One-dimensional inorganic nanostructures have drawn prime attention due to their potential for understanding fundamental physical concepts and constructing nanoscale electronic and optoelectronic devices. This critical review mainly focuses on our recent research progresses in 1D inorganic nanostructures, including their rational synthesis and potential applications, with an emphasis on field-emitter and photodetector applications. Firstly, we will discuss the rational design of synthetic strategies and the synthesis of 1D nanostructures via a vapour phase approach. Secondly, we will present our recent progresses with respect to several kinds of important inorganic nanostructures and their field-emission and photoconductivity characteristics. Finally, we conclude this review with some perspectives/outlook and future research in these fields (212 references). �� 2011 The Royal Society of Chemistry.