Can you believe that it’s only been five years since the world stopped using software and switched to apps? The distinction is pretty subtle, but nonetheless important — without a proliferation of diverse apps across mobile ecosystems, the smartphone revolution might have been turned back, or at least held in check for some time. The past five years have seen quite a bit of technological innovation, but only a few of these developments, including apps, have truly taken hold in popular culture.
The following list will take you through five of the top new technological breakthroughs that have become the biggest hits with consumers. You’ll probably be familiar with them all, but the sheer speed at which they’ve captured the public’s imagination (and its spending money) might surprise you.
5. Next-gen electric cars (2008)
The first Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) Roadsters began arriving at customer homes in the spring of 2008. It was the first in a wave of modern fully electric cars to reach the market after a number of high-profile failures in the 1990s left the segment for dead. However, it wasn’t until 2011 that plug-in electric vehicles (those that run exclusively on a battery charge) began to take off. Sales of these battery-electric vehicles, as recorded by the Electric Drive Transportation Association, leapt from just 19 in 2010 to more than 10,000 in 2011, and then to nearly 53,000 in 2012. Thus far, more than 32,000 have sold through the first five months of the year, for a cumulative total of over 95,000 in three and a half years.
Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Well, from 1895 to 1905 (two years after Henry Ford started his eponymous company), automobile registrations in the United States rose from virtually nothing to 78,000. Granted, electric cars are starting with a far more developed national road infrastructure this time, but the charging and maintenance infrastructure for plug-in electrics was pretty close to nothing in 2008, too. It’s also worth noting that the first hybrid car sales were recorded in 1999. Four years later, cumulative sales amounted to just 36,000 hybrids. It took more than six years for hybrids to sell in greater numbers than plug-in electrics have managed in half the time.
4. Motion-sensing control systems (2010)
Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) launched the Kinect at the end of 2010. Earlier this year, the motion-sensing peripheral passed 24 million lifetime sales, which makes it as popular as the original Xbox game system, and more popular than Nintendo Co., Ltd (ADR) (OTCMKTS:NTDOY)‘s GameCube. The Kinect sold so many units so quickly that it landed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
It’s not just Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s game anymore, though. A company called Leap Motion, founded in the same year Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) released the Kinect, has bundled highly accurate motion-sensing controls into a device roughly the size of a memory stick. Both it and the Kinect have been modified for all sorts of uses, from facial recognition for targeted mall advertisements to the ability to control a toy boat with the wave of your hand. The controller itself should be in stores any day now, and it might show up in PCs within the next year. The trend toward wearable computing should only amplify this trend over time, as interface and control systems become a part of you, rather than an extension.
3. Tablets (2010)
“Tablets” as we know them have been around for a long time — the Newton was released 20 years ago — but it wasn’t until Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) launched the iPad in 2010 that the computer-buying public began to catch on. Few wanted to talk about the death of the PC in 2010, and now you can’t scroll through a tech blog without finding someone else driving a nail into the industry’s coffin. It took only two years for Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) to sell 100 million iPads, and the market shows no sign of slowing down. More than 49 million tablets sold in the first quarter of 2013, and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) accounted for 40% of the total.