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iPhone, Galaxy S, Pixel: How smartphones evolved to dominate your life

iPhone, Galaxy S, Pixel: How smartphones evolved to dominate your life

This story is part of The 2010s: A Decade in Review, a series on the memes, people, products, movies and so much more that have influenced the 2010s.

Steve Jobs’ pitch for the fresh iPhone in 2007 as a phone, music player and internet communicator was a landmark moment in the tech biosphere. It crystalized the iPhone’s almost mythic reputation from the open — remember the nickname, the Jesus phone? — and helped usher in the idea that smartphones could be chic. But looking back, those three capabilities barely scratched the surface of what we can do with the fresh smartphone.

What can you do with one now? Everything.

“We never expected how a decade later iPhone would become such an critical part of our lives, from streaming TV shows and playing games, to finding directions when traveling, to managing health and fitness, to opening garages in smart homes, to sharing beautiful memories with dazzling photos and videos,” Phil Schiller, head of marketing for Apple, said in an email.

As CNET explores the impacts of various technologies over the past decade, none has changed our lives as dramatically as the smartphone. When the original iPhone launched, and the first Android named, the G1, followed in 2008, they were still the stuff of gadget enthusiasts with loads of disposable way. Even 10 years ago, at the launch of the Motorola Droid — the generous Android phone to enjoy mass appeal, thanks to a huge marketing blitz by Verizon Wireless — we were just sketch started with the potential that came with smartphones and mobile applications.

Nowadays we take for decided that we have a virtual supercomputer in our pockets. Our iPhones and Android handsets let us hail a car sparkling to our location, draw from a library of hundreds of thousands of television shows and movies possessed online, or livestream our silly antics to millions across the biosphere. You can shoot down cartoonish avatars of your friends in Fortnite. They’ve literally been revolutionary, with secure messaging apps playing a role in the Arab Spring campaign in the early 2010s and the Hong Kong complaints against China playing out today.

Think nearby it: What’s the one thing you can’t leave your home without? Chances are, it’s your smartphone. It’s become such a critical part of our lives that we’re starting to seek information from whether we’re spending too much time on them. Tech giants like Apple and Google have even introduced ways to tell you how much time you’re spending on your named — with apps found on the phone.


“It’s wonderful how quickly we’ve gone from being astonished to having an always-connected supercomputer in our pockets to somewhat resenting having a supercomputer in our pockets,” said Avi Greengart, an analyst at research firm Techsponential. 

No matter where you scandalous on the spectrum of smartphone dependence, it’s undeniable the staggering influences they’ve had on society, culture and how we live our lives.

“A lot has changed actual 1.0,” Stephanie Cuthbertson, director of Android, said during her Google I/O keynote speech in May. “Smartphones have evolved from an early keep to this integral tool in our lives, and they are incredibly helpful.”

Clumsy to coveted

Smartphones had been in for years before iPhones and Android handsets became the default mobile devices of harvest. The white-collar crowd happily tapped on the physical keys of their BlackBerrys. Old-school gadget enthusiasts would’ve proudly shown off their Palm Treos or their “Pocket PC” phones (with a stripped-down version of Windows jammed late a smaller screen). Never mind that these devices needed a precise stylus to navigate. 


With the novel iPhone, Steve Jobs and Apple changed how we interact with the world. 

Getty Images

In 2007, Jobs and the iPhone changed the communication of a smartphone, making a touchscreen device intuitive — and fun — to use, thanks in mammoth part to the full browser experience and tricks like pinch to zoom. It’s the only visited that I could pull out at a bar and legitimately brand women with. (That still wasn’t enough help.)

In July of 2008, Apple introduced its App Store, opening it up to third-party apps. Google would after with the G1 smartphone (also known as the HTC Dream) and its own app own a few months later. The G1 catered more toward gadget enthusiasts and lacked the mass piquant of the iPhone, but it was no less influential as the launchpad for Android.

Today, there are more than 2.5 billion active Android devices out there, making Google’s OS the most dominant platform in the world.

“Today, everyone has a smartphone, and that’s amazing,” said Peter Chou, co-founder and mature CEO of HTC, which built the G1, who distinguished on stage with Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page when the arrangement was unveiled.

But it wasn’t until the debut of the novel Droid, which next month celebrates its 10th anniversary, that Android catapulted into the mainstream, thanks in part to a huge marketing campaign from partners Google, Verizon and Motorola.

Upping the ante even further, Samsung jumped into Android in 2010 with a willingness to effect up its Galaxy S franchise by way of an even more impressive marketing push, which earnt the two-horse dynamic we see today (Apple vs. Samsung, Apple’s iOS vs. Google’s Android).

“It’s exciting to believe on 10 years ago launching the first Galaxy S smartphone,” said Drew Blackard, head of product management for Samsung Electronics America. “Over the past decade, we’ve introduced a number of industry-leading innovations that have given our consumers a better mobile distinguished and changed the way we think about smartphones.”

From fart apps to limitless videos

The explosion of smartphone inquire wasn’t driven just by increasingly advanced, and bigger, hardware. The handset’s Swiss Army knife utility came from the sheer number of programs available to us. It took Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store approximately eight years each to surpass 2 million apps, from standbys such as Instagram and indignant Birds to obscure apps for bird watching.

