Stuff of the Decade: The 15 biggest tech trends

Voice assistants, VR and on-demand entertainment

There's something fleeting about the word 'trend' which suggests something temporary that might pass, like fidget spinners, moustaches and saying 'YOLO' - and we're nothing short of delighted that their popularity is swiftly diminishing. 

However, we'd guess the majority of the items in this list are here to stay. Imagine being at the mercy of an entertainment schedule to watch the next episode of Watchmen?  We perish the thought. And then there's electric vehicles with decent range and the ability to block out the outside world and escape to sonic nirvana, wearables have gone mainstream, and folk are deepening their relationships with Alexa, Google, Cortana and Co.

The last 10 years in tech may have raised some fears, but on the whole, there's never been a more exciting time to be a geek.  

Words: Esat Dedezade, Chris Kerr and Natalya Paul 

1) Streaming

Although streaming services weren’t necessarily a new concept at the turn of the last decade, the entire industry has come a long way since then. Netflix, for instance, had only just clocked on to the notion of adding streaming media to its business model in 2010, whereas now phrases like 'Netflix and Chill' have become cemented in our collective consciousness. Yep, that means there are probably more than a few Netflix babies knocking around. Other major players Twitch and Spotify have also come into their own, with the former paving the way for 'influencers' to rise up and dominate the online narrative, while the latter became so successful Apple (and even Beyonce and Jay-Z) decided to have a pop at starting their own music streaming juggernaut. Moving forward, it’s hard to imagine a world where media isn’t on-demand and instantaneous, and for better or worse that mindset shift undoubtedly happened during the past decade.

2) 4K

Fortnite flossers have no idea how lucky they are. They’ve grown up watching snowflakes sparkle on polar bear fur, sweat glisten on Olympian brows, and superheros decimate their enemies - all in glorious 4K. Packing four times the resolution of full HD, 4K has spent the last decade blessing our retinas with stunning detail. Initially a visual treat for early adopters with fat wallets, it began to infiltrate the masses when TV prices dropped which, thankfully, coincided with the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and Netflix’s incredible Breaking Bad. Today, it’s become a standard resolution for new tellies, blockbuster shows, and YouTubers alike. Bring on 8K, we say.

3) Smart Home

Who’d have thought that by the time 2020 rolled around we’d all be sat in our homes asking robots to switch on the lights, turn down the heating, make phone calls, crank out some Daft Punk, and whip up a nice soufflé. Alright, that last one is still a pipe dream, but the dawn of smart assistants and devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Nest means turning your house into a smart home is super-easy and affordable. The robots are here, and judging by the rise in smart home tech over the past few years, they aren’t going anywhere.

4) Security and privacy? What's that?

Oh, it looks like you’re trying to read a web page. It would be a shame if 17 boxes and notifications popped up, asking you to read through pesky terms about cookies and data. Why bother ruining your online stroll? Just click yes and move on. While you’re at it, you might as well post anything you can to social media - just remember to accept everything. What’s that? People are making money off your data? You’re caught in a tangled, confusing web, and hackers have made off with millions of passwords from that service you use? Welcome to the wilderness of the internet, where data is the new oil and there are drills as far as the eye can see. Okay we're exaggerating slightly, but you will be chased around the internet with a photo of a fancy watch you thought about buying once. 

5) Hacking and making

Back in the 90s, hacking involved multiple CRT monitors with lines of green code and scary 8-bit skulls chomping through virtual firewalls. A slick-haired teen, typing faster than the speed of light, would triumphantly exclaim that they’d h4cked their way into the mainframe. In more recent years, hacking has taken on an additional meaning. Thanks to products like the Raspberry Pi, tinkering around with tech and making homemade gadgets and gizmos has exploded in popularity, bringing forth a new generation of inventors and enthusiasts. Rube Goldberg machines have never been better.

6) Cloud storage

It seems like companies have been touting the wonders of the cloud for aeons, but Google Drive, which launched only seven years ago in 2012, shows just how quickly time flies. Making physical media all but irrelevant for most people, the cloud is a wonderful place where photos, videos, games, music and more can all be stored, before being beamed directly to your eyes and ears. Imagine a world without Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime Video, Apple Music and more - a world where you have to go to the shops and buy media on physical formats, like a bunch of primitive savages. Scary thought, isn’t it?

7) Gamification

High scores used to be limited to the neon glow of arcade aisles and video game screens, but the past decade has seen the use of competitive gamification crammed into almost everything. Today, there’s no shortage of fitness apps which let you compare how many steps/miles/lengths/lunges you’ve done compared to your friends or nearby fitness fans. Beyond breaking a sweat, retailers, sports clubs and companies have all cottoned on to serving out dopamine rushes, dishing out rewards to those that show loyalty via their respective apps. We’ve come a long way since those 1,000,000th visitor prize pop-ups from the early days of the interwebs, but the principle of the Skinner box will remain true now, and forever.

