Game-changing gadget of the year 2015

3 Dec 2015

Each year, we wade our way through a sea of the same gadgets that are often cool to look at, but rarely make a long-term impact, but this year there was one gadget we felt rose above the rest.

When determining what deserved to be named game-changing gadget of the year 2015, it came down to a number of factors.

For one thing, Apple, Samsung et al can all say that their latest phones are revolutionary, but we all know that, despite a few performance boosts, tweaks and bling, most high-end phones these days very rarely push the barriers of true innovation.

Likewise, a game-changing gadget actually has to contribute to a seismic shift, or at least contribute to the beginnings of one, something like what Google Cardboard did last year by bringing virtual reality (VR) to the masses.

Speaking of which, we finally got release dates for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the former of which would definitely be up for consideration, that is, if it was launched in 2015, but we will have to wait until next year, sadly.

So what, I hear you say, was worthy of the top gong? Well, as it turns out, the decision was a piece of cake, or ‘pi’ for that matter.

Game-changing gadget of the year 2015: Raspberry Pi Zero

Yes, the humble board got a whole lot more humble this year with the launch of the Raspberry Pi Zero, which despite being more powerful than its older siblings, costs a mere $5.

Think of that for a second: that’s less than the price of a pint, or just more than half the price of an average cinema ticket these days.

And with it, you get the ability to pretty much create whatever you want, within reason, of course.

The coding revolution that will see children learn coding in a similar way to how adults now were taught maths in school isn’t just some faraway idea anymore, it’s getting closer and closer to a reality.

With organisations like CoderDojo in full swing and ever-growing, the Raspberry Pi Zero will play an incredibly important role in that, not only because of its tiny size, but its price can give power and possibilities to those for whom Apple Macs and PCs are simply out of reach.

Raspberry Pi altoids

Passing through the cost barrier

After all, following the launch of the Raspberry Pi Zero in November, Eben Upton, the company’s CEO, said that, even at its rather low price of $30, the Raspberry Pi was still out of reach for some people: “We still meet people for whom cost remains a barrier to entry.”

When the first Raspberry Pi launched in 2012, it was already considered a revelation because it ignored all the aesthetics that usually goes into a tech product and focused on getting the most bang for your buck.

With dimensions of just 65mm x 30mm x 5mm, the Raspberry Pi foundation has managed to cram a Broadcom BCM2835 application processor, 1GHz ARM11 core, 512MB of LPDDR2 SDRAM, micro-SD card slot and Micro-USB sockets for data and power into the Raspberry Pi Zero.

Raspberry Pi toys

Sure, it doesn’t compete with higher-end machines, but the amount of power you get out of that still easily allows basic coders, or advanced ones for that matter, to use the board for practically anything.

This can be something cool like sticking it into an Xbox controller and turning it into a single gaming emulator unit, or using the devices to act as one cog in a giant research project to study bee behaviour.

It’s unlikely that the Raspberry Pi Zero’s cost will be matched anytime soon, so, for this reason, it’s our game-changing gadget of the year 2015.

A close runner-up

However, I think it’s only fair that we give some honourable mentions to those who at some point in time were going to be named as the gadget of the year, only to just miss out thanks to the Raspberry Pi’s late entrance.

Harnessing the power of the internet of things (IoT), the Tip Tap Tap desk produced by the start-up of the same name from the Nimbus Centre in Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) is definitely up there.

Effectively an IoT school desk, the Tip Tap Tap has interactive numbers and letters laser-engraved into it that, when posed a question by a teacher, allows a student to give the answer by physically entering it on the desk.

Not only does this help a child to not feel pressured to give an answer verbally in front of the class, but it also gathers data on the student’s performance over the year.

Surprised child opening bag image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic