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Winning company: Apple iSight camera and iChat AV software

Winning product:

In 2002, Apple revolutionized the MP3 player market with its iPod music player. Apple wasn't the first company to produce an MP3 player, it just did it better.

The same can be said for the 2003 Cool Tools Best of the Tests Award winner, the iSight camera. Apple wasn't the first company to make a Webcam, it just made one that's better than others we've seen.

Apple is well known for style and design, but the technology behind the camera was equally impressive. A Web chat over a broadband connection (on both endpoints), looked and sounded like a real-time videoconference with equipment that costs thousands of dollars. The camera connected to our Macintosh laptops via FireWire, which helps improve picture quality when streaming. The camera also does auto-focus the right way - with other Webcams we spent a lot of time trying to adjust the focus manually to sharpen the picture.

The system is proprietary at the moment - to get the outstanding quality video you and the person with whom you're chatting have to be connected to Macintoshes. But you can use the camera with other software to do chats with people in the Windows world who have "regular" Webcams (see product update below). If Apple can take that technology and produce a Webcam that works on a Windows machine, then it could take over this market as well (see review).

IBM sent us the impressive ThinkCentre s50, the best desktop PC we saw last year. The s50 is a help desk technician’s dream — the desktop is a “tool-less” device that lets a user change components quickly and easily without the use of a screwdriver. In the handheld device space, we loved the Palm/Handspring Treo 600, the first “converged device” that truly looked and acted like a cell phone, but with PDA functionality that gave us serious thoughts about leaving our laptop behind on our next trip. The Palm Tungsten T3 PDA was the best PDA that didn’t have wireless LAN functionality in it. We loved the convergence of a cable modem and a wireless gateway, in the Netgear CG814.
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