I love the end of the year. It’s an opportunity to reflect and relive the past while using it to make resolutions for the future. This year we enter a new decade, so I get to have ten times the fun. As I look back on the past ten years, I begin to see trends emerge. Especially when it comes to technology and software, there have been many product successes and even more failures. Over the course of the past ten years I’ve identified ten products that defined a decade.
This list is going to focus of technology, as there are many more products with even bigger influences. So I narrowed the playing field, mostly because I find tech more interesting. These are my opinions, but they’re informed by observation and exposure since 2010.
My decisions are based on cultural relevance, improvement over time, staying power, and popularity. As much as I’d like to include innovation on this list, I just can’t bring myself to do it. There’s a reason 3D TVs never stuck around, and it’s not because of lack of innovation.
Each decade I expect a video game console to push technology forward. In the 2000’s, the Playstation 2 would be high on my list of influential tech, but in the 2010’s it seems MMOs are pushing games in a direction and consoles weren’t prepared.
For a younger generation, games like Minecraft and Fortnite are resonating more than the graphic-intensive games on PS4 or Xbox. In Minecraft, the endless world and limitless opportunity for creation has showcased some incredible designs. It has essentially become a virtual lego world, and almost any fantasy land has been recreated on Minecraft’s servers. The game is not a Nintendo or Sony exclusive. In fact, most people can start playing for free, but microtransactions may be required to obtain all of the content. This is the direction of gaming in a mobile-friendly world, and Minecraft can easily become an expensive addiction.
Tablets seemed to force themselves in between the smartphone and computer in the technology world. Despite the unclear necessicity for table, the iPad proved that people will use the tablet. While the iPad, at least at first, was really just a big iPod Touch, people loved their big iPod Touches. By the end of the decade, the iPad remained a mainstay in the tech world while other tablets seem to be artifacts of the decade. Perhaps the tablet-laptop combo found in the Surface had some staying power, but iPads seem to have little competition from major brands. Still, at the end of the decade, the tablet hasn’t proved itself to be necessary in a world where smartphones and laptops exist.
The 2010’s were a time when anything seemed possible if there were enough people to support it. Kickstarter took this idea and gave groups of people the opportunity fund their wildest dreams. Thanks to Kickstarted we’ve seen advanced in the smartwatch world and board games come to life. While other crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe also gained popularity, it seems Kickstarter is the name most synonymous with the idea of crowdfunding. Now it seems like every life event has the opportunity for groups to provide funding, and I doubt this feature is going anywhere soon.
In a world where people have their smartphones 24/7, apps were bound to put some industries out of business. Today, anyone can make money thanks to ride-sharing services. Specifically, Uber has been credited for laying off taxi drivers and turning any Honda Civic into a money-making machine. While competitors like Lyft would emerge and Uber would expand its services with Uber Eats, the concept of ride-sharing was basically unheard of in the 00’s. In fact, it seemed dangerous at first. Then people would take their first Uber ride and realize it really is so much better than a taxi.
In the 2010’s, thanks to an older generation and spammy games like FarmVille, Facebook would become less of a necessity. It still remains popular, but users are mostly constrained to their own social circle. Then, there’s social sites like Twitter where people can tweet anything at any time. Twitter does not limit users to their personal group of friends. Instead, it’s a news source where people watch events unfold in real time. In today’s political climate, Twitter has become a place to find unfiltered thoughts from politicians and celebrities alike. While we also have platforms like Instagram and Tik Tok for visuals, Twitter seems to be the most notorious in terms to spreading news and expressing opinions.
It’s hard to know where the state of music in the US would be in 2020 if it wasn't for Spotify. Now we have Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music, and other music streaming services, but that wasn’t the case in 2010. During that time we were still paying for each song downloaded, but a Swedish company forced the streaming era forward when it came into the US in 2011. As its audience grew it became clear that streaming was the future. Apple couldn’t ignore it, and neither could artists. Now you can listen to practically any song with your Spotify subscription.
If the decline of cable wasn’t a result of streaming, YouTube should be credited as its replacement. The site did exist during the second half of the 00’s, even giving us the term “viral video” before the start of this decade. However, YouTube’s expansion largely occured during the 2010’s. We now live in a time where celebrities get their start on YouTube and 8-year-old kids can earn millions reviewing toys on the site. Anyone can gain a following on YouTube, and the site’s influence is so strong that major networks put their content on the site to attract an audience.
If I predicted technological failures in 2010, I would have bet voice commands would have flopped throughout the decade. I would have been wrong, way wrong. While Siri debuted earlier in the decade than Alexa, it mostly handled simple commands like “call Mom” or “play Drake.” Meanwhile, Alexa stepped up the game and made ordering from Amazon easier than ever. She pretty much muscled Siri out of the spotlight and has become the gold standard for virtual assistants.
Technically, the iPhone debuted in 2007, but its rise would begin gaining momentum in the early 10’s and peak in the mid 10’s.
It would take more than one hand to count the technologies replaced by the iPhone, as the device now has more storage than any iPod and better resolution than most digital cameras, but Apple can’t get all of the credit here. Competition from other smartphones would propel the iPhone forward and give customers serious reasons to contemplate leaving Apple, but annual innovations in technology and design would make the new editions seem too appealing to leave.
The iPhone itself is a monster of a product, but if I had to pick a single model to represent the decade it would be the 5S. I never had this phone, but its “S” title, introduction of touch ID, gold coloring, and longer screen size would be indicative of the iPhone’s direction throughout the remainder of the decade.
Above all else, this decade will be known as a time when people streamed media. We no longer make the trek to Blockbuster on the weekends, not did we have to worry about receiving a scratched DVD in the mail. Instead, Internet speeds have become strong enough that we can stream movies in a matter of seconds. Many streaming services exist, but Netflix takes the cake as the most culturally relevant, at least right now. The 2010’s was the “Netflix & Chill” decade where staying in and binge watching became more appealing than a night out.
This decade was really defined by digital connectivity and using it as a medium to connect with others. Gaming became more social, businesses were formed in the palm of our hands, and tangible media became a relic of the past. That said, technology also had to prove itself to be useful. I would have expected myself to put smartwatches on this list, but I couldn’t really find a reason why I had to include them. They’re cool, and a lot of people like them, but they’re not the necessity I believed they’d become.
I believe the social nature of technology will be the 2010’s biggest achievement. I also did not anticipate this at the beginning of the decade. I never would have expected a service like Uber to be more influential than self-driving cars, but I can honestly say people would rather hop in a stranger’s car than have their car park itself. Other achievements were a little more predicatble. I can’t say I’m shocked that streaming media had such a big impact. It seemed like the logical next step, and I think we will continue to see this expand in the 2020's.
It’s hard to predict where we will be in 2030, but I’m guessing we’ve already seen the early stages of the next decade’s biggest tech. If I had to guess, I’d predict breakthroughs in voice controls and digital security will be defining categories. I think gaming will move into the streaming world, and 5G will make us more connect than before. However, I could be wrong. I ultimately think the most influential products are the ones the most people want, even if we don’t know we want it yet.