You could argue that what I’m about to say about the 2010s has been said about a lot of decades throughout history. You might be right. Yet, it’s hard not to go all cliché on the decade that just ended, so here it goes. you’d be hard-pressed to find a decade where technology influenced and modified our daily lives on such a massive scale.
Though a lot of the things we use day in and day out seem to have been around forever, a lot of them have only appeared at some point during the 2010s. The complete domination of smartphones and the rise of the app culture, the communication revolution brought by Whatsapp, the increasing presence of social media at our privacy’s expense, the long-awaited promise of artificial intelligence finally coming to fruition, and the colossal changes in our entertainment habits are but some of those things.
It’s true that some of them have already appeared before the 2010s. But it was in that decade that all of them grew in popularity, found each other, and redefined our culture for good. And though we’re still some years away from fully understanding the depth of those changes, that won’t stop me from running down what I believe are the defining trends of the past decade.
1. Tablets And The New PC Era
The decade started off strong when Steve Jobs announced the iPad at an Apple press conference held in January 2010. Jobs was highly enthusiastic about its company’s new device, even when most of the press was a little skeptical about it. As it happened with the iPhone’s launch in 2007, Jobs was right.
Consumers adopted the iPad as their main device for studying, working, playing, and entertaining themselves. Other tablets and copycats soon followed the iPad’s lead and mobile devices quickly became the only computers for many people. Coupled with the increasing ubiquity of smartphones, PCs started to lose some ground and found shelter among gamers and power users.
Still, tablets rocked the PC’s world to the core. Today, it’s hard to find desktop computers that don’t use takes inspired in mobile features. With apps and touchscreens coming at top, the computers we now use are very different from the ones we used in the previous decade. You can thank the iPad for that.
2. The Birth of the Selfie Culture
If I wanted to get extremely precise, I should point at Nokia’s N-series as the devices that introduced us to front-facing cameras. And since those phones first appeared during the 00s, I shouldn’t be talking about that feature here. However, the context was wildly different back then and such cameras didn’t have the impact they would have later on when the iPhone 4S was unveiled.
While the N-series was born in a pre-app era, the 4S and its front-facing camera benefitted from photo-sharing apps that cemented its success. Out of Apple’s phone popularity came one of the defining trends of the 2010s – selfies. Though the company imagined the front camera as a way to make video calls more easily, consumers found a much different way of using it.
Thus, people started sharing selfies as a new way of self-expressing themselves. All of that was possible thanks to editing tools and filters that were now available through apps. And if you add the increasing presence of social media as a means of communication, you can see how selfies got extremely popular.
3. The WhatsApp Revolution
WhatsApp’s first iteration might have been released in 2009 but it wasn’t until a couple of years later that it would become the transforming force for communications we now know. Up until its appearance, we all relied on SMS to talk to each other on our phones. And since those messages cost us every time we sent one, we were eager for a better alternative.
WhatsApp was that alternative. The ability to send messages over the internet for practically no cost was too appealing for people to ignore. It took only a couple of years for the app to get into the ranking of the top 20 apps at Apple’s US App Store. From there, it grew at breakneck speed to become the world’s most popular messaging application in 2015. That was possible thanks to its acquisition by Facebook, which boosted its popularity.
The widespread adoption of WhatsApp completely changed how we communicate, especially as the app started including features to make video calls and share various media. All of that converted the app into the primary means of communication in multiple countries including Latin America, India, and large parts of Europe. The popularity didn’t come without its issues, though. Among the many problems it raised, the privacy and security concerns still hang over WhatsApp, which have moved people towards the competition, especially Telegram.
4. Cloud, Data, and AI: The Power Trio
With so many tech trends to choose from, it’s easy to forget those that exploded backstage. Doing so, however, would be a huge mistake. Without these behind-the-scenes technologies, most of the things we love using and doing wouldn’t be possible. And among those technologies, the trio comprised of cloud computing, big data, and artificial intelligence is the most important.
The cloud played a huge part in the digitalization of our lives which, in turn, generated data about us and our preferences like no other time before. When artificial intelligence, the third piece of the puzzle, finally reached a certain sophistication threshold, the circle was complete. New services, new interactions, and new possibilities were at our hands’ reach.
Thanks to the combination of the three, we now use voice-activated assistants that are able to give us personalized recommendations on which movies to watch and are redefining the way we work, among plenty of other things. A lot of services owe everything to the trio, from Dropbox and Spotify to Netflix and Google. In fact, the three technologies made the Everything as a Service (XaaS) concept possible, which will surely reshape our society in ways we can only now guess.
5. The surrender of our privacy
WhatsApp might have revolutionized our communications and cloud computing may have given access to more data than ever before. However, they all played a part in creating an alarming issue that’s far from being solved and that we’ll need to tackle seriously in this decade. I’m talking about privacy.
Having customized tools and contents is cool and all, but when you understand the price you’re paying for them, things start looking a little bleaker. As the Cambridge Analytica scandal taught us, private companies aren’t especially worried about the privacy of their users. They see the huge amount of data they gather on a daily basis as nothing more than a business asset to be exploited for maximum profit.
The worst part about it all is that, even in the face of these scandals, most people still don’t spare a second thought about privacy. Even when there are initiatives like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to protect the user data, most of us are still alarmingly willing to surrender our privacy and our data in a negative trend that we’ll have to reverse in the current decade.
