Countdown: The 10 most important tech trends of the decade
Article Published by: cnet.com
Commentary: From Tesla to Alexa to iPad to Airbnb, these were tech’s biggest leaps forward during the 2010s.
When I hustled out of CNET headquarters in San Francisco on May 26, 2010, and slipped into a rental car with two of my co-workers to head to a meeting across the Bay, one of them slipped me a copy of The Wall Street Journal and pointed to a headline that announced Apple had passed Microsoft to become the world’s most valuable tech company.
“What do you think of that?” she said.
“Unreal,” I responded, shaking my head.
Just over a decade earlier, Apple had nearly been on its deathbed and needed a $150 million investment from Microsoft simply to stay alive. But then the iPhone arrived in 2007, and Apple rewrote the playbook on the mobile revolution. In the years that followed, more new Apple products would cascade on the success of the iPhone. And phones from Apple, and those powered by Android, would spread across the planet, embedding themselves deeper into our lives than we could imagine.
That’s why when making our list of the most important technology products and trends of the 2010s, all of them were connected to the mobile revolution — either directly or indirectly — and three of them intersected with Apple and the iPhone.
So let’s count them down.
10. Uber, Lyft and Airbnb
Whatever you do, don’t call it “the sharing economy.” It was never that altruistic. But services such as Uber and Lyft and Airbnb made getting a ride and finding a place to stay easier and cheaper than ever. The power of the smartphone app was rarely more apparent than with these companies — and their counterparts around the world like DiDi in China and Grab in southeast Asia. By the end of the decade, Airbnb had more room listings than all of the available rooms of the world’s top five hotel chains combined, and Uber and Lyft were giving 65% more rides than were taxis in New York City. The success of Uber and Airbnb didn’t come without controversy — Uber for endangering passengers and Airbnb for tone-deaf advertising, for example. That was also a recurring part of their story.
9. Airpods and the death of the headphone jack
One of the most controversial “innovations” of the decade was the decision by Apple in 2016 to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7. (Other smartphone makers subsequently did the same thing on their flagship phones.) Apple’s motivation was to move the world to wireless earbuds, such as its $159 AirPods. When they first launched in 2016, the AirPods looked incredibly awkward and were the object of heaps of scorn. But the look eventually caught on, and Apple is on pace to sell 50 million sets of AirPods in 2019, making it the undisputed leader in a now crowded market of excellent wireless earbuds.
8. Amazon Echo and the Alexa movement
Unlike the scorn and derision that initially greeted AirPods, the first speaker in 2014 was mostly met with shrugs and head scratches. It was a mediocre Bluetooth speaker in the shape of a Pringles can that could answer a few rudimentary voice commands. But some funny things happened. The device got smaller and cheaper. Developers bought into creating “skills” to expand what it could do. And it turned out that people liked using their voice to set timers in the kitchen, to play music and to check the weather, news and sports. Asking Alexa (the name Amazon gave to its voice assistant) turned into a cultural phenomenon. Google and Apple have been racing to catch up to Alexa ever since. Amazon has since expanded Alexa’s capabilities into lots of other devices, and that continues to make privacy concerns a bigger part of the Alexa story.
7. Apple Watch and the wearables explosion
In April 2015 when Apple launched its first wearable device, the Apple Watch, it made us think of a Dick Tracy-style computer on our wrists. It turned out to be just a slightly smarter Fitbit. But that was enough to make it the best-selling watch in the world within two years. Fitbit, Garmin and others also continue to make popular fitness-tracking devices to help us boost our daily activity by meeting goals for steps, miles and other measurements that turn exercise into a game. These wearable devices also aimed at giving us a more unobtrusive way to check notifications, since most of us now look at our phones over 50 times a day. Another wearable device that had similar ideas in mind was Google Glass, which arrived in 2013. It was ahead of its time and it quickly flamed out, but look for Google Glass-like augmented reality glasses to be one of the biggest trends of the 2020s. In addition to Google, Facebook and Apple are expected to release their own AR glasses in the next few years.
6. Tesla Autopilot and the big upgrade
Tesla deserves a spot here despite selling, by far, the smallest number of products of any company on this list. Despite its modest sales, the carmaker pushed forward the development of all-electric vehicles and self-driving cars more than any of the world’s giant automakers — and propelled virtually all of them to redouble their own efforts on both fronts. In October 2015, Tesla turned its Model S vehicles into self-driving cars with a $2,500 “Autopilot” upgrade that the cars downloaded over the air in one of the world’s most significant software updates and in-app purchases of all time. That’s just one example of how Tesla ran circles around the competition and acted more like a tech company than a car company. Nevertheless, Autopilot also faced controversy over several fatal accidents when users relied on it too heavily and it failed to protect them or those around them.
