The increased infusion of technological advancements wasn’t exclusive to the past decade, but, man, did the pace of that melding accelerate heavily during the 2010s. Iterations on phones, cameras, tablets and game consoles allowed for improvements to hit the market at a pace at which many couldn’t keep up. That focus wasn’t the only thing that development cycle rendered obsolete at times during the decade, as copious devices felt outdated sooner as well. Device mortality has definitely seen better days.
But it wasn’t all bad. Smart home devices have improved energy consumption while making the dream of the voice-activated home of the future a reality. That cycle of iteration, along with competent competition to Apple, forced tech companies to push their devices to their full extent. Entirely new industries spawned from that dev cycle while revolutionizing countless others.
Of course it also exacerbated the rise of the gig economy and megalomaniacal tech CEOs bathing in the funds of their toothpick house startups. Venture capital is a hell of a drug.
Digesting the troubles of big tech is hard, but the importance of the advancements made must be acknowledged as well. So let’s dig into the most important ones.
Honorable mentions go out to Bluetooth technology for continuing to improve wireless device connectivity and all Ring devices for catching porch poachers and doorbell lickers while letting everyone in the neighborhood know who’s a cop and who isn’t.
Any self-respecting tech geek has to include some oddly specific element within a list like this. Well, I’m a big port head and none showed as much universal promise as USB-C. Introduced in 2015, the latest iteration of the port delivered ease of use and improved power delivery alongside the promise of making ports on all kinds of devices uniform underneath it. The latter might still be a work in progress, but the USB-C utopia continues to win over companies, Microsoft and Apple being the latest to adopt it. Now, if only someone could figure out a better way to label those Thunderbolt 3 ports.
The tablet that started it all, the iPad has become so entrenched in modern culture that its surprising to think that it’s only been around for nine years. First introduced in 2010, the iPad was the key that unlocked the consumer tablet market for all that came after. What was originally marketed as a tool to increase business flexibility and productivity grew in its purpose with every new development Apple packed into its tempered glass. Whether it’s helping parents entertain kids during dinner, standing as a virtual canvas for artists and graphic designers or simply housing your copious amount of fantasy football teams, tablets are a vital part of our technological household. Other devices have surpassed the iPad line at different times throughout the decade, but they all owe something to the one that got the ball rolling.
No industry went through as heavy of an evolution during the 2010s than television and film. The rising number of cordcutters directly coincided with the rise of online streaming service subscribers as users finally found the cable-alternative they craved for years. Netflix, Hulu and YouTube became direct competitors to network TV stalwarts, so much so that many of them began investing in them along with their own streaming options. But the true impact of the streaming revolution lies in all of the niche products that were allowed to find their audience and flourish. Name a specific interest or genre and there is likely a streaming service that caters to it. The best example of this is pro wrestling. The WWE Network’s launch effectively killed the pay-per-view model while All Elite Wrestling’s inclusion on Bleacher Report Live proved that death call premature. All the while, New Japan Pro Wrestling became a truly global company thanks to NJPW World, setting an example that nearly every Japanese pro wrestling company followed in recent years. What streaming did for pro wrestling it also did for nearly every type of programming under the sun. Evolution may be a mystery in many fields, but not when it comes to the streaming industry. Content delivery has a new path.
Speaking of streaming services, Twitch stands above all others as the decade’s most important. What spawned from its humble beginnings as Justin.tv (RIP those illegal streams of old wrestling PPVs) steadily grew into the game streaming juggernaut that made playing videogames for a living viable as a career. Twitch helped create a cultural movement where games weren’t solely meant to be played in order to derive a meaningful experience. The outlandish view cast on those that enjoyed watching someone else play a videogame became normalized steadily over the decade, allowing player personalities and competitive play to emerge as driving forces for community curation. It’s safe to say that esports wouldn’t exist at its current level of popularity without Twitch. At the same time, Twitch has provided notable cultural touchstones as the mainstream view of videogames shifted. Remember how hard the internet broke when Drake linked up with Ninja to Fortnite it up? That’s the kind of power Twitch carries now. That same power also fuels the worst parts of the platform and allows it to obfuscate its questionable enforcement of its terms of service, but what Twitch has done cannot be ignored. You can even now find wrestling on the platform (Un-RIP).
