The Future Is Now: A Decade of Change in Consumer Electronics

Since 2010, the tech we buy—and why we buy it—has changed dramatically. Stores that used to dedicate shelf space to music players, printers, and desktop computers have had to make room for wearables, smart home devices, and, of course, smartphones.

Screen time

In just ten years, smartphone technologies have made an incredible leap forward—and consumers are, clearly, responding. When it first hit stores in 2010, Apple’s iPhone 4 was widely regarded as a must-have for any smartphone buyer. It set new records with 1.7 million unit sales worldwide in just its first few days on store shelves. But, by today’s standards, those numbers are nothing. TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo estimates Apple will sell up to 75 million iPhone 11 units by the end of 2019. That’s an average of 900,000 iPhones per day.

Meanwhile, the smartphones we thought were so beautiful back at the dawn of the decade have changed dramatically. The iPhone 4’s 3.5-inch screen is now dwarfed by the 6.5-inch display in the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Bezels around the screen are thinner and handsets more sleek.

Samsung arguably took the most risks in its smartphone development over the last decade.

The company’s earliest Galaxy Note, which hit store shelves in 2011, had what was at the time a gigantic 5.3-inch screen. And its use of a stylus helped to differentiate it from the touch-only iPhone.

Samsung beat Apple to the punch on fingerprint sensors and facial scanners. And with its Galaxy Fold, it’s now embarking on a new smartphone design Apple hasn’t even considered: foldable.

Constant companions

Considering how much wearables are a part of our lives now, it’s hard to believe that a decade ago, they were practically nonexistent. In 2014, the wearables market tallied 19.6 million global shipments all year. That’s a far cry from the 300 million wearables that will ship this year.

In just the third quarter of 2019, 84.5 million wearables shipped worldwide, according to researcher IDC. That was up 94.6% compared to the same period in 2018.

The industry’s performance has been driven by fitness trackers, like Fitbit’s line of devices that can track heart rate, sleep, and other critical health elements. Apple, too, has driven a big wearables sale uptick, thanks to popular devices like its Apple Watch and AirPods. In the third quarter of 2019, alone, Apple’s global wearables shipments were up 196%, with no signs of slowing down.

The housekeepers

In January, Amazon said that it’s sold more than 100 million Alexa-enabled devices since it launched the Amazon Echo in 2014. Add that to the tens of millions of smart home devices built by Google, Apple, and others, and there are clearly many of us that now view shouting at hardware as just part of our everyday.

But the Echo could have never become so successful without help from the endless array of smart home devices all trying to help you live your life.

Appliances can now tell us when the refrigerator door is open or the wash is done. And with Alexa’s help, we can turn on lights or adjust the thermostat.

That helped the global smart home market generate $41 billion in revenue last year. By 2023, it’ll hit $192 billion. A decade ago, the industry didn’t exist.

And perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway from the past decade in tech. Three of the biggest and fastest-growing industries in tech were either much smaller or didn’t even exist a decade ago. But now, as we look ahead to the next decade, smartphones, wearables, and the smart home will ultimately prove to be among the most important categories.

More on the changes in retail:

—The legacy brands that couldn’t keep up  
—E-commerce moves at the speed of I want it now  
—Consumer demands drove apparel industry change 
—Find out how Instagram upended the beauty industry
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