The 2000s were the wild west. Social media had made a name for itself, smartphone usage was spreading like wildfire, and a new digital world was being built on top of the old one.
In the 2010s, we found out what it was like to live in that new world. It was surprising, breathtaking, insanely convenient, and sometimes downright scary. Counting down one from each year in the past decade, here are the pillars of that new world — the pieces of technology that we’ll still be talking about well into the 2020s.
If the 2000s was the decade of Facebook, the 2010s belong to Instagram. As older generations (and with it, media, marketing, and politics) moved its conversations onto Facebook, Instagram became a digital oasis for millennials and Gen-Zers to share more of their personal lives.
After being acquired by Facebook in 2012, the photo-sharing network has grown to over a billion registered users as of earlier this year. That’s more people than own iPads, making Instagram the most important piece of tech to start off from 2010.
Remember what life was like before you could instantaneously play any song from any device? Neither do we. The mass availability of music streaming came was birthed in the early 2010s, most notably with the launch of Spotify.
Online music piracy was finally starting to decline as more and more people wanted access to their collections through their locked-down iPhones. Spotify was born to fill that need.Founded in Sweden, the service launched in a few countries around the world in 2010 before landing in the U.S. in 2011.
Runner-up: Nest Thermostat
The Model S, Tesla’s first electric car, felt like a monumental release in automotive technology. But the most impactful change in transportation wasn’t a new car. It was sharing cars.
In 2012, Uber rolled out across almost every major city in the U.S. and around the world, fundamentally shifting how people got around. Its major competitor, Lyft, also launched in 2012, firmly planting these ride-sharing services as a permanent fixture of life in the city.
Runner-up: Tesla Model S
The Chromecast isn’t needed by most people today. Access to Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube is in every device, including your TV. That wasn’t the case in 2013.
For its time, it was a revolution. It was impossibly small and simple, a hack that turned any TV into a smart one. It was a workaround that pushed us forward to the cord-cutting future we currently live in.
Runner-up: Xbox One
The original Apple Watch had a number of problems. Battery life suffered, it had thick bezels, a number of key apps were missing, and it was overly expensive. It didn’t feel like a great start. But like the iPad, over the years, Apple iterated and evolved the Apple Watch into the best smartwatch you can buy.
It all started with this original model though, and it already has a legacy
Runner-up: iPhone 6
Smart speakers came out of nowhere. Who would have thought these simple devices would have taken voice assistants to such great heights? It all started with the original Echo and Amazon’s Alexa assistant.
The growing popularity of Bluetooth speakers and the significant strides made in machine learning set up the Amazon Echo for a huge success, and that only continued throughout the second half of the decade.
Runner-up: Dell XPS 13
We all laughed at the name of the iPad. We all thought the Apple Watch should have been circular. And then, there was the golf-tee shaped AirPods. They were laughable in 2016, as was the idea of how easily people would lose them.
Skip ahead to the present, and they’re everywhere you look. They kicked the wireless earbud game into a high gear, with companies ranging from Amazon to Samsung following suit.
Runner-up: Oculus Rift
In the first half of the 2010s, no one would have guessed that a Nintendo console would be the console of the decade. The Wii’s time in the spotlight was waning, and the Wii U was a complete flop at launch in 2012. The Switch, though, did just about everything right. It brought together the best aspects of Nintendo’s strengths, from fantastic first-party games to a bright-eyed approach toward hardware.
Runner-up: Tesla Model 3
Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft were controversial upon arrival. Shareable electric scooters were a ticking time bomb. Either you loved them or you thought they were going to cause the downfall of Western civilization.
But now that the buzz has fallen away, they’ve maintained their status as a permanent fixture of urban life. It’s not often that a piece of tech has that kind of staying power.
Runner-up: Apple Watch Series 4
Looking ahead to the next decade, Tik Tok feels like the piece of tech most ready to blast into the stratosphere. As Gen Z kids break into adulthood, they’ll likely bring this social media platform with them.
Still wondering what Tik Tok is? In some sense, it’s the spiritual successor to Vine. Short-form videos for lip syncing, comedy, and skits that are already creating a new generation of super-star social media celebrities.
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