6. Amazon Echo and the popularization of smart speakers
I’ve mentioned voice-activated assistants already but the phenomenon is so huge that it well deserves acknowledging it on its own. We could thank the voice-based assistant apps we can now use on our phones but I think Amazon Echo is worth a mention. And to think that most of us saw this Pringles-can-shaped device as nothing but a useless speaker when Amazon launched it in 2014.
A lot has happened since. Amazon started perfecting it and making it more accessible and portable. The development community understood that skills were an opportunity for new consumer interactions. And the big public just loved to order it around to play music, read the news, or shop around. Today, no one bats an eye when hearing someone calling Alexa out loud to a seemingly empty room.
In fact, one-third of adults report owning a smart speaker, although that figure also accounts for people that have Microsoft, Google, and Apple devices. But Amazon still reigns king, not only based on their pioneer status but also on the seamless experience it provides and the wide array of devices Alexa is powering today.
7. The Dawn of the Sharing Economy
You can criticize the so-called “sharing economy” all you want but you have to concede that it was one of the biggest trends of the past decade. The most amazing thing is that it came out of the blue. Innovative services like Uber and Airbnb found their respective spaces in well-established industries and reshaped them in such a fundamental way that we can’t imagine how we lived without them.
We can blame the sophistication and widespread adoption of mobile apps for the birth of these companies and others like them. Looking for a taxi or booking a room was a tiring task that had us talking on the phone and even conducting extensive research to find the best options. After these companies appeared, it only took a couple of taps on our smartphones to get what we wanted.
The sharing economy also redefined working relationships and made them more flexible. Rather than companies hiring employees, they offer potential “collaborators” the possibility to work for them for a share of the earnings. In that sense, these apps have a bittersweet taste. Users might have gained more comfort and ease of use, but workers saw their benefits somewhat reduced and their relationships with employees changed in a significant way.
8. Apple Watch, Fitbit, and the Explosion of Wearables
By the beginning of the decade, it was near to impossible to think that a fitness tracker would become a force to be reckoned with. Yet Fitbit defied all expectations and rose to popularity, bringing the interest for wearables along for the ride. First introduced to the market at the end of 2009, Fitbit discovered a niche that would only grow as the decade progressed: wearable technology.
With the increasing presence of technology and the lazy lifestyles it inadvertently emerged from it, people started turning to technology to help monitor their health in 3 main domains: exercise, diet, and sleep. That brought a lot of new wearables, from MyFitnessPal to SleepWatch. In that context, Apple also saw its chance and launched its Apple Watch in 2015.
The first version only seemed like a Fitbit with a few added bonuses but the tech giant knew they were onto something with it. After a shy start, it quickly became a hit among consumers and its appeal would only get better with the versions to come. Such support from the general public finally cemented what everyone was thinking: the market was already ripe for wearable devices, computers that we use as if they were clothes but that aid us with a lot of things we did with our smartphones.
9. Entertainment Changes Forever
It seems incredible now but not so long ago we had to turn on our TVs at a specific time to watch our favorite shows. Or we had to walk to Blockbuster to get a movie. We even had to download songs in painstaking fashion. With the improvement in broadband speeds and the ideas of a couple of companies, we left all of that in the past and entertainment changed forever.
Spearheaded by YouTube with the invaluable input from Netflix and with better screens and new devices popping up in the market, people started cutting the cord from cable TV. While some of them wanted to get away from the costly subscriptions for subpar content, others quickly saw that these were the new ways to watch video. The appeal was obvious – having vast content libraries on demand at all times.
I could say the same about Spotify. While the possibility to stream music was a reality in the 00s, it was during the 2010s that it became widespread. You could say that Spotify’s launch in numerous countries during the past decade helped in its growth and spawned competitors such as Apple Music and Tidal. But besides the company’s own popularity, what’s important is that the days of physically managing album catalogs were starting to pass. Now, you can listen to practically everything that has been recorded as long as you have an internet connection.
10. 4G LTE Devices Propelled the Mobile World
If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve surely read about the upcoming 5G wireless technology. This fifth-generation for mobile networks is coming filled to the brim with power, especially in terms of speed and reduced latency. It’s hard not to feel excited about it because it would mean a huge leap forward for mobile capabilities.
The mention of 5G isn’t gratuitous. When the 2010s were just starting, we all were waiting for the first 4G LTE devices to hit the market. The promises were very much the same as 5Gs. And when we had the first smartphones to support it in our hands, we saw that the promises were all true. 4G LTE empowered mobile streaming, real-time apps, and hotspot tethering. It loaded web pages, downloaded music, and sent images blazingly fast.
I could say that the arrival of 4G LTE was pivotal for the smartphone to become the smashing success it would turn out to be. Without that mobile network generation, we might not be interested in interacting with our phones so much. The technology brought the mobile experience to the next level and since its popularization, we’ve never looked back.
Some Final Words
After this run down, you might feel like the cliché I used in the first paragraph isn’t that far off from the truth. Life is radically different than it was just 10 years ago – and you can thank (or blame) all of these technologies for that.
It’s true that there are some important trends that I’ve left out of this article. The launch of new social media platforms changed our online discourse and impacted our society on a political level. Tesla’s irruption in the auto industry brought us electric and self-driving cars. Even AirPods made a splash and launched a smart headphone craze that changed how we listen to music.
However, the essentials are all covered here. All of these technologies show that change, whether small or colossal, is always around the corner. That’s a possibility that feels both exciting and frightening. We can’t be sure of what’s going on in an unknown startup and its pilots, but chances are that the technologies that will reshape our society during the 2020s are already in development. Would we be up to the challenges they’ll bring us?