5. The ‘quantified self’ uses tech to fight tech
The collateral damage of the digital age is that we’re spending a lot more time sitting still and looking at screens — and it can have terrible effects on our health. As people have become more aware of the risks this poses, it’s created demand for tech solutions to help monitor and manage the three pillars of health: exercise, diet and sleep. There are fitness trackers like Apple Watch and Fitbit. There are meal trackers and calorie counters like MyFitnessPal and Lose It. And there are sleep trackers like the SleepWatch app and premium SleepNumber beds. And there are tons of other devices, apps and services that will help quantify our health with the goal of getting us to move more, eat better and make sure we’re sleeping well. Of course, the jury is still out on whether tech will be the answer to fight the ill effects of too much tech.
4. Cord cutting changes TV forever
When we think of “cutting the cord” from cable TV, the first thing that comes to mind is wanting to save money, getting away from the $100 cable subscriptions that force us to pay for a lot of extra channels we don’t watch. And while that’s often the primary motivator, cord-cutting was also driven by people wanting to watch video in new ways. As broadband got faster and devices got better screens, more of us watched video on phones and tablets. As TVs got smarter and streaming boxes like Roku, Fire TV and Apple TV delivered better ways to access programming and select shows to watch, we didn’t even need those outdated cable boxes. And as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, HBO and others came out with streaming apps that gave us whole content libraries at our fingertips, the old model of channel surfing or even recording shows on a DVR became a lot less appealing.
3. Ninja revolutionaries: Cloud, data and AI
There’s one trend powering all of the others on this list: the explosion of new behind-the-scenes technologies — cloud computing, big data and artificial intelligence. These three enable so many of the amazing new capabilities in our devices, from digital assistants to low-light photography to backing up our photos so we can still access them after we break or lose a phone. These technologies appear in consumer products like Dropbox, Apple iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive, Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. But more often than not, they chug along in quiet data centers in remote places where electricity is cheaper and that are out of the path of natural disasters. But without these massive advances over the past decade, our devices would be a lot less smart and far less fun. And it’s also notable that after Apple stole its thunder in devices, Microsoft transformed itself into a cloud company and eventually retook the crown of the world’s most valuable tech company.
2. iPads, Chromebooks and the new PC era
After almost a decade of denying that Apple was working on a tablet computer, Steve Jobs strode on stage in January 2010 and announced the iPad. He boasted it would define “an entirely new category of devices that will connect users with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before.” At the time, CNET (and lots of others) asked if an iPad should even be considered a computer. Consumers had the final word on that, as devices like iPads and Google Chromebooks proved to be good enough for kids, students, parents, seniors and many others to choose as their main computer. And in some parts of the world, smartphones themselves became the first and only computers for many people. While workers and power users stuck to their traditional keyboard-centric computers, even many of those machines were transformed by the apps and touchscreens of phones and tablets. As we reach the end of the decade, our computers take on more and more of the characteristics of our mobile devices each year.
1. 4G LTE put the world in our pocket
When the HTC Thunderbolt became my corporate phone in March 2011, it was the biggest leap forward I’ve ever experienced from one generation of phones to the next. And while the Thunderbolt hardware was decent enough, its status as the first broadly available LTE phone in the US was what made it special. (Sprint claimed it had the first 4G phone with the HTC Evo 4G in 2010, but it used the slower WiMax technology.) The way the Thunderbolt loaded web pages, played videos, downloaded podcasts and attached photos to messages was shockingly fast. It felt like the way a smartphone was always meant to work. It soon unlocked a slew of new capabilities, from mobile streaming to hotspot tethering to real-time apps (like Uber, which was just getting started) — all of which had very limited experiences on 3G phones. The 4G experience we first saw on the Thunderbolt led the smartphone to become central to our everyday lives throughout the decade. And it’s why there’s so much enthusiasm about how the next leap forward with 5G is going to shape the decade ahead. While it’s been massively overhyped and the current 5G networks are still in their infancy, think about this: 4G was a 5x improvement in speed and latency over 3G, while 5G is a 10x to 100x improvement in speed and latency over standard 4G. The next decade could be pretty good.
About Jaime Bonetti Zeller
Jaime Bonetti Zeller is an investment professional and entrepreneur with businesses in multiple industries. He is president of Servicios Consulares Eurodom, the local partner in the Caribbean region for VFS Global, a leader global outsourcing and technology services specialist for diplomatic missions and governments worldwide. Jaime Bonetti Zeller also started the company Sofratesa de Panama inc., an organization in the engineering services industry located in Panama City.