Top 5 most disruptive smartphones in the last 10 years

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

Being evolutionary is one thing, but being revolutionary is another. After yesterday's big iPhone unveiling, there are already murmurs about where the iPhone X stands in Apple's long storied history. Several new changes are prevalent in the iPhone X, but the more we began to absorb all of the information that came out of its event, the more we question ourselves as to whether or not it's the revolutionary, landmark smartphone that'll set the bar for the next decade to come. 

Ten long years have passed since the original iPhone came roaring onto the scene, ushering a new age for the smartphone landscape. And now that the iPhone X is almost upon us, it made us wonder more about some of the most disruptive phones that have been released in the last ten years. We've seen several smartphones that attempted to redefine the norm, but very few have been able to rise above to prove their revolutionary intentions.

Knowing that, we decided to look back and uncover the top 5 most disruptive smartphones in the last decade. There are perhaps dozens that come to mind, however, there can only be a few that can be considered to be disruptive thanks to the indisputable innovations they brought to the table. So, with that in mind, we present to you the list!

Apple iPhone 4

Starting off the list is none other than the Apple iPhone 4, the last iPhone ever to be introduced by none other than Steve Jobs himself. Not only was it a stunningly designed phone with its stainless-steel frame and glass surfaces, but it was disruptive due to the fact that it was more forward-thinking than its rivals at the time.

Take for example its Retina Display, which was not only the highest resolution display at the time of its announcement, but it also one of the most pixel-dense as well – and this was at a time when most high-end phones topped out at WVGA resolution, 800 x 480.

In addition, the iPhone 4 brought us a usable video chat feature, dubbed FaceTime by Apple. This solution seemingly put all other video chatting services to shame. These are just a few of the reasons why the iPhone 4 was such a disruptive phone when it came out back in 2010. 

Google Nexus line

Our number four slot isn't occupied by a single smartphone, but rather, an entire line. Well, to be honest, it was tough to determine which one in the Nexus line would fill the slot, just because each one was very unique. Overall, though, the reason why the Nexus line was disruptive was because it was a unified effort on Google's part for its Android operating system.

On top of being the brains behind the software experience, the Nexus line consolidated things by giving Google control of the design, marketing, and development of the phones. They spanned the gamut, consisting of manufacturers like HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola, and Huawei. At a time when manufacturers were customizing the experiences to their liking, as well as skinning the interfaces, the Nexus line brought consistency with their vanilla experiences.

More than just the software, the hardware covered high-end, cutting-edge smartphones that competed nicely with other premier phones at the time. At the same time, too, they struck a chord with consumers by bringing to market the budget-conscious Nexus 5 – without compromising too much in the specs and hardware. For these many reasons, this is why the Nexus line has proven to be disruptive. 

Samsung Galaxy Note

It's been through a rough patch last year, but Samsung's Galaxy Note line is still trucking along nicely. However, it was the original Samsung Galaxy Note back in 2011 that proved to be the most disruptive.

Smartphones kept on seeing this trend of becoming larger in size, but it took the original Samsung Galaxy Note to realize that reality. Attributed in coining the term "phablet," a cross between a phone and tablet, the Note was a larger than life smartphone that started conversations from random strangers. Mainly due to its obnoxious size, easily dwarfing its closest competitors, the Note easily became the topic of conversation wherever it went.

By this time, too, the stylus was thought of as being extinct – primarily due to the infiltration of capacitive screens. Well, the Note also introduced us to the nudgy accessory once again, dubbed the S Pen, which impressively added to the experience in more ways than originally believed. All of this shifted consumer perception, as it proved that bigger sized phones were highly coveted.

Motorola DROID

DROID!! Anyone that was looking for their next phone back at the tail end of 2009 will surely remember that audible tone. When it comes to being disruptive, the Motorola DROID was undoubtedly a phone that redefined the Android landscape and steered it into a new direction. Many purists will agree that the original Motorola DROID is deserving of being in this list.

For starters, it was a landscape QWERTY smartphone, which is something we rarely see nowadays. Not only did it provide users with a physical keyboard, but its design was an overhaul from Motorola's previous efforts with its MOTOBLUR-running smartphones. Of course, it was a specs powerhouse in its own right – like its FWVGA 854 x 480 display, which was ahead of the pack at the time.