8) Mini versions of classic consoles

From shrunken PlayStations, to the miniscule NES Classic, C64 Mini and more, Wayne Szalinski’s shrink ray has never been busier. Featuring built-in retro titles, these miniaturised consoles tap into rose tinted childhood memories like nobody’s business, presenting them in their original fuzzy CRT glory, or upscaling them via modern HDMI connections. There’s no sign of this downsizing trend slowing down, especially if the current demand keeps up. Tiny Dreamcast? We can but dream.

9) ANC in headphones

You can’t swing an AUX cable in a shop these days without hitting a bunch of noise cancelling earbuds and headphones, but there was a time, not too long ago, where this mythical power was reserved for only a few sets of expensive cans. In recent times, noise cancelling has entered the mainstream, passing beyond the world of Bose to almost every brand imaginable, from Apple, Sony, JBL and countless others. Saving innumerable people from the torturous noises of engines, car horns, bus brakes and the piercing laugh of [REDACTED] on your floor at work, we cannot thank noise cancelling enough for making our lives just that little bit more peaceful.

10) VR

Virtual reality has been the holy grail of adventurous immersion for geeks and gamers since time immemorial. While early VR prototypes surfaced as early as the 60s, it wasn’t until screen and computing tech improved and became more affordable, that truly impressive offerings emerged. The credit for that goes to the Oculus Rift, which was first announced at E3 2012. Since then, we’ve seen sharper screens, accurate full-room tracking, and more affordable entry points, like the Oculus Go, or smartphone-powered shells like Samsung’s Gear VR. With Valve’s Half-Life: Alyx expected to blow people’s minds when it lands next year, the past ten years in VR development have laid the foundation for some incredible things to come.

11) Retro Revival

This year, vinyl records outsold CDs for the first time in 40 years, following previous trends in increased sales. Beyond a mere hipster movement, the great record comeback is likely more than just down to the fact that they sound warmer and clearer than their digital counterparts. In a world where instant gratification is achieved at the tap of a digital button, people are once again discovering the joys of hunting for, and fondling, physical treasure, while sharing their interest with other like-minded individuals in the process. Plus the artwork looks cool too. Plus, take your pick of excellent bluetooth turntables if you want the records but don't want the wires. 

12) Social media everywhere

Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit are all a bit last decade, but they’ve only got bigger and more omnipresent this one, minus Tumblr. When was the last time you sent an SMS rather than a WhatsApp? Exactly. We’ve seen newer, weirder, snappier platforms like the grid-based larks of Instagram and the ever frenzied snapchat where videos and photos can be viewed for only seconds before disappearing. You won’t lament for long, because it’s an infinite scroll of never-ending content to keep you hooked. Anyway, we suggested you pull yourself away for a bit of respite and look at a tree or something IRL. Smartphone makers have baked in screen time and ‘digital wellbeing’ analysis into phone settings so you can keep a check on how much time is being swallowed up by memes and YouTube tutorials. 

13) App Dating

People have been dating on the internet since the late 90s, but it’s become incredibly prevalent through apps like Tinder, Hinge, Bumble and Grindr. There’s really an app for whatever you’re into and developers have thought of unusual ways to matchmake, take Happn for instance, an app which uses geo-location to see when you walk near someone else on the app and you can read all about them, and then make contact. Beats talking to strangers, because you’ve stalked them online first, right? Bumble, founded by Whitney Wolfe Herd is unique in that the heterosexual ladies can only send the first message. It’s not slowing down any time soon so get used to hearing, ‘It was love at first swipe’ at the next few weddings you attend. 

14) Camera phones

We’d never say that cameras are obsolete, and we truly believe that a smartphone is no camera substitute, however, they have really upped their photo skills over the past decade. In fact, it’s often the most important facet of a smartphone, as many are using their phones to document everything from children’s birthdays, Brexit protests and holidays. We do however believe that the best camera is the one you have with you, and that is always without a doubt the one on your phone. Honourable mentions go to the Pixel’s incredible night vision, the iPhone for everyday stuff, portrait mode on nearly every flagship phone from the past few years mimicking a bokeh effect you’d get from a DSLR, plus insane zoom skills from the likes of the Huawei P30 Pro.

15) EVs

Believe it or not, electric vehicles were at their heyday in the 1900s and it was believed, as it is today, that they were ‘the future’. However, Henry Ford introduced the gasoline-powered Model T and the availability and affordability of cheap oil hit the brakes on the evolution of EVs and we spent decades burning through petrol with wild abandon. Then in the 2010s, Tesla began putting a lot of money and effort into the EV cause and Tesla Model S was born. For us though, it was the Nissan Leaf in 2010 which is the real game changer making EVs affordable, desirable and all-electric, and the past ten years have seen all the other big players jumping on the electrical bandwagon.