The iPhone was the start of big change in the techno world. Photo: Reuters
The iPhone was the start of big change in the techno world. Photo: Reuters

It’s easy to forget that Apple’s iPhone is still only 10 years old. Created by the same Cupertino, California, design team that bought the world the iMac and then the iPod, the Apple smartphone was in every sense a game changer of its time.

It wasn’t just that it was reliable, easy to use and stylishly sleek. Its touchscreen functionality, like nothing before it, brought a heady and unique bundle that delivered simple internet browsing and, over time and different upgrades, a high-quality digital camera, a GPS tracker, a synced calendar, cloud storage and things called “apps.” Remember the world before apps?

Apple released its first iPhone in 2007 and opened its online App Store in 2008. By 2009 Apple had sold more than 35 million iPhones and the App Store had experienced more than one billion downloads. Today those numbers are fast approaching 1.5 billion iPhone sales and more than 130 billion app store downloads. That is, on any benchmark, quite a decade.

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Before the iPhone, the global economy was dominated by oil. In 2006, the world’s most valuable company list, by market cap, was led by ExxonMobil, followed by GE, Microsoft, Citigroup, BP and Shell.

Ten years later, in 2016, that list had changed drastically and was dominated by what were effectively tech start-ups. Apple led the list, followed by Google , Microsoft, Amazon, ExxonMobil and Facebook.

We had, quite clearly, entered the Age of Tech.

That list has since changed again – Amazon now sits at number two, but Apple continues to dominate and will soon become the world’s first trillion dollar company, by market cap – but who will be on it in 10 years time? And what will the equivalent of the iPhone look like in 2028?

Could the answer lie in quantum computing? Or artificial intelligence? Or indeed blockchain?

When Bitcoin – to date, blockchain’s most famous product – spiraled upwards in price in 2017, from about $1,000 in January to almost $20,000 in December, and crypto assets grew over the same period from $15 billion to $500 billion, many said it was all just a scam. It was, said the critics, underpinned by a familiar heady mix of greed, hype, stupidity and deceit that has fueled many market bubbles in the past.

And that maybe so, but blockchain and crypto-currencies are not going away. In fact, just the opposite is true. The biggest companies and countries – from Goldman Sachs to the Chinese state – are making sure they are sleeves-up involved.

In recent months there has been a flood of institutional interest from Wall Street old money in crypto trading platforms, while the PRC has said that a Chinese state-backed crypto-currency is “inevitable.”

In 2017, Beijing filed more blockchain patents than all other countries combined, while in Russia a government official told a tech conference that blockchain dominance was a number one priority to the Kremlin.

“The internet belongs to the Americans,” he said, “but blockchain will belong to us.”

And now those same Americans seem to be pushing back.

Earlier this year it was announced that Google, Facebook and Twitter would block crypto-currency related advertising – because, it was claimed, there was too much fraud and market manipulation in the space – and last week Microsoft’s web browser Bing announced it too was joining the crypto ban, which, unsurprisingly, caused Bitcoin’s ever-jittery price to take a dive.

The Google, Facebook and Twitter ban brought together a coalition of European and Asian blockchain associations who say they are going to take out a class action lawsuit against the tech giants, arguing the ban was implemented because the American tech giants are trying to stifle competition.

And indeed all the major American internet players are reported to be actively developing or rolling out blockchain platforms as well as carrying out extensive R&D programs into their own cryptos.

Big oil did not manage to stop the internet start-ups from usurping them at the start of the millennium. But is big tech now trying to halt the blockchain bambinos?

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