On-the-go, yet connected: Smartphones and portable gaming devices entered the mainstream in 2009.

Highlights of the story

  • CNN has listed the 10 biggest tech ideas of 2009.
  • This is not the year we changed technology. Technology has changed us.
  • At the end of 2009, we are more digitally connected than ever before.
  • Sites like Facebook, Twitter and smartphones matured this year.

(CNN) — Engineers didn’t improve technology much in 2009.

Instead, this is the year technology changed us.

At the end of the year, we are connected to each other and to the Internet like never before. In 2009, we carried tiny computers in our pockets, constantly feeding the Internet real-time information about where we were and what we were doing.

Our app-laden phones help us manage our on-the-go lifestyle. Our books fell off the shelves and into e-readers. Our televisions and video games attached themselves to home entertainment centers. And our mobile updates helped organize protests and threaten governments.

We could have done any of these things in 2008. But we embraced digital-centric life in unprecedented numbers in 2009.

Take a look at how it happened. These are CNN.com’s 10 biggest tech trends of the year, listed in no particular order. Think we missed something? Please let us know in the comments below.

Smartphone obsession

By late 2009, having a basic cell phone was no longer good enough. Now the standard is a smartphone — a mobile phone that doubles as a computer — and connects its users to Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the digital universe.

Despite the economic recession, the smartphone market expanded. It was fueled in part by the popular iPhone but also by an increasingly diverse set of smartphone choices, including the Droid, BlackBerry and Pri. According to Gartner Inc., a research company, worldwide smartphone sales for 2009 were 24 percent higher than in 2008.

Thanks to these phones this year, people have become accustomed to sending emails, uploading photos and videos, and posting status messages from anywhere, almost anytime.

Facebook is big.

This was the year of the Facebook mother and grandmother. Founded in 2004 for college students, the online social network exploded in 2008 and can be expected to plateau this year. Instead, it went global and spread across new and old demographics.

About 70 percent of Facebook’s users now live outside the site’s home base in the United States, according to statistics released by the company.

The site’s importance in our lives has grown along with these demographic changes. Facebook now has more than 350 million users — more than the people living in the United States and more than double the 150 million people on Facebook at the start of the year. Half of Facebook users log into the site at least once on any given day. The average Facebook user spends about an hour on the site per day.

Bloggers threaten governments.

Individuals became publishers in 2009, using the microblogging site Twitter to post instant, bite-sized updates to the world. The site was founded in 2007 but grew exponentially this year.

The political implications of the microblogging trend became apparent in June when Iranians used Twitter to organize and publicize protests over a disputed presidential election. The protests caught the attention of the world. Terms related to the Iranian election are 3 of the year’s top 10 news trends on Twitter.

Books are digital.

Sick of lugging thick books with you on vacation? Portable, electronic readers — with their easy-on-the-eyes display and the ability to carry hundreds of titles without adding weight — began gaining ground on their hardback cousins ​​in 2009.

According to the International Digital Publishing Forum, a trade organization, e-book sales generated $13.9 million in revenue in the third quarter of last year. The same period this year saw $46.5 million in e-book revenue – a 235 percent increase.

The Amazon Kindle, originally released in November 2007, found some competition that year with the release of the Sony Reader and Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Meanwhile, libraries, authors, publishers and Google continued to haggle over the details of a settlement that could allow the Internet giant to become the world’s largest library — online only.

Information at a glance

In 2009, it’s no longer enough to look up information that was current 30 minutes or an hour ago. Now, Internet junkies look for their news, tweets and links to be updated in “real time” as they happen on Twitter.

In 2009, search engines bought into the idea. Microsoft and Google struck a deal with Twitter to pipe or replicate its real-time search function. A microblogging site lets writers post short pieces of information, which become searchable after someone clicks submit.

App Mania

In 2009, mobile phone users had a strange realization: the phone isn’t as important as the applications that run on it. A large number of iPhone owners have downloaded games, widgets and tools from Apple for their phones. By September, just over a year after the company began selling apps through the iTunes App Store, 2 billion applications had been downloaded.

Appmania wasn’t limited to Apple products, though. Research in Motion, the maker of the popular Blackberry devices, has launched its own app store. And smartphones running Google’s Android system began campaigning around Android apps, which are not subject to Apple’s strict and somewhat controversial approval process.

Games leave the living room.

Remember the days when people played video games on big TVs in their living rooms? It was 2008. This year gaming became mobile and social.

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Video: Top Tech Trends of 2009

Instead of lugging around an Xbox or Wii, this year it was cooler to plant virtual vegetables in Farmville or run a mobster empire in Mafia Wars — two games powered by the social network Facebook.

The iPhone and its cousin, the iPod Touch, also became popular mobile gaming platforms, shaking the idea that video games had to have great graphics and be backed by major entertainment companies to succeed. Many of the most popular phone-based games of the year cost less than a buck.

Government becomes technical.

Government has a reputation for being behind the technological curve. But in 2009, the Obama administration tried to prove that bureaucrats can be hip and tech-savvy, too.

The administration launched DATA.gov, a clearinghouse of information about how the federal government works and how tax money is spent. He also supported digitizing health care records, held the nation’s first online town hall meetings and moved toward a more efficient cloud computing model, essentially outsourcing some storage and processing of government files to Google. Outsources to companies like

Search engine wars

Google is still the world’s dominant search engine, but it faced its first real challenges in 2009 as smaller search companies came up with new ideas about how people can find and find information online. should do.

An oddball search engine called Wolfram-Alpha made big news in the spring when it debuted as a tool that calculates answers to user queries instead of sending web surfers to lists of website links. , as does Google.

But the biggest newcomer was Microsoft’s Bing, a “decision engine” that introduced new ways to sort photos and search for products online. Bing quickly gained ground, capturing 10 percent of the search market by the end of the year.

Using ‘smart’ electricity

The economic recession and federal stimulus package prompted a new take on an old idea in frugal gadgetry: “smart” technology invading homes and public works projects in hopes of making our use of fossil fuels more efficient. .

Smart grid technology monitors energy use and helps shift consumption to times of the day when others aren’t using as much electricity — a time when appliances are cheaper and more juice is available. .

The federal government invested billions in 2009 in a smart grid that connects homes and apartments to power plants. Consumer-level devices also took off. Google has released a Power Meter service that gives homeowners a report on their energy use on the web or mobile phone. General Electric and others have promoted smart appliances, such as hot water heaters, that further help control energy costs.

Most homes didn’t have smart meters in 2009, but that leaves plenty of room for expansion next year.

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