintendo bagged one too for inventing the D-pad).

The Dual Shock enabled games to strike back, vibrating the controller in time with the onscreen action. The design is obviously so good that Sony didn't change it when moving from the PlayStation 2 to the PlayStation 3.

Article continues below


The Global Positioning System was clever enough as a military technology, but when GPS became available to the rest of us it changed the way we navigate - and probably made a lot of mapmakers redundant. Sat-nav systems are just the beginning, though: GPS in phones could herald a whole new era of location-aware sites and services.

The Nintendo Wii Remote

Even with the best will in the world, the Nintendo Wii is a last-generation console. Its guts are positively puny compared to Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360. But the Wii's secret weapon is the Wii Remote (dubbed 'Wiimote'), which turns old-school games - computer tennis? Come on, it's Pong with better graphics! - into perfect family entertainment. Particularly after a few beers.

According to Popular Science, the Wiimote works using an accelerometer, which consists of a miniscule silicon weight suspended between delicate springs. When the Wiimote is swung or flicked, this weight moves. A computer chip then calculates how fast and how far the weight has moved, transferring the data into onscreen movement. When games developers get the Wiimote right, as they have with Rayman Raving Rabbids or Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, it's pure gaming heaven.


No. Not today's neutered song seller. We mean the original, fun Napster. As if annoying Metallica wasn't enough, Napster and its successors made broadband worth having. Napster was amazingly easy to use and immensely useful, and it brought peer-to-peer file sharing into the mainstream. Without Napster there'd be no BBC iPlayer, no Joost, no iTunes, no Bittorrent and probably no Skype. Not bad for a fairly simple program written by a student.

The Sony Walkman

Without the original Walkman there'd be no Apple iPod, and possibly not any mobile music of any kind. Nobutoshi Kihara's personal mission - he wanted to listen to operas during long plane journeys - put headphones on the high street. The basic idea worked as well with CDs, MiniDiscs and MP3s as it did with cassette tapes. You can see the Walkman's DNA in pretty much every mobile music device. Don't believe us? Stick an iPod next to the original 1979 Walkman and they look like brothers.


Created by programmer Bram Cohen in 2001, Bittorrent took the basic idea of peer-to-peer file transfer and kicked it up a gear. Its genius is that as soon as you have a bit of a file, you're sharing it - so files are shared before they're fully downloaded. Bittorrent is an incredibly efficient way of distributing huge amounts of data - which is good news for open source software distribution and terrible news for film studios trying to fight piracy.

The Apple iPhone

The iPhone doesn't do anything new - our O2 XDA does web, email and phone in a single, rubbish device. The iPhone isn't perfect either, but it's still a design masterpiece. Apple has simply done what Apple does best: it's looked at what other firms have made and said "You know what? There's a better way to do it". There are stacks of firms making internet-enabled phones. But with its slim design, multitouch screen and intuitive UI, Apple has made the lot of them look rather silly. Game on for Nokia, Sony Ericsson...