Let's go back in time, to a more primitive time, when life was simpler. Like 2007.
In 2007 you could still buy a house for no money down. The economy was headed toward the Great Recession but hadn't quite arrived.
And consumers carried “flip” cell phones that made voice calls and sent and received crude text messages.
In late June 2007 Apple's Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone, setting in motion a disruptive force that since then has turned the world upside down.
Not just hype
“Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything,” said the late Apple co-founder as he introduced the first iPhone.
This wasn't simply marketing hype. This actually turned out to be true. In 2007 almost no one carried what today we think of as a smartphone. Five years later nearly everyone did.
In 2007 Motorola, Blackberry, Nokia and Palm all made phones that had built-in keyboards and allowed users to send and receive data, technically falling into the category of smartphone. All were mostly mobile email devices, favored by business users.
The iPhone, and the Android devices that followed, went beyond email and allowed users to easily access the Internet through simple, easy-to-use apps. The devices also contained video and still cameras and could download and store hours of music.
Here today, gone tomorrow
In introducing the iPhone, Apple essentially made its iPod music player obsolete. But that was not the extent of the smartphone's disruption.
In 2006 the Flip camera appeared on the scene. It was a small, point-and-shoot video camera that didn't use tape, but digital files that could be transferred to a computer.
It was easy to carry, easy to use and proved to be such a popular product that tech giant Cisco Systems bought the company in 2009 for $590 million. But by 2010 smartphones all had video cameras with higher resolution, better optics – and didn't require you to carry a separate device.
In one of the fastest flame-outs in business history, Cisco pulled the plug on the Flip camera, just two years after buying the company.
In 2007 GPS navigational systems were popular after-market additions to cars. The devices sat on dashboards, providing turn-by-turn directions.
By 2010 consumers with smartphones didn't need to buy these separate navigational devices since they came as a standard app on their smartphone.
For decades if you wanted to save money, you went through the newspaper and clipped coupons. When coupon sites began springing up on the Internet, consumers found it easier to save.
With smartphones, a growing number of “daily deal” sites began offering coupons sent to consumers' mobile devices. Some even tapped into the users GPS and sent coupons for businesses near the user's current location.
Making Uber possible
These apps have had a disruptive impact of existing businesses, but perhaps none more disruptive than Uber. Uber is an app that matches people who need rides with drivers.
By downloading the Uber app and loading credit card information, consumers may summon a ride with the touch of a button. No actual money changes hands, the fare is charged to the user's credit card on file.
The taxi industry has geared up to fight the spread of Uber, which continues to expand into cities around the world. Though it has no physical assets, the company was recently valued at $18 billion.
While the smartphone's disruptive effects have caused their share of economic pain, the device has also been at the center of purely positive developments. A medical engineer in Boston, whose teen-aged son has type 1 diabetes has developed a “bionic pancreas.”
At the heart of the device, which monitors blood sugar levels and delivers insulin as needed, is an iPhone app. The developers hope to win FDA approval and begin making the device available next year.
The growth of smartphones in the U.S. has been explosive. According to an October 2013 study smartphone penetration had reached 74% of mobile phone users. It was a rise from 58% from a year earlier.
But perhaps more impressive that the growth of smartphones in such a short period of time is the radical change these devices have produced.