Of course, as Uber has expanded around the world, its problems have also grown. Its serious internal culture issues were exposed in a series of New York Times articles in 2017. Cofounder Travis Kalanick was eventually pushed out as CEO in a scuffle so bananas that it inspired a book and a Showtime series. The company’s relationship with drivers is fraught: It refuses to classify drivers as employees, and at the same time, has been criticized for skimping on driver background checks. And if you ever want a crash course on how the “sharing economy” has changed our world and people’s lives over the past decade, just ask the next taxi driver you meet how they feel about Uber.
In the beginning, Instagram was all about filters. Early users took surprising delight in slapping “X-Pro II” and “Gotham” filters on their square Instagr.am photos which, at the start, could only be captured by and posted from on an iPhone. But cofounders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger had a vision beyond hipster photo filters. Instagram not only solidified the camera’s status as the most important feature of your phone; it stripped away all of the other trappings of social networks, with their link feeds and status updates, and simplified the whole darn thing. It created a new kind of social network, became this generation’s version of a glossy aspirational mag, and eventually evolved into a massively important platform for brands, businesses, celebrities, and wanna-bes.
By now you know how this story goes. Instagram was acquired by Facebook, in 2012, just two years after it launched. It now has private messaging, time-limited Stories, and something called IGTV. But at its heart, it’s still what it set out to be all those years ago: the place people go on the internet to see, and to be seen.
Apple iPhone 4S
The launch of the original iPhone in 2007 was one of the most influential events of our modern era. But within this past decade, the iPhone 4S—unveiled in October 2011—was the big game-changer for Apple’s business. The freshly redesigned device included three new features that would define the way we use personal tech devices for the foreseeable future: Siri, iCloud (on iOS 5), and a camera that could capture both eight-megapixel still photos and 1080p HD videos.
Within a short time, these delightfully capable cameras in our pockets started to decimate the compact digital camera market, or in some cases, killed competitors outright (remember the Flip?). iCloud, formerly MobileMe, became the connective software tissue that would sync our apps and data across multiple App products. And Siri … well, Siri is still trying to find its way. At the very least, it showed us how helpful virtual assistants could be in tightly controlled, polished product demos.
Tesla Model S
It was not the first all-electric car to hit the mass market, but you’d think the Tesla Model S was the first simply because of the way it captured the imagination of car lovers. Tesla shifted its focus from the smaller Roadster to the luxurious, five-door Model S and officially launched the coveted EV in June of 2012. Early reviewers noted it was “light years beyond” the Roadster, a technological marvel that drove like a “silky smooth rocket ship.” In 2013, MotorTrend named it the car of the year. The star power of Elon Musk only added to the allure of the vehicle.
Eventually, Tesla would roll out features like a “Bioweapon Defense Mode,” a “Ludicrous” driving setting, and an autopilot feature that has become the subject of much scrutiny, following several fatal accidents where the driver was reportedly relying on the feature to do too much of the actual work of operating the car. Questions about gradations of self-driving car technology, and its impact on human drivers, are likely ones we’ll be asking for years to come. In the meantime, Tesla has spurred serious innovation in the EV market, despite electric vehicles still only comprising a sliver of the entire auto industry.
Maybe VR will fizzle eventually. But its potential—most clearly visualized in William Gibson’s 1984 sci-fi touchstone, Neuromancer—has always been there, and Oculus was the first to truly fulfill it. At the first Oculus Rift demos at CES 2013, a string of tech reporters emerged from the company’s Las Vegas hotel suite grinning like they had just gotten laid for the first time. The original Kickstarter campaign for Oculus Rift set a goal of $250,000; its creators raised $2.5 million. It took a long while for Oculus to ship the Rift headset, and at $600, it was fairly expensive. But Oculus would eventually sell an all-in-one (look, Ma, no wires!), “6DOF” headset called the Quest for $400.