A decade of growing smartphone dependence is defined by one word: speed
From 3G to 4G to LTE, our smartphones have defined a shared global experience like no other since 2010
The arrival of 2020 will mark 10 years of a global phenomenon: our smartphone addiction.
It was in 2010 that smartphones elbowed into our lives. Mobile phones, with their clunky keypads made way for touchscreens, an internet connection and apps. Oh, the apps.
Bolstered by faster and faster networks, from 3G to 4G to LTE, our smartphones have defined a shared global experience like no other object, person or event over the past decade.
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Let’s take a quick look back: in 2010, Instagram launched. It was the year of the app store “boom”, thanks to the third-generation mobile network known as 3G. It was this network that brought phones online and gave rise to apps.
In the same year, Apple, Google’s Android, BlackBerry and even Nokia began peddling these bites of downloadable web services in earnest. Competition was fierce but Apple took an early lead, ending that year with about 300,000 apps in iTunes; Android Market had less than half of that number and Nokia and Blackberry trailed far behind – an early warning sign of their eventual struggles in the smartphone sector.
Netflix began streaming straight to our phones in 2010. Reviews of the viewing experience were actually pretty good, even on the slower 3G network of the day. And remember Angry Birds? Perhaps the hours spent hurtling wingless birds through a cerulean sky are best left forgotten.
In 2011, smartphone sales outpaced those of PCs for the first time. By 2012, about a third of the world’s population had a 3G-connected device, according to the International Data Corporation, with developed nations exceeding 90 per cent market penetration. Three years after that, smartphone use overtook time spent on a desktop computer.
Our increased smartphone use coincided with the latest network: 4G. As this fourth-generation revolution took hold in 2012, internet speeds ratcheted up tenfold and altered our habits even further.
The improved performance allowed app creators to become more ambitious.
Video streaming was more enjoyable on the faster connection and Netflix saw an opportunity: it began producing its own content in 2013. Spotify and Apple Music were the forerunners in legal music downloading, altering the business model for artists and making way for YouTube stars to find mainstream success.
By 2016, mobile internet speeds matched home broadband connections on the new LTE network.
It was in the second half of the decade that we got comfortable with our smartphones doing much of the heavy lifting of mundane everyday life. Real-time navigation enabled ride-hailing and food delivery through our phones. Social networking splintered off from the majors such as Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter, to support meet-up apps and messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Skype.
Speed is the theme of the last decade. With each step forward in the pace of downloads, everyone from basement entrepreneurs to the world’s biggest companies have stepped in to fill the void with content and products.
Smartphones have already connected people and cultures across borders, allowed workforces to be more mobile and unlocked opportunity for those looking for an outlet, either creative or commercial.
As the world focuses its attention on 5G over the next decade, everything is about to get unfathomably faster.
Updated: December 29, 2019 10:07 AM