The opinions expressed in this essay reflect my personal views only. While this article aims to paint a broader picture about the rise and spread of the mobile internet over the past decade, it largely draws on examples in the US and China based on American and Chinese companies, potentially missing out on specific regional or local developments.
It is December 2019 and the last month of the 2010s. With the decade coming to an end, it is a good time to take a step back and look at how our lives changed during the past 10 years. While the world underwent significant changes politically, economically and socially, technology and the mobile internet played a big role in all of it. Before the 2000s, information technology was mostly present in the workplace. Then in the 2000s, we saw the wider spread of personal computers in households and the internet alike (in fact, global PC sales peaked around 2011 and have been on a decline since). Of course, it was initially in 2007 that the iPhone was released but it was not until in this decade that smartphone ownership usage reached mass adoption. While this fact itself might not be controversial, the scale of change this development had on our lives in the past decade can hardly be understated. During the 2010s, our world went from “mobile” to “mobile first” to reaching a state of “mobile only” for many services.
Just before the burst of the dotcom bubble, the Nasdaq Composite Index reached 5500 points in the spring of 2001. This level was not reclaimed again during the remaining 2000s. Then in the past decade, the Nasdaq Composite Index started at around 2000 and went all the way to almost 9000 points, surpassing its previous height half way through the decade. In that sense, internet companies experienced a renaissance in the 2010s. While there has certainly been an inflation of asset prices in the past 10 years thanks to cheap money (e.g., QE), still the Nasdaq Composite Index went up 4.5x compared to just 3x for the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Further, 7 of the 10 most valuable companies by market cap are now technology companies - 5 of them companies that built their businesses directly on the back of the mobile internet. The change over the past decade is striking: 10 years ago, 4 out of the Top 10 companies were oil companies and 3 were banks. It is now clear that the past decade was a good time to have invested into technology / mobile internet as internet companies are now among the most influential in the world. But what happened in the past 10 years to make this change possible and how did it affect our lives?
Improvements in the mobile infrastructure laid the foundation for the mobile revolution
Smartphone penetration took off across the globe
With this much-better infrastructure in place, smartphone penetration took off across the globe:
Several B2C and B2B industries were disrupted by the mobile internet in the 2010s
As a majority of people in the world have taken to carrying a small computer in their pockets at all time, the internet economy has taken an increasingly important role in our daily lives, making our life more convenient on the way and also changing forever the way we consume certain services. For the first time, this allowed internet giants to emerge not only in the Silicon Valley but also in China (and to some degree in Europe, India, SE Asia and LATAM). Below are some services that did not play a major role before the past decade but are now part of our everyday life:
While having more and more data, we struggled to process and make sense of it
With the shift across industries to digital channels thanks to the mobile internet, much information has been logged or digitized for the first time. This has created massive amounts of data. It is now believed that the amount of data stored in the whole world went from just around 3 zettabyte in 2010 to beyond 30 ZB (a 10x increase). With that, new questions about the storage and processing of data emerged.
The internet industry was forced to grow up
With the increased mobile penetration and significant impact on many industries, the internet industry made a large impact on society as a whole in the 2010s.
History can rarely be viewed in a linear way, even though it is tempting to present things as such in retrospect. I do believe that future historians will have many things to tell about the 2010s and how this decade influenced the years ahead politically, economically and socially. While hopefully some of the developments of the past decade may later be viewed just as extreme movements or outliers, overall, I am confident people will refer to the 2010s as the golden age the mobile internet – when consumers were positive about technology and regulators relaxed, innovation was sprawling and our lives were changed in fundamental ways.
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