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Like this article? We recommend The New Millennium: HDTV, Digital Music, and Smartphones

The New Millennium: HDTV, Digital Music, and Smartphones

The new millennium brought more of the same, in terms of technology—faster computers, faster Internet, bigger and better-looking TVs. It also brought downloadable digital music via the iPod, and Internet-connected smartphones with the iPhone.

In the home, everybody was busy upgrading their old CRT televisions to fancy new plasma and LCD flat-screens that displayed lifelike pictures in true high definition (HD). This decade saw broadcasters embrace high-definition television (HDTV), and consumers responded by hanging bigger and better HDTV displays on their walls (see Figure 21).

Figure 21 A Panasonic plasma HDTV from 1994.

Homeowners also witnessed the move from dial-up Internet to always-on (and always faster) broadband connections. These faster connections enabled all sorts of online functionality, from more reliable web browsing to easier downloading of photos, music, and videos.

On the music front, Napster (see Figure 22) revolutionized the way a generation acquired their favorite songs. Launched in 1999 but really taking off in the early 2000s, Napster enabled downloading via a peer-to-peer (P2P) computer network. Unfortunately, all these songs were uploaded (and thus downloaded) illegally. Napster eventually was forced out of business, but it opened everyone's eyes to how music could be distributed.

Figure 22 Napster—it was fun while it lasted.

One of those companies with opened eyes was Apple. Steve Jobs and company decided to enter the digital music-player business and in 2001 introduced the iPod (see Figure 23). The original version had 5GB of storage, sported a unique scroll wheel controller, and sold for $399.

Figure 23 Apple's first-generation iPod put "1,000 songs in your pocket."

As revolutionary as the iPod was, it didn't really take off until there was a way for users to purchase and download their favorite music legally. Apple made that possible with the launch of the iTunes music store in 2003. With more than 200,000 tracks for sale online at 99 cents each, iTunes became the go-to source for digital music for the new generation. The rest is history.

Apple also revolutionized the market for mobile phones, with the 2007 launch of the iPhone. Mobile phones in general had been gaining in popularity since the mid-1990s, with some models offering basic Internet connectivity and the ability to send and receive emails. The iPhone was a true smartphone, however, built as much for Internet use as for making and receiving phone calls (see Figure 24). It reinvented the entire concept of mobile phones, and Apple continues to be a major player in the market.

Figure 24 The original iPhone—smart connectivity in the palm of your hand.

Back on the Internet, all that broadband bandwidth led to a slew of new services, not the least of which was YouTube. Launched in 2005 (and acquired by Google in 2006), YouTube established the concept of sharing videos online. Most early YouTube videos were homemade affairs by the site's users; more professional videos didn't take over the service until the next decade.

The 2000s also saw the dawn of social networking, web-based services that enabled communities of users to communicate and share with one another. The first major social network was Friendster, launched in 2002 (see Figure 25), followed by MySpace (2003), Facebook (2004), and Twitter (2006). By the end of the decade, Facebook and Twitter dominated the space, converting hundreds of millions of users into social media mavens. Together, these two services changed the way online users communicated—even if their main functionality was based on 1980 BBS concepts.

Figure 25 Friendster, the first social network.

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Last Update: November 17, 2020