The Hottest Technologies of 2004
With new ideas, timing is everything. Here are seven innovations that took off in the last 12 months.
By Michael V. Copeland

(Business 2.0) – In the world of technology, if you're too early or too late, you're toast. Investors look for that inflection point just before a technology begins to dominate. It's the moment when a piece of hardware, a collection of code, or a way of thinking starts changing the rules and attracting customers.

This is our list of the technologies that reached that point in the past 12 months. They weren't necessarily invented this year, but they arrived. They drove sales and investment, boosted productivity, and opened new markets. Innovation can also tear markets apart. Our big winner—Internet voice—is snuffing out business models like so many sputtering candles, rewiring the entire telecom industry.

We steered clear of the obvious. The iPod and its software sibling, iTunes, rule digital music as they did more than a year ago, but you already know that. Camera phones were hot in 2004, but so what? They haven't boosted carriers' fortunes yet. There was much ado about Viagra competitors, but that didn't spark research and investment the way our biotech winner did.

This year we added an award in financial engineering—the creation and valuation of financial products. Take a look and learn what money managers can do with access to a supercomputer. Other categories include consumer electronics, IT hardware, IT software, and corporate/military intelligence.

Finally, Donald Trump wasn't the only fallen star that rose again to shine brightly this year: Our comeback-of-the-year award celebrates a once-written-off protocol that has outlived its critics.

This list is about this year. (But for some guesses about next year, check out "Ten Technologies to Watch in 2005.") That's why there's no nanotech. It's not dominating anything yet. Consider Nanosys, hyped as nanotech's first initial public offering. Never happened. Remember the part about being too early? Bingo. — MICHAEL V. COPELAND