My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

Summary: Rarely does a gadget come along that has major impact on mobile technology. There is one gadget that has changed the way we approach mobile connectivity, and is the most significant gadget that has come along in years.

SHARE:
39

The best part of my job is getting exposure to virtually every gadget that comes along. Sometimes I get to see them before the buying public, sometimes at the same time. As much fun as playing with gadgets can be, often it is a case of "more of the same". Rarely is there a gadget that is groundbreaking, with implications that has major impact on mobile technology. There is one gadget that has changed the way we approach mobile connectivity, and it is my pick for the most significant gadget that has come along in years. I am referring to the MiFi.

Not too long ago mobile connectivity was only enjoyed by a few road warriors willing to put up with high cost and a some hassles. Primarily this was in the form of a mobile broadband modem, either USB or air card, that plugged into a laptop allowing it to tap into a data network on the go. These modems were usually not that cheap and would only get one laptop on the network at a time.

The first MiFi hit the scene and changed the entire mobile broadband playing field. This gadget was slightly bigger than a credit card, and was a 3G modem and WiFi router all wrapped up in one small package. Using the MiFi it was possible to connect up to 5 devices to the 3G network at the same time, and all wirelessly. It created a personal hotspot that allowed any WiFi-enabled device to tap into existing 3G networks.

For the first time, devices without a USB or PC Card slot could tap into the 3G network. This opened the door for devices without integrated 3G modems to use the technology anyway. The user simply hit the power button on the MiFi gadget, and up to 5 devices in the area were instantly connected via 3G.

In one fell swoop the MiFi invented the mobile hotspot. The concept was proven to be valuable, and manufacturers raced to produce similar devices. Phone makers realized the potential and started including the mobile hotspot capability in handsets. This has proven popular with consumers and it is now easier to find a phone with integrated mobile hotspot capability than it is to find one without the feature. All because of that original MiFi.

The existence of mobile hotspots extended the usefulness of devices like the iPad that only offer WiFi. Consumers liked that due to the lower cost than those with integrated 3G modems, and they didn't need a carrier data plan. They could connect to existing hotspots, yet use a MiFi or other mobile hotspot via WiFi and connect anywhere. Verizon sells the iPad bundled with a MiFi for that very reason.

The MiFi is my pick for the most significant gadget to hit the mobile space for quite some time. It has permanently changed the way we consume mobile broadband. The appearance of 4G networks such as Verizon's LTE network offers such high-speed connectivity that 4G MiFis may change the way we consume home broadband, too.

What's your choice for the most significant mobile device? Sound off in the TalkBack.

Related coverage:

Topics: CXO, Hardware, IT Employment

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

39 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

    James,

    I will have to agree with you i own a mifi device bought in in Nov of last year due to constant issues with the crappy dsl connection (which i finally had to cancel) But this is wonderful just yesterday my wife took it and my daughters ipad to my sons doctors appointment. My only complain is the da#n Verizon data caps. I cannot wait for 4G speeds but i really hope they change there data plan limits.
    MLHACK
  • RE: My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

    What about hotspot functionality for smart phones. Even better than mifi, no?

    I've got a Sprint Overdrive, but it's still another device to carry around. I'm contemplating trading in the Droid X for the Thunderbolt, LTE, and mobile hotspot all on my phone...
    RossNWirth
    • RE: My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

      @RossNWirth

      Here is the problem with that... On Verizon, which is the only carrier with those phones mentioned, is what if you are in the middle of some important project on the web and you receive a phone call? Phone calls take a priority over everything on Verizon. Henceforth the web service is terminated to accept the incoming call. That is why the Mifi is so handy on Verizon's network.
      mcfant
      • RE: My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

        @mcfant well not exactly terminated, just paused. you can continue whatever you where doing before exactly where it was left off. you just cant work at the exact time. its happened to me a few times on my verizon iphone, its no big deal. as soon as the call is over, you can continue.
        rocketboy5114
      • RE: My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

        @mcfant Easy solution to that problem...dump Verizon...problem solved!
        tech_ed@...
      • RE: My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

        @mcfant
        Gosh, that isn't great. On this side of the pond, if I'm using my 3G wifi hotspot on the phone and I receive a call, the 3G wifi keeps on keeping on. Happens a fair bit. That's with an HTC Desire, mind...

        This is a feature that's won me some jealous glances from... the more fashionable set, shall we say?

        I only saw an actual Mifi for the first time about a month ago. Seemed quaint to have this without the rest of the smartphone attached. I guess not driving the screen probably helps the battery life too... :)
        dsekules
  • Never heard of it until this article

    ,
    petermat@...
    • and that's why it is a fairly INSIGNIFICANT product..

      @petermat@... despite the author's assertions.. because almost no one outside of tech heads even knows it exists or uses it..

      to me a significant tech product should be one that affects how large numbers of people live their lives.. MiFi is not that type of tech product..
      doctorSpoc
      • Nope. The problem is, we all know what that product

        is, but no one wants to say it.

        http://www.marco.org/980434663
        fr_gough
      • RE: My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

        @doctorSpoc

        I agree. And even if the MiFi invented the "mobile hotspot" (which I doubt), HTC has stolen their thunder with the mobile hotspot provided on many of their phones. I would never think of getting a MiFi when I already have it on my G2.
        mejohnsn
  • Question on MiFi capabilities..

    With a MiFi device for my Verizon phone, could I use the wireless as my home computer connection to the Internet?

    Thanks,

    Dave in Utah
    dmcity7
    • RE: My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

      @dmcity7 Yes, my daughter uses a MiFi as her home connection. She's quite happy with that arrangement.
      JamesKendrick
      • so, how do you get past the feature that charging the unit by

        @JamesKendrick
        connecting it to a computer's usb port disconnects it from users?

        :)
        .
        wessonjoe
      • RE: My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

        @JamesKendrick

        That is all very nice, but unless you are in a very strong signal area, she cannot get the same bandwidth reliably that she would have using DSL for her home connection.
        mejohnsn
  • RE: My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

    Couldn't agree more. Probably the simplest gadget to use too.
    mitch@...
  • RE: My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

    It's amazing that you could pick a product as most significant when it is used by such a small minority of people. 3G speeds are deplorable and the cost is out of line with the value the product brings. Think about it, other than road warriors and techs in the field, how many people really need a slow high priced device for occasional use?
    barryelvin@...
  • RE: My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

    "gadget" and "significant" don't really belong together.

    How old are you, and how did you manage to survive without this for all those years? How did mankind ever make it to the 21st Century without MiFi?
    bb_apptix
  • Yeah... It figures...

    Jimmy Kendrick.. Out of touch with everything except his weenie.
    i8thecat
  • Clear.com's mifi-like device

    4-G but only for limited areas like NYC. Great there.
    allyn12341234
  • RE: My pick for most significant gadget of the past few years

    If iPads had USB ports then this would not be that important would it?
    mswift@...