After the Xbox 360 cast the PlayStation 3 into the land of famine during the 2000s, Sony knew it needed to come out swinging if it wanted to regain lost ground in the videogame console market. More than 100 million units sold later, it’s safe to say that it more than stuck the landing with the PlayStation 4. The 2010s top console represents Sony’s ability to learn from its mistakes and respond to consumer derision while producing a high-quality gaming experience. The PlayStation 4 Pro might prove to be a misstep, but it set a standard of iteration that its main competitor followed, placing Sony firmly in position as the standard bearer for the decade. Like the decade, though, the PlayStation 4’s lifetime is coming to an end with a new console cycle on the horizon. It will be some time before we see if the tradition of Sony and Microsoft exchanging the top spot in alternating console cycles takes place. But Sony can rest assured that it owned the market and delivered the best console since the PlayStation 2, bringing hand-wringing joy and emotion to millions of players worldwide. You did good, Cerny.
The phrase “vote with your dollar” comes from a logical place but doesn’t take into account the inherent disadvantages small and newer creators face when trying to bring a product to market. But the introduction of online crowdfunding platforms changed the game for anyone with an intriguing idea and a juicebox full of creative energy. Kickstarter and IndieGoGo offered such people the ability to communicate directly to the consumer, resulting in unique offerings, many of which wouldn’t make it past an entrenched middle man. The industry wasn’t without its stumbles, most notably Fig’s failure to fully realize its vision and lax consumer protections. Not to mention GoFundMe’s metamorphosis into a stand-in for the American health insurance industry. But the power crowdfunding places in the hands of consumers and creators signifies a marked change in business and marketing practices go forward.
And no crowdfunding platform changed the game more so than Patreon. YouTube, Twitch and an unlimited supply of podcast apps host creations from an ever-expanding community of content creators. But Patreon is the service that allows that community to thrive financially to varying degrees. The platform closes the gap between creators and their audience even further, increasing interactivity between the two to the point that many patreon pages now house their own dedicated communities. Many small-to-mid-sized online content creators wouldn’t be able to profit off of their work without Patreon, and a number of popular creators used the platform as a launching pad. Patreon fundamentally changed the viability of online content creation as a pursuable career.
Jokes about the “dream of the ‘90s being alive” aside, the resurgence of virtual reality headsets during the decade created new avenues for multiple industries. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive realized the gaming dreams The Lawnmower Man and Virtual Boy nearly killed. The recent wave of Oculus executive departures aside, the VR gaming marketplace isn’t going away anytime soon. But VR’s use extends far beyond gaming. With applications within the medical field, sensory input study, mental and physical therapy, graphic design, live experiences and even porn, this new round of headsets are viable in a growing number of industries. The financial barrier to entry and resolving the technical deficiencies of standalone headsets remain hurdles to clear, but the wide adaptation of VR tech points to a good lifespan into the next decade.
Nearly every year of the decade brought new phones with continually improving cameras and imaging hardware packed within. So much that it is really hard to narrow it down to one, single device as the apex of camera phones. But, while it may not be the absolute, objective best option on the market, the iPhone X’s camera is the most important. Obviously, it didn’t reinvent the wheel. Multiple Samsung devices included tools similar to the X’s Portrait mode prior to its release, but Apple’s adaptation of those tools pushed them to become standard across the industry. Let’s face it, Apple still shapes the mobile phone industry in a distinct way despite a number of Android devices surpassing them technically. Add in the X’s status as the first iPhone to record 4K video and you had an all-in-one video production tool that allowed a lower barrier to entry for a wide number of content creators.
The world is on the cusp of the invasion of cloud-based gaming services despite Google Stadia’s rocky rollout last month. But the move to develop a “Netflix but games” style service might not have seemed as viable without the massive success of Microsoft’s landmark subscription service. During a console cycle where the Xbox brand squandered a massive install base lead, Xbox Games Pass stood as a lighthouse in the fog. The service became a must-have for anyone that chose the Xbox One over the superior PlayStation 4, slowly evolving into a console selling feature in and of itself. It didn’t hurt that Sony’s own subscription service, PlayStation Now, didn’t curry much enthusiasm at launch. Games Pass worked so well that the company launched a version of the service for PC earlier this year and, in all likelihood, it will be a major piece of Microsoft’s forthcoming cloud-based competitor, Project XCloud. The service showed that players are willing to buy into new ideas within the gaming sphere, proving that content delivery practices can evolve alongside the boxes that bring their products to life. Gaming’s future wouldn’t be possible without Games Pass serving as validation.
Brian Bell is a queer freelance writer covering tech, pro wrestling, esports, games, comics and TV. Co-host of the Mr. Videogames Super Show podcast. Find and follow him on Twitter @WonderboyOTM.