The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #1: The iPhone

I’m sure this is probably no surprise to most of you. It really was a no brainer to me what the most important technology of the last fifteen years was. The hard part was filling in the other fourteen! It truly goes without saying, but I’m here to say it anyway: the iPhone impacted the computer industry and our society like few other technologies have in history. It is the clear example of what a disruptive technology is. It has defined the last 10 years of technology and along the way amplified the effect of many of the technologies on my list of most important technologies.

Of course, we all know the iPhone was not the first smartphone. However, the iPhone completely changed the game. Before the iPhone, the smartphone was the exclusive domain of corporate employees and tech-savvy individuals. After the iPhone, the smartphone became a staple of everyday life. The iPhone kicked off the mobile device revolution and in doing so, has put incredible power in the palms of our hands.

  • Social networking would not be so social without mobile devices. In fact, much of the growth of social media can be attributed to the rise of the iPhone, and still to this day the iPhone is often regarded as the dominant platform among social networking users.
  • The iPad and the end of the PC era may not have come to fruition without the iPhone clearing the way. People may not have been as receptive to tablets had they not fell in love with the iPhone.
  • The power of Google is magnified when the world’s information is literally at our fingertips, no matter where we may be.
  • The mobile device revolution has put a GPS device in nearly all of our hands, making us safer.
  • The incredible growth of YouTube and other media sharing services is largely due to the mobile device revolution, along with the significant increase in the general consumption of digital media in all forms.

The iPhone turned out to be the computing device that we all wished we had, yet didn’t know what we were missing until we had one. It redefined what computing could be in the terms of ease of use and through its mobility made it more powerful. It has literally impacted nearly every aspect of our society and it is no stretch to say that the iPhone has changed the world. Because of this tremendous impact, the iPhone is easily the most important technology of the last fifteen years.

How has the iPhone and the mobile device revolution changed the way you work and play? Also, now that my countdown is complete, what are you thoughts on the entire list? Did I miss anything? Should the order have been different? Comment below and share your thoughts!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #2: Social Networking and Facebook

There’s no doubt that the Internet impacted society from the moment it went mainstream. However, I believe that we can separate the history of the Internet into two segments thus far: the time before social networking and the time after. Social networking has had a truly significant impact in the way we humans interact and share information with each other, doing so just as easily with people on the other side of the world as we can with people in our neighborhood. It has given us all a voice and we can now reach the world with our thoughts and ideas. Because of this sudden ability for ideas and information to spread, social networking has touched virtually every aspect of our lives from entertainment to politics and everything in-between, enabling the starting of movements and the rise to fame of otherwise regular people.

While all social networking platforms have certainly contributed to this seismic shift in our society, it is clear that none have had the individual influence that Facebook has had. Facebook brought with it an elementary and welcoming interface to a fledgling social networking scene that desperately needed simplification in the mid 2000’s. While tech-savvy individuals had no trouble with other popular social networking platforms, average people had little interest in the arcane interface of Twitter or the entertainment focused MySpace. It was Facebook that brought social networking to the masses and is now by far the largest and most dominant social networking platform, second only to Google in visits. While other social networks gain popularity here and there, Facebook has remained the one true constant in the social networking world and it is the platform that others measure themselves against. With nearly 2 billion users worldwide, it is no wonder that the social networking sun rises and sets with Facebook.

How has social networking changed your life? Can you imagine living without it today? Comment below and share when you first started using social networking.

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #3: The iPad

The sudden success of Apple’s iPhone allowed Steve Jobs to bring to fruition his original concept at a mobile device – the iPad. Few people know that it was the concept of a tablet device that Steve Jobs had initially envisioned, but during early development decided that a touch-based smartphone would be better received in the marketplace. For all the success of the iPhone, it was the eventual release of the iPad that has had a profound impact on the personal computer industry, much as Steve Jobs anticipated it would.

The iPhone definitely kicked off the mobile device revolution, but the commodity computing device for most people was still the personal computer, of which Microsoft’s Windows operating system was the dominant platform. Once the iPad was introduced, however, the marketplace quickly and decidedly shifted away from traditional laptops to Apple’s new tablet device. At first traditional computer manufactures dismissed at the idea of the “iPad effect” hurting their marketshare. But within three years, the PC industry saw its largest sales drop in recorded history and many competing tablets and tablet-like devices started appearing. It was clear the iPad had ended the PC era and ushered in the New World of Technology. Today, the impact of the iPad is undeniable across the computing industry as touch enabled devices are the norm, yet companies are still trying largely unsuccessfully to replicate the simplicity and power of Apple’s iPad.