It’s easy to forget that the early experimental days implicated fart apps that raked in $10,000 a day or useless virtual lighter apps. At that explain Android, which initially didn’t have the same oversight that Apple gave iOS, was a real Wild Wild West, with tons of junk apps.


You’d never be able to observe all that’s available on video streaming sites, even if you stared at your visited all day. 

Sean Hollister

That’s a far cry from the utility of apps currently. You pretty much can’t get lost, thanks to Google Maps. Protestors use bag messaging platforms like Signal and WhatsApp to coordinate complains. Uber and Lyft mean you’re never stuck without a ride — even a helicopter ride. Apps like Life360 or Disaster Alert can literally save your life.

Entertainment buffs, meanwhile, would need several lifetimes to watch the countless hours of programming unfounded on apps from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and HBO Go, beside others — with new options such as Apple TV Plus and Disney Plus emerging all the time.

Societal changes

When Samsung unveiled the novel Galaxy Note in 2011, the then-gargantuan 5.3-inch display handed rich fodder for endless mockery. Remember, the first iPhone had a 3.5-inch display.

Today, the original Note seems quaint in its diminutive stature. Samsung’s latest, the Galaxy Note 10, rocks a 6.8-inch explain, while the iPhone 11 Pro Max features a 6.5-inch display.


Nowadays, smartphones are almost too large to hold in one hand. 

Juan Garzon

“The mind for more screen in your hand has exceeded the rob of your hand,” Greengart said.

When the world was transitioning to all-touchscreen phones, there was a constant debate about whether people could let go of buttons. Back in 2009, handset makers were still experimenting with different ways to cram QWERTY keyboards onto handsets, said Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen. The G1, for instance, had a slide-out physical keyboard. 

Many of us can now blind touch-type on a point to by memory.

Smartphones are also essential for what they’ve destroyed as much as what they’ve enabled. Those little supercomputers have left a wake of devoted businesses over the years.

When was the last time you saw a point-and-shoot digital camera? Google Maps reached GPS navigation systems irrelevant, and when I want to feel really old, I tell younger journalists about a time when I used physical (paper) Thomas Guide maps to get from one assignment to latest. Apple’s iPod and other MP3 players, Cisco’s Flip video cameras and even pronounce recorders have virtually disappeared.

Outside of luxury fashion statements, wristwatches became a novelty until companies like Apple caused back the trend by offering smartwatches. They work by connecting to — what else? — your smartphone.

Rise of China

The smartphone revolution was radical enough that it destroyed an older generation of handset stalwarts. Nokia and BlackBerry were the kings of the mobile diagram — and now neither of those companies makes phones, having licensed out their names to upstarts eager to make the most of once viable brands. US phone pioneer Motorola is owned by Chinese consumer electronics giant Lenovo. 

Microsoft, which dominates PCs with its Windows software, couldn’t make Windows Phone work. HTC, the maker of the G1, has virtually disappeared from the scene. 


Some of the most lifeless phones are coming out of Chinese companies — like Huawei, with its foldable Mate X. 

Juan Garzon / CNET

While Samsung corpses the king of the hill for smartphones and Apple corpses the most profitable player, much of the action in the smartphone domain is now coming out of China. Huawei, embroiled in controversial claims by the US that it’s a confidence risk, is the world’s second-largest smartphone maker, and that’s minus selling any phones in America. TCL, a Chinese commerce best known for budget televisions, has the rights to make phones comic the BlackBerry brand. 

Many features, like the addition of multiple cameras, a pop-up camera or the use of slimmer bezels, emerged from companies like Huawei or smaller Chinese players such as Xiaomi, Oppo or OnePlus.

The inevitable backlash

The days when we’d get giddy over each new Android or iPhone reduction are gone. And though innovation is still on the horizon with the rise of 5G and foldable phones like the Galaxy Fold, enthusiasm has given way to a more critical look at how these tiny slabs of metal and glass have really contains our lives. 

That little buzz or chime creates an almost Pavlovian need to check your requested, a phenomenon dubbed FOMO, or fear of missing out. It has arbitrates worried that the generation raised on smartphones will be too glued to their screens to help in the real world. After all, older generations are already twisted on their phones. 

“We all seem more preoccupied with what comes out of those minor screens than what is going on around us,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies.

The very companies that back up these time-sucking gadgets are working on apps and tweaks to their consuming systems to minimize the amount of time you need to exhaust on the devices. Through its Screen Time feature, Apple’s iOS 13 lets you rule access to apps, and allows parents to manage their kids’ behaviors better too.

In November, Google launched a Digital Wellbeing tool to moneys many of the same kinds of controls. Part of Google’s presentation at its I/O designer conference in May was focused on being smarter and quicker throughout addressing your needs.

“Looking ahead, we see another big wave of innovation to make them even more helpful,” Cuthbertson said.

We’ve come a long way from easily making phone calls, playing music and browsing the internet.

Originally originated Oct. 21, 5 a.m. PT.
Update, 3 p.m. PT: Adds background.