Each year, eWEEK Labs singles out the products that stood out in our testing in the past 12 months. We focus on the offerings that had the biggest impact in their spaces and that did the most to move enterprise technology forward.
Product of the Year: Apple iPad
It was the hottest thing in computing since the original Apple Macintosh. It was an evergreen topic of conversation, from its unveiling in the first week of January 2010 to holiday dinners at year's end. It is already changing the landscape of mobile computing and inspiring numerous imitators.
It, as you may have guessed, is the Apple iPad. It is our Product of the Year.
Although this first iPad model has been the butt of jokes about being "the iPod Touch that doesn't fit in a pocket," it feels polished and even mature. Apple, realizing that simply scaling up an iPhone wouldn't do, has instead turned the tablet market on its ear.
We've kicked the tires on a number of tablet concepts; many of these used a Windows variant for tablets, but despite a commanding lead in the field, Microsoft and its allied system builders could never figure out how to make tablets attractive to businesses and consumers, beyond some niche use cases.
But Apple has this sort of thing in its DNA: Its customers confirm that good physical design and an instinctual user interface are what attract them to the Mac, then to the iPod, to the iPhone and now to the iPad. The handful of things that Apple can do better in the next iPad are actually pretty simple: Adding built-in cameras, replacing the now-blocky screen with a larger version of the iPhone 4's Retina display and giving customers a choice of carrier for mobile data services all come to mind.
Compared with what competitors must do to catch up with the original iPad, to say nothing of the forthcoming iPad 2, Apple's challenges are more about keeping momentum than gaining it. Even though Apple will lose its lock on the tablet market in 2011, cheap tablets won't make many inroads among the company's target customers, and Apple's leverage in the mobile market sets it-and the iPad-apart from everyone else in this game.
Cisco CleanAir, a spectrum analysis feature set comprising recent-generation Aironet 3500 series access points and Version 7.x Unified Wireless Network software on the APs and Wireless LAN Controllers, delivers outstanding RF (radio frequency) reporting, tracking and assessment capabilities to help wireless administrators build robust wireless networks to host mission-critical applications and dense endpoint deployments.
I gave Cisco and CleanAir eWEEK's Analyst's Choice award when I reviewed the products back in August, as I was blown away by CleanAir's interferer detection and fingerprinting, as well as the network's automated self-healing capabilities and the integration with Cisco's desktop RF analysis software. But I was most impressed with CleanAir's ability to distill the findings into an understandable and actionable framework, allowing wireless administrators and senior executives alike to get a better understanding of the deleterious effects of radio interference without requiring them to get lost in the weeds of spectrograms, fast Fourier diagrams and the like. Unless they want to.
One can certainly argue the value of Cisco CleanAir, given the massive hardware upgrade requirements needed both at the network edge and in the network core, as CleanAir requires deploying brand new Cisco APs and it really needs a Mobility Services Engine at the network core to provide optimal functionality. Indeed, integrated (albeit excellent) spectrum analysis probably should not be at the top of the feature wish list when considering a new WiFi solution, as questions of network architecture, airtime fairness and client density should be paramount.
Despite all that, CleanAir is one of the best conceived and best executed wireless LAN features I've seen in years, and Cisco deserves commendation for leveraging its acquired Cognio technology in such a thoughtful and groundbreaking way.