How did the iPad change the way you use computers? Comment below!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #4: Google

As the World Wide Web grew at hyper speed in the mid 1990’s, people quickly realized just how difficult it was to find information. Early search engines like Yahoo and Alta Vista filled in that gap, but there was still plenty of room for innovation to improve the results of those searches. A little startup called Google emerged in the late 1990’s, with the first version of their system housed entirely in a garage. Google steadily gained users over the next few years due to its simplicity and quality of search results. However, it wasn’t until 2001 that Google hired their first CEO and 2003 that they moved in to their current headquarters. As the profitability from their AdWords product piled up, Google became the dominant search engine in the mid-2000’s. Now Google is the most visited site on the Internet and the word has become a verb. “Google it” is now a common part of our language.

The simplicity to which we can find the relevant information we are seeking has been the secret to Google’s success. All the information in the world isn’t useful to us if we can’t find it quickly and easily and Google has made it possible to do just that, changing the world in the process. Literally the world’s information is only a Google search away, but that has only been a reality in the last fifteen years. I think it is fitting that there’s not much else to say about Google because what they provide to us is so simple and important, we almost take it for granted.

Can you imagine life without Google? Do you remember the first time you used Google? Comment below and let us know how Google changed the way you search for information online.

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #5: The iPod and the iTunes Store

In the mid 1990’s the MP3 digital music format quickly became popular with music junkies and tech-savvy individuals everywhere. Music piracy suddenly became extremely easy for anyone with a computer and a high speed Internet connection, such as those available on college campuses, much to the chagrin of the record industry. Still, people wanted to use the MP3 format for legitimate purposes and one of those uses included taking their music with them. A fledgling market of portable MP3 players started cropping in the late 90’s, but the market for these devices was limited to tech-savvy individuals because the features and ease-of-use of these early versions were not so great.

When Apple introduced the iPod in the fall of 2001, many industry experts scoffed at the device, thinking it wouldn’t be successful because they thought it was too expensive and it lacked Windows compatibility. However, the simplicity and large storage capability of the original iPod made it a hit not only with Macintosh users, but also Windows users who quickly developed hacks and workarounds to make the Apple music player compatible with their computers. Apple quickly followed up with an official Windows-compatible version the next year and two years later introduced the iTunes store. It was this one-two punch of a simple and powerful portable music player along with the ease of buying legally licensed music that spring-boarded digital music into the mainstream. In doing so, Apple fundamentally changed not only the record industry, but also our expectations of all forms of media. Now portable digital media is commonplace across not only music, but also books, movies, and TV shows. Without the combination of the iPad and iTunes Music Store, we may live in a very different world today when it comes to digital media.

Did the iPod and iTunes change the way you listened to and bought music? Comment below and share when you first became introduced to digital music!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #6: GPS Navigation

The first satellite that formed our modern GPS system was launched in 1989 and the system was declared fully operational in 1995. However, while civilians could use the GPS system, the accuracy was intentionally degraded for “national security” purposes, which practically limited use to government agencies. As the national security implications were reconsidered, in the year 2000 intentional degradation to civilian use was ended, making GPS much more useful for common purposes. Within a few years, affordable GPS handheld and in-car navigation systems started to become commonplace.

Suddenly the way we navigated started transforming. No longer did we need to write down vague directions or buy maps when traveling. Our navigation systems could tell us how to get virtually anywhere and how long it would take to get there. This made travel easier but also safer, since we knew where we were going and getting lost was not the problem it used to be. Soon after, the mobile device revolution brought GPS along with it. By recent estimates nearly 80% of Americans own a smartphone, so by association GPS is virtually in everyone’s hands today. With how easy GPS navigation makes traveling and to the extent it keeps us safer, it is hard to imagine living without it.

When did you first start using GPS navigation? Do you go anywhere without it now? Comment below and share your experiences!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #7: YouTube

Video had been part of the Internet virtually since it went mainstream in the mid 1990’s. Of course, since dial-up was the cutting-edge technology of the time, video was more of a novelty than a full-fledged citizen of the Information Superhighway. As high-speed Internet became a reality, video started to become more and more of a feature of online life. However, the only people and companies using it were those with an advanced knowledge of the technology required to make video work online and with the resources to run servers that could handle the fairly heavy needs of a video stream.

Twelve years ago YouTube changed all that. Suddenly, anyone with a video camera (and later a smartphone) could upload and publish their videos for all the world to see. In about a year YouTube was one of the fastest growing sites on the Web. Google recognized the enormous potential of video sharing and purchased YouTube only about a year and a half after the first video was uploaded. Today, YouTube is the third most visited site on the Internet after Google and Facebook. By providing a centralized platform for anyone to upload and share videos, YouTube changed how we consume content online and also what kind of content we see. By democratizing video sharing, YouTube nearly singlehandedly created the viral video phenomenon and has made stars out of ordinary people. Besides pure entertainment, people today use YouTube to learn how to fix things, how to apply makeup, how to make crafts, and just about anything they need to know. The scale that YouTube has made video accessible to us all is hard to fathom, which is why it is one of the most important technologies of the last fifteen years.