More importantly, though, Motorola and Verizon delivered a memorable line with its "DROID does" campaign. For example, it was the phone that introduced us all to FREE turn-by-turn navigation with Google Maps. Secondly, it drilled into some of the iPhones deficiencies at the time. When you can't multi-task between apps, customize the look of your home screen, or even swap batteries, DROID does. 

Apple iPhone (the original)

This shouldn't be a surprise, even though we're coming off the introduction of the new iPhones. In the last ten years, we've seen several phones that have upped the ante, but none of them have been able to surpass the disruptive nature of the original Apple iPhone – released back in 2007. It was a landmark smartphone like no other, redefining the entire segment in one fell swoop.

Looking back at the original iPhone, it's tough to imagine that it brought so many innovations to the table. That's probably because we take for granted many of its marquee features, which some of us might've forgotten at this point. Before its arrival, smartphones looked geeky, they performed sluggishly, and they weren't as intuitive. But the iPhone changed all of that! From its gorgeous design, to multi-touch technology with its capacitive display, and even that buttery response with its performance, the iPhone wasn't just another smartphone, it was a revolution on its own.

Some of the insignificant things we do on our smartphones today can all be attributed to the iPhone's innovations. That pinch zoom gesture for example, it was something brought to life by the iPhone. Kinetic scrolling? That too was introduced by the iPhone. And how about simplicity? Well, the iPhone brought that as well with its single home button and its new iOS platform.



1. toukale

Posts: 672; Member since: Jun 10, 2015

There is no doubt Apple and the iPhone changed everything we now take for granted. They gave everyone the template to what a smartphone should be. To me the biggest thing it did for me is the appstore. Man, the hoops I used to jump through just to install a program/software on my so called smartphone. It was hard man, not missing those days at all.

4. AmashAziz

Posts: 2934; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

I respect you for appreciating the pioneer of some of the things we take for granted today.

7. RebelwithoutaClue unregistered

While a central app store is most definitely mandatory these days, I didn't have that much problem installing apps on my Nokia N95

14. thxultra

Posts: 474; Member since: Oct 16, 2014

I remember seeing the 1st iphone for the first time and how drastic a change it was from anything else on the market. Being able to surf the net and have sites look like the desktop version was huge. The screen for the time looked amazing and everything worked great. Visual voice mail was first introduced also. The iphone 4 was also such a huge upgrade. The cameras were so much clearer and the high res screen. The S3 was the first phone that made me go away from Apple devices.

23. theunspoken

Posts: 310; Member since: Jul 06, 2017

Miss those days of looking out for .sis simian setup files for my nokia n70

28. Highside

Posts: 197; Member since: Jan 31, 2017

Landscape slider QWERTY phones need to make a comeback. The lack of physical keyboards today is pathetic. I LOVED my Droids.

30. PhoneCritic

Posts: 1382; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

Agreed. thought It was not the first phone that had a true operating system that could be upgrade it was the first that the carriers had no control over and was upgrade by the device manufacture directly. At that time the carriers would not upgrade or add features to their device opting to introduce new features on newer models. I particularly Agree that the iPhone 4 and 4s were the cream of the crop when it comes to design no one could touch Apple in that regards until the Samsung S6 was presented. And IMO the S8, S8E, Note 8 and as well as the LG v30 have risen to another level on the design front. the iPhone X came short with the "uni-brow" as said. Still nice but not as much as the others.

2. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2512; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

While those on the list are certainly disruptive smartphones, I would argue that the Palm Pre should have been added in place of the iPhone 4. Heck, it even scored a 9.9 when you all reviewed it back in 2009. And we are still seeing to this day the foundation of gesture based controls and cards of WebOS being used in today's smartphones. It was truly ahead of its time, in my opinion. They just didn't have the right carrier to debut it on.

10. bucknassty

Posts: 1395; Member since: Mar 24, 2017


16. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3187; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

Not only did webOS bring gestures and cards, they introduced contact integration (Synergy), universal search (Just Type), wireless charging (Touchstone) and the first dedicated Homebrew app store (Preware). Their downfall wasn't Sprint, it was their God-awful hardware.

19. toukale

Posts: 672; Member since: Jun 10, 2015

Well, if you listen to some of the folks who were there at the time WebOs failed because in those days the hardware just was not ready. A lot of the folks who help build webos came from Apple with Rubenstein. Some of those folks were on the team that lost to the ios team when Steve Jobs had the two teams working against each other.

20. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3187; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

Matias Duarte is the father of webOS and the push came from Ed Colligan, not Rubenstein. Duarte's webOS signature is now on Android since Honeycomb. If Google hadn't hired him Android would still be a heaping mess like Gingerbread.

21. toukale

Posts: 672; Member since: Jun 10, 2015

While a lot of folks likes to give Matias all the credits I would dispute all the credits he gets. I guess it comes with the job when you are the head designer. Understand the head of anything does not actually do most of the works. They do make all the major final decision though.. This guy actually have some of the webos patents credited to his name.

27. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3187; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

Bill Gates was Chief Software Architect as well as Chairman of the Board.

3. disatrousrainbow

Posts: 71; Member since: Oct 24, 2015

I was one of the first people in line to buy a Palm Pre, but while it had some really great ideas, it was not a disruptive for the simple fact it did not become popular enough to really shake up the market in the way the rest of the phones on this list did. Certain traces of its legacy may live in the devices we use today, but that's not the same as what the Motorola Droid or Apple iPhone did for the smartphone market. Great list.

5. AmashAziz

Posts: 2934; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

True that.

6. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

Oh, the HTC Dream/ T-Mobile G1 and the HTC DROID DNA !!! Nostalgia for real.

12. Rocket

Posts: 731; Member since: Feb 24, 2014

Thats the father of android.

8. whatev

Posts: 2444; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

I’m an iPhone user, but if all, I think the only iPhone that should be on this list is the original iPhone, the androids should be out and instead it should be filled by Nokia phones: Lumia 920, 1020, N9, N8, N950 and the 808, those were disruptive phones but were not successful in sales, I think disruptive shouldn’t be the same as successful commercially, those phones were ahead of times but failed commercially

9. whatev

Posts: 2444; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

I forgot to mention the N900 with Maemo 5, a very versatile phone, I remember installing android and meego on this phone, you could do more things on that phone than on any android of that time

17. toukale

Posts: 672; Member since: Jun 10, 2015

@whatev, I understand your sentiment and would agree with your android argument. Android contribution is cloning the iPhone and made it widely available to a lot of folks who would or could not afford iPhones. i am glad it exist. I will however push back on the rest of your list.

25. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1485; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

If it hadn't been for Android, Steve Jobs would probably never let iOS evolve. Jobs originally had no intention of opening up the iPhone to third party apps, but the Google announced that Android was coming with its Market for third party apps, something a lot of people, developers and journalists applauded, since Apple had expressed no interest in it. It made Jobs change his tune. The only thing that really changed for Android is that it was given a touch screen UI, like the iPhone. But it was nothing new under the sun, both Nokia and Motorola had full touchscreen UI phones out before the iPhone was ever heard of, but they never made an impact. Odds are if Apple had released the iPhone quietly, it would never have been a hit either. Jobs just knew that marketing makes or breaks a product. iPods were inferior products, but Apple promoted them to death and they sold millions even though they were crap and still are crap. The amount of marketing you do determines your success. As long as you have a decent product to market, people will buy it if you expose them to it.

11. bucknassty

Posts: 1395; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

Can i have what you're smoking!

15. whatev

Posts: 2444; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

You can have my D... in your mouth instead, it would make you feel better

26. bucknassty

Posts: 1395; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

I guess thats how you get down.... if thats what gets you off... not my team bruh

13. Rocket

Posts: 731; Member since: Feb 24, 2014

Where's the original galaxy s with its amoled display?

18. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3187; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

The Galaxy S wasn't the first AMOLED display. My Omnia i8000 WinMo phone had one well before.

22. Jesseclark

Posts: 28; Member since: Jun 10, 2017

Where is the revolutionary S6 edge which made smartphones beautiful.

24. XaErO

Posts: 353; Member since: Sep 25, 2012

I believe that; Samsung Galaxy S2 was first to shake Apple and mostly gave inspiration to other smartphone makers .. which brought the thinner, lightweight, bigger screen smartphone trends into the market ..

29. fiji.siv

Posts: 95; Member since: Nov 25, 2015

Nice balanced article John V. I think Antennagate deserves a mention because not only did it change how vendors QA their products but how they handle problems when they occur. (See Note 7.) Personally, I'd put the Nexus 4 as the pinnacle of the Nexus line. Compared to other phones of the time, the spec sheet was right in line with top of the line phones but priced like a mid-ranger. (As an aside, it debuted with face recognition to unlock and wireless charging... 5 years ago.)

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