LOS ANGELES - As 2019 draws to a close, it’s increasingly more difficult to recall how we used to get from one location to another without the benefit of the smartphone — one of the most influential pieces of technology to evolve in the 2010s that touches almost every area of our lives today.
More than 5 billion people around the world now own a mobile device and over half of those devices are smartphones, according to Pew Research Center.
Over the past decade, smartphones have evolved from tiny-screened devices to technological lifelines.
They’re not just for making phone and video calls anymore — smartphones also allow people to find romantic partners, read books, search for jobs, share tidbits of their lives or bring awareness to a range of causes on social media and watch movies or popular TV shows.
But smartphones have also been scrutinized for how often they’re used, which led to the development of screen-time monitors on operating systems for Apple and Android.
So how did all of this happen?
Top brands die out
Elite-level smartphones were available in the early 2000s with BlackBerrys and Palm Pilot-like devices, though they were pricey and often required a stylus.
But in 2007, late Apple CEO Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone, a cellphone with a 3.5-inch touch screen that offered a wide range of capabilities. One year later, the first Android device debuted, according to a timeline by The Guardian.
Some major phone brands — such as Nokia, Motorola, HTC and BlackBerry — tried to compete in the new smartphone market, but failed.
BlackBerry had some solid success in 2010 with its Curve, but eventually the software couldn’t keep up with the simple-to-use iPhones and Androids or the devices’ applications.
In 2013, Nokia sold its handset division to Microsoft after a solid decline in the market. Still, the brand hopes to make a comeback with the release of its Nokia 8.2 5G phone in 2020.
About a year later, Motorola downsized and renamed itself Motorola Solutions. But this year, the company unveiled its most popular 2000s device – the Razr – as a smartphone with a foldable screen in an effort to get back in the game.
Mobile apps, big screens and some tech casualties
The summer of 2008 made way for Apple’s App Store, which allowed for third-party applications, according to CNET. Then came the Google Play Store for Android devices.
Developers flocked to the two big brands to create thousands of mobile apps, something that BlackBerry couldn’t keep up with. CNET reported that it took Apple and Android app stores about eight years each to surpass 2 million different applications for consumers to potentially download.
More smartphone applications — especially movie and television streaming services — added to how people interacted with their tech devices. That also led to bigger screens and overall hardware – starting around 3.5-inches in the early 2010s to 6 inches or more by the end of the decade.
But the evolution of the smartphone also led to many devices becoming obsolete or rare, such as MP3 players, disposable and point-and-shoot cameras, physical books, newspapers, scanners and GPS devices, among others.
Plans to make smartphones even more technologically advanced in 2020 are already in the works and include foldable screens and devices, multiple small lenses and more.
One example, according to CNET, is being developed by a company named Energous and brings to life the possibility for smartphones to charge over the air. It would involve putting a phone near a WattUp Mid Field transmitter, which isn’t too far from wireless charging, which has grown in popularity since 2018.
The new decade will also make way for 5G networks, which promise faster speeds and bandwidth for devices. But most consumers won’t have access to the networks until at least 2025, according to CNN.