It’s fair to say a lot has happened across the past decade and in a lot of different fields. Everything from politics to business has changed almost beyond recognition, and a lot of the changes are thanks to technology.
One of the most significant characteristics of the technological advancements the world has seen in recent years is not even necessarily to do with the changes themselves: it’s the pace of change that matters.
The pace of change means that technology itself is very quickly updated. This is arguably as a result of the lingering “move fast and break things” motto that pervades, despite many attempts to shift it. But the pace of change also means that technology changes the world it interacts with faster than the world and its institutions can keep up. Everyone from politicians to regulators to business people struggle to deal with the speed of technological development and what it does to society.
So, as we approach the 2020s, it seems like as good a time as any to reflect on the decade of tech – to compare who were the big players then and who they are now, as well as some of the tools that have come to dominate our lives since the heady days of 2009.
One clear feature of the new technology landscape is the prominence of truly enormous companies. In the last ten years, some of those companies have retained their place at the top of the tech rankings, while other, more traditional firms have missed out on the opportunities of cloud and consumer markets and seen competitors overtake them.
And it’s not just within the tech companies themselves that we see big businesses dominate – it’s the case in terms of global, all-sector rankings too. In the top 10 of the world’s largest companies by market capitalisation in 2019, according to Statista, we find only three non-tech companies.
Looking first at the powerhouses that have stayed at the top of the rankings, Business Insider points to two obvious candidates: Microsoft and Apple. The pair were world-beaters in 2009, and they still are now. Some things have changed – Microsoft found itself faltering at the start of the decade as it struggled to compete with the totally dominant iPhone, and began to move itself away from its traditional products into the world of cloud computing.
The cloud charge, led by Satya Nadella, appears to have been successful – the company has truly gone all-in on it, with much of its marketing being centred around making it easier for other companies to do business.
For Apple, the obvious talking point is the iPhone. Much has been written and will continue to be written, about the decline of the iPhone, as an increasingly competitive smartphone market catches up, and as major innovations become harder to eke out of each new model – but it is still a force to be reckoned with.
Some of the “losers” of the century, if they can be called that, include traditional blue-chip – and traditionally business-to-business technology companies such as IBM, Oracle and Hewlett-Packard.
It’s also worth noting that some of the companies that are now enormous – Facebook, Google and Amazon, for instance, have had meteoric rises in terms of market value in the last ten years, often replacing the old guard mentioned above.
A decade of Gadgets
For people who don’t work in the industry, the most immediate way in which technology is felt in their lives is through the gadgets they use – often created or fuelled by the aforementioned dominant companies.
The Verge has put together a list of 100 gadgets it thinks “defined the decade”. Top of its list is the iPhone 4. The smartphone is undoubtedly the defining invention of this generation, and this is what The Verge has to say about the iPhone 4: “The first phone to be built as an ultra-precise glass-and-metal sandwich, a design legacy still visible in every flagship phone today. The iPhone 4 had the first Retina Display.
“It had the first selfie camera on an iPhone, and the 5-megapixel camera on the back set a photo-quality standard that took years for the competition to match. The operating system gained the ability to run background tasks and was officially named “iOS” for the first time. The A4 chip inside was the first Apple-designed processor in a phone, which kicked off the company’s decade-long run of processor dominance.”
There’s no arguing with that – it’s clear that the smartphone is still king, and that the – arguably – the best version of the best smartphone has had a huge impact.
Finally, it’s notable that The Verge’s other contenders for the top spot include a smart speaker, a laptop and a car. A laptop is a quite traditional digital – speakers and cars are not. Technology is utterly pervasive – who knows what the next decade of tech will look like?