How big a part of your Internet experience is YouTube? Have you shared videos on YouTube? Comment below!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #8: eBooks

The technology for putting text on computer displays has existed for a very long time. In fact, the very first technologies for creating digital books dates back to the early 1970’s. Yet it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that eBooks as we know them today started to gain mainstream popularity. However, even then eBooks were more of a tech curiosity than anything because there was little standardization and many popular books were not available in digital format.

It was the release of the Amazon Kindle in 2007 that really put eBooks on the map for most of us. With Amazon leveraging their power in the publishing industry, the Kindle quickly became an overnight success, tapping into a large pent-up demand for digital books by a increasingly tech-savvy society. Since that time an ever-increasing number of people use an eBook reader such as the Kindle or their smartphone or tablet as their primary means of reading books and almost all mainstream published books offer a digital version. The growth of eBooks led by the Kindle become a significant factor in the decline of retail bookstore operations, as witnessed by the closing down of the one-time dominant Borders Books in 2011. But perhaps more importantly, the eBook has shifted power away from large publishing companies in deciding what books are published. Self-publishing eBooks has become popular for aspiring authors as they can release their work to their fans for much less than it costs for printed books. Success stories of eBook authors that have made it big, such as the Fifty Shades series are becoming more commonplace. While printed books are still popular to this day, there is no doubt that eBooks have changed the landscape of the publishing industry forever.

Do you buy or read more books now that they are in a digital format? Comment below!

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #9: Streaming Video

For most of the history of in-home video technology, we were at the mercy of broadcast television providers. We could only watch what they wanted us to see when they wanted us to see it. The VCR and then DVD started to break this stranglehold as we could watch movies and TV shows when we wanted, but we had to purchase or rent them, which meant we were still beholden to what our local video store had available. Even if we wanted to record shows on VCRs, we were still limited to making sure we set our recording at the exact time they were broadcast – and if we missed our recording time we were pretty much out of luck. The Internet created an opportunity for online DVD rentals made popular by Netflix, but we still wanted more. Then the DVR allowed us to more easily record TV broadcasts so watching what we wanted when we wanted become more commonplace. This combination of market forces and the advancement of technology led to the development of streaming video services, which has quickly changed the landscape of television forever.

Streaming video services, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and others first pioneered the way by providing programming available from traditional broadcast channels. However in the last few years streaming services have started to create their own original award-winning programming. Increasingly providers such as HBO and many others now offer their programming through an online app, bypassing traditional delivery services such as cable and satellite TV. In our mobile society, it is no stretch to say that streaming has quickly become the favorite way a lot of people watch TV shows and movies. Even the concept of “watching TV” is going by the wayside as we can watch video on our mobile devices anywhere we want. In large part from the impact of streaming video, the largest video rental company at the time, BlockBuster, closed down all their corporate stores in 2013. It is no stretch to say that streaming video will continue to redefine how video productions are created and distributed well into the foreseeable future.

How much streaming video do you watch today as compared to traditional broadcast TV? Do you even “watch TV” as much as you used to or do you watch video more on mobile devices? Comment below and let me know how streaming has changed your video consumption habits.

The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #10: Wi-Fi Wireless Networking

While broadband services gave us “always on” Internet access, we were still basically tied to our desks when we went online. So to some extent we still had to step away from our lives to use the Internet. In addition, it reduced the usefulness of laptops since they had to be tethered to a network cable in order to get online. A mobile device isn’t very mobile if it has to be tied down to access the Internet.

While forms of wireless networking were available in the 1990’s, they were an expensive and highly specialized niche technology. Apple was the first to bring wireless to the mainstream market with their Airport add-on module for their iBook line of laptops in 1999. The Wi-Fi alliance was also created in that year. However, it wasn’t until in-home wireless routers became available in late 2001 and 2002 that the wireless revolution really took off. Suddenly, we were able to use the Internet from anywhere in our house, unchaining us from our desks. Public hotspots became popular as well and soon the personal computer market shifted away from desktop computers to laptops and then eventually the mobile devices of today – easy as never before (check Vsenn for more details). Now the information of the world is at our fingertips no matter where we are. Without Wi-Fi the mobile device revolution would simply not have been possible and we still might be chained to our desks for our Internet access!

When did you first use wireless networking? Did you buy a laptop or mobile device only after wireless networking became widely available? Comment below and tell us your story!