Technology sure has come a long way in the past decade. But what would you expect from the 10-year stretch that served as the “far future” years that Back to the Future Part II and Blade Runner were set during?
Some of the tech refinement seen during the 2010s was simple incremental improvements of existing devices. In other cases, however, techies got the chance to experience technology they’d never seen before. Here are 10 of the breakthrough technologies people got to try out for the first time in the years spanning 2010 to 2019. It’s enough to get you excited for the Roaring Twenties!
The idea of a computer you can speak to has been a science fiction dream (and, sometimes, nightmare) for decades. But despite passable dictation tools in the 1990s, it wasn’t until Siri debuted on the iPhone 4s in 2011 that folks were introduced to modern smart assistants. Not just capable of understanding our requests, but turning them into actionable search terms, this technology has flourished in the years since.
While props go to Apple for helping make the tech mainstream, it took Amazon to liberate A.I. assistants from their smartphone prisons. Today, standalone assistants like Amazon Echo can be found in an ever-increasing number of homes around the world.
Like A.I. assistants, the idea of a smartwatch has been in the pop culture ether at least since the days of Dick Tracy. But it became a real thing in the 2010s. The breakthrough Pebble watch raised a jaw-dropping $10.3 million on Kickstarter (more of that in a bit) in April and May 2012. Before long, a bevy of other companies were competing in the market, from fellow startups like Ornate’s TrueSmart to heavy hitters like the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Gear.
One of the most interesting aspects of the smartwatch over the past decade has been the evolution that it’s made during that time. Sure, early attempts nailed things like fitness tracking as a compelling use case, but it took a few attempts before people realized how exciting (and potentially life-saving) features like EKG heart rate-tracking could be.
Now that smartwatches are no longer regarded as mere smartphone accessories, look for them to continue carving out their place in the world in the 2020s.
If you’re going to get technical about it, a form of augmented reality existed back in the 1960s, when Professor Ivan Sutherland created his “Sword of Damocles” proof-of-concept. But it wasn’t until the 2010s that people all started talking about augmented reality like it was an everyday thing. The ill-fated Google Glass was many people’s introduction to AR. But bad publicity helped sink that particular ship.
Today, AR is most widely found as a smartphone feature, although a growing number of heads-up display makers are looking to succeed where Google failed. It’s most commonly used for gaming, but other applications like IKEA’s pioneering IKEA Place app give an indication of how else it could fit into our lives.
Oculus Rift burst onto the scene with a 2012 Kickstarter which raised almost $2.5 million from 10,000 contributors. Two years later, it was snapped up by Facebook for $2 billion. Like AR, virtual reality goes back a lot further than the 2010s — but this is the decade where it kicked off in a big way. Oculus hasn’t become a mass market technology quite in the way that Facebook thought.
Having projected 50-100 million headsets within five years, there remain only a couple of million in circulation. But the technology is incredibly compelling. Oculus has also been joined by a number of other head-up displays offering virtual reality technology. These range from the HTC Vive headsets to plug-and-play smartphone-based offerings like Google Cardboard. It’s fair to say that VR is in a much, much stronger place right now than it was a decade ago.
One of Arthur C. Clarke’s “three laws” is the observation that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. My corollary to that rule: That any sufficiently adopted technology fades into the background. That isn’t to say that it’s boring, but rather that, like an instantly catchy pop song, folks very quickly forget that it wasn’t always part of our lives. Such a thing is true of tablet computers.
Like augmented reality, the tablet form factor has been explored going back several decades. However, 2010’s first-gen iPad was its introduction on the grand stage. At the time, techies wanted an iPad, but no-one was really sure exactly what it would do for them. Jump forward 10 years and it’s something that even your grandparents probably have at home.
Kickstarter technically launched on April 28, 2009. But Time Magazine named it one of the “Best Inventions of 2010,” so it’s making the list here! Crowdfunding has been the new funding paradigm of the 2010s. It’s not only a way for entrepreneurs to raise funds without access to ready capital, but it also provides a marketing tool that gets people excited about “investing” in a product that doesn’t yet exist.
Yes, not everything about crowdfunding is great. There have been some notorious failures, which raised tons of cash but failed to deliver on promises. Still, there’s no doubting how influential it has been — or what a powerful example of the internet’s usefulness for harnessing the crowd.
Touch ID (and other biometrics)
When you think back to the problems the world faced at the beginning of the decade, what’s the one that jumps out the most? Obviously the time-wasting nightmare of having to enter a passcode every time you wanted to log into a computer or unlock a smartphone. Fortunately, that’s no longer an issue. In July 2012, Apple bought the biometrics company AuthenTec, acquiring the technology that allowed it to introduce fingerprint sensors onto the iPhone 5s the following year.
In the years that have followed, fingerprint scanning tech has become almost standard issue on phones, tablets, and a growing number of computers. This was the start of biometric security systems, once the stuff of Tom Clancy novels, becoming an everyday thing. In the process, biometrics have helped bring about the rise of NFC mobile payments systems, which use the added security to authenticate payments.
Today, fingerprint scanning is on the downswing, while facial recognition tech like Face ID is on the rise. But it all started here.
Admit it: The first time you saw wireless earbuds like the AirPods Apple introduced in 2016, you thought they looked ridiculous. “Kids will buy anything these days,” you muttered to yourself, before tweeting something about how your own wired earbuds made them not only cheaper, but far less easy to lose.
Jump forward to today, and you’re reading this article wearing your Amazon Echo Buds, AirPods Pro or Samsung Galaxy Buds, while scrolling through your Twitter feed deleting all evidence of your bad tech predictions of the past. No? Well, that’s just me then.
Ask someone in 2010 if they wanted a robot to deliver their takeout order and they’d probably say, well, “Yes, that sounds pretty cool.” Ask someone in 2019 the same question and they’ll also answer in the affirmative — but there’s now a good chance they might get their wish. Thanks to the work of pioneering companies like Starship Technologies, fleets of wheeled delivery robots are now rolling out around the world.
Longing for a hamburger, but don’t want to hop in the car to get it? For a small delivery fee, you can select your exact location on an app and a robot will autonomously trundle along the sidewalk to deliver it to you. All you have to do is unlock it with your app and retrieve your order. Delivery drones are fast becoming a thing, too.
In 2010, the first stories broke about how Google was building cars that could drive themselves. While not wholly a 2010s invention, previous attempts at autonomous vehicles weren’t exactly great. Leap forward to the closing days of 2019, and self-driving cars have covered thousands of miles of public roads.
Level 5 autonomy is still frustratingly out of reach, but there’s no doubt that vehicular autonomy has taken a massive leap forward. Suddenly Total Recall’s vision of Johnny Cabs don’t seem too far out of reach.
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