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The most innovative gadgets of 2021

In many ways, 2021 came with a question mark. The year began with an all-remote Consumer Electronics Show, an event that offered scaled-back product lines with nebulous shipping dates. Despite all that uncertainty, 2021 turned out to be an important year for gadgets, largely thanks to the big players absorbing some of the chip shortage impacts. Two of the biggest tech companies in the world—Apple and Google—revamped their hardware; Samsung released a truly mature folding device; and Microsoft refined its Surface Pen with a seemingly small change that affects the entire experience. Of course, there were still a few surprises out there, too, one of which involved illustrations of hipster apes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Seriously.

Back in 2019, Apple announced its intentions to break up with Intel, the company that had been supplying the CPUs for Macs since 2006. Then, at the end of 2020, Cupertino announced the M1. It’s a system-on-a-chip, which means one silicon slab contains the CPU, graphics processor, system memory, machine learning hardware, and just about everything else a computer needs to operate. Because Apple controls the software and hardware surrounding the M1, its systems can eliminate layers of inefficiency. The chip launched with refreshes to the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, laptops that obliterated benchmark tests for their classes. Apple also stuck its new silicon into the Mac Mini and the new ultra-slim iMac. They’re equally as impressive. The company has already updated the M1 with the new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, which popped in October. Laptops with those guts are already outperforming pricier Mac Pros using the old architecture. It was a big swing for Apple and, at least so far, it has been a massive achievement.

High-end digital cameras typically ask shooters to choose between high-resolution or super-fast shooting. With the A1, Sony designed an image sensor with its own onboard memory and paired it with one of (if not the) most powerful image processors on the market. As a result, this flagship body can capture 30 full-resolution 50.1-megapixel raw files per second, while performing 120 autofocus and auto exposure calculations in that same blink. For extra fun, photographers can choose to turn off the mechanical shutter and shoot in silence.

In March 2021, Christie’s auction house sold work by a digital artist named Beeple for $69. It wasn’t a painting or a sculpture, but rather a collection of non-fungible tokens, or, as they’re better known, NFTs. These tokens exist on the blockchain, public online ledgers that keep track of transactions involving digital assets. Think of them like virtual items you’d purchase in a video game, only that ownership exists IRL and can be worth thousands or even millions of dollars. Athletes and celebrities have spent big bucks buying NFTs from projects like the Bored Ape Yacht Club. Disney even made NFTs for its most popular characters, which is as clear a sign as any that the tech has outgrown the crypto bro community and hit the mainstream.

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