IOT: Powering the digital economy

The businesses, innovations and tech that have transformed 21st-century living

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The world is changing at a rapid, unrelenting pace. Technological innovations and start-ups with bright ideas are transforming our day-to-day lives.

Things that seemed improbable just 10 or 20 years ago are now part of modern living.

Take the humble cell phone, for example. Today we're able to use it to launch, almost instantaneously, a video call with a loved one on the other side of the planet. At the turn of the century, that scenario seemed improbable.

Here, CNBC takes a look at some of the businesses and technological innovations that have transformed our lives. Vote in our poll and let us know which one you think has been the most transformative.


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Launched in 2004, Facebook has gone on to become a cultural phenomenon and one of the most popular social networks on the planet.

People use it to share a bevy of information, from videos and photos to status updates on how they are feeling and what they are doing.

Thirteen years on from its launch, the site is still proving to be popular: In June 2017, the Menlo Park-headquartered business had, on average, 1.32 billion daily active users.

The iPod

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Before Spotify and other streaming sites shook up the music business (more of that later), there was Apple's iPod, which launched in 2001.

Small enough to fit in your pocket, the iPod became a design classic, with its simple interface and range of colors setting the standard for its rivals.

It wasn't the only digital music player on the market, but the iPod exemplified the coming transition from CDs and tapes to digitized songs which could be downloaded and stored on portable devices.

The mass adoption of smartphones

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There was a time when we only used cell phones to talk to other people. Not anymore.

Today's generation of connected mobile devices enable us to not only make calls but to take photographs, listen to music, play games, do our banking and a whole lot more.

From Apple and Samsung to Huawei, HTC and Sony, a host of brands are now competing for the custom of millions around the world.


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Streaming has transformed the music industry, and perhaps no other business has come to represent this shift than Spotify.

Founded in 2006, the business had more than 60 million subscribers as of July this year and a library of more than 30 million songs, from "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell to Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Lilacs".

Earlier this year the business' co-founder, Daniel Ek, came top of Billboard's Power 100 list.


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Launched in 2001, online encyclopedia Wikipedia is now home to more than 5.4 million articles in English alone. Subjects covered include everything from cardiac surgery to the House of Medici.

Free to all, its pages can be updated and edited by anyone. Wikipedia is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization.


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In April 2005 the first video on YouTube, "Me at the zoo," was uploaded. Just over a year later, in October 2006, search giant Google bought the site for a cool $1.65 billion.

Today, YouTube has more than 1 billion users who watch 1 billion hours of video every single day. Over half the site's views come from mobile devices.


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Whether you like it or not, ride-hailing powerhouse Uber is transforming the way people move around urban spaces.

Instead of physically hailing a taxi or calling a company to book one, customers can use their phones to see, in real time, nearby vehicles.

These can then be booked on the spot, with payment made via a card linked to a user's account. Other businesses, such as Lyft, offer a similar service.

The service is available in more than 600 cities across the globe.


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Founded in August 2008, AirBnB has become the go-to accommodation site for millions of people around the world, challenging the traditional dominance of hotels and motels.

The site has helped more than 200 million guests in over 191 countries book places to stay.

Today, the site boasts three million listings globally, from castles to villas and apartments to houses.