Opinion: Tech inevitability isn't guaranteed

By Julio Franco · 21 replies
Oct 17, 2017
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  1. It’s a story that would have been hard to believe a few years back.

    And yet, there it was. eBook sales in the US declined 17% last year, and printed book sales were up 4.5%. What happened to the previous forecasts for electronic publishing and the inevitable decline of print? Wasn’t that widely accepted as a foregone conclusion when Amazon’s first Kindle was released about 10 years back?

    Of course, there are plenty of other similar examples. Remember when iPad sales were accelerating like a rocket, and PC sales were declining? Clearly, the death of the PC was short at hand.

    And yet, as the world stands five years later, iPad sales have been in continuous decline for years, and PC sales, while they did suffer some decline, have now stabilized, particularly in notebooks, which were seen as the most vulnerable category.

    Then there’s the concept of virtually all computing moving to the cloud. That’s still happening, right?

    Not exactly. In fact, the biggest industry buzz lately is about moving some of the cloud-based workloads out of the cloud and back down to “the edge,” where end devices and other types of computing elements live.

    I could go on, but the point is clear. Many of the clearly inevitable, foregone conclusions of the past about where the tech industry should be today are either completely or mostly wrong.

    Beyond the historical interest, this issue is critical to understand when we look at many of the “inevitable” trends that are currently being predicted for our future.

    (...) the tech industry as a whole seems to fall prey to “guaranteed outcomes” on a surprisingly regular basis

    A world populated by nothing but completely electric, autonomous cars anyone? Sure, we’ll see an enormous impact from these vehicles, but their exact form and the timeline for their appearance are almost certainly going to be radically different than what many in the industry are touting.

    The irreproachable, long-term value of social media? Don’t even get me started. Yes, the rise of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn and others have had a profound impact on our society, but there are already signs of cracks in that foundation, with more likely to come.

    To be clear, I’m not naïvely suggesting that many of the key trends that are driving the tech industry forward today—from autonomy to AI, AR, IoT, and more—won’t come to pass. Nor am I suggesting that the influence of these trends won’t be widespread, because they surely will be.

    I am saying, however, that the tech industry as a whole seems to fall prey to “guaranteed outcomes” on a surprisingly regular basis. While there’s nothing wrong with speculating on where things could head and making forceful claims for those predictions—after all, that’s essentially what I and other industry analysts do for a living—there is something fundamentally flawed with the presumption that all those speculations will come true.

    When worthwhile conversations about potential scenarios that may not match the “inevitable direction” are shut down with group think (sometimes from those with a vested interest at heart)—there’s clearly a problem.

    The truth is, predicting the future is extraordinarily difficult and, arguably even, impossible to really do. The people who have successfully done so in the past were likely more lucky than smart. That doesn’t mean, however, that the exercise isn’t worthwhile. It clearly is, particularly in developing forward-looking strategies and plans. Driving a conversation down only one path when there may be many different paths available, however, is not a useful effort, as it potentially cuts off what could be even better solutions or strategies.

    Tech futurist Alan Kay famously and accurately said that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” We live and work in an incredibly exciting and fast-moving industry where that prediction comes true every single day. But it takes a lot of hard work and focus to innovate, and there are always choices made along the way. In fact, many times, it isn’t the “tech” part of an innovation that’s in question, but, rather, the impact it may have on the people who use it and/or society as a whole. Understanding those types of implications is significantly harder to do, and the challenge is only growing as more technology is integrated into our daily lives.

    So, the next time you hear discussions about the “inevitable” paths the tech industry is headed down, remember that they’re hardly guaranteed.

    Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm. You can follow him on Twitter . This article was originally published on Tech.pinions.

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  2. TomSEA

    TomSEA TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,905   +1,201

    Good article.

    I'd also add that we live in a "gotta have" disposable technology world right now. Consumer technology consumption is insane and what's trendy rules. Those gadgets that are hip and cool to have right now, frequently don't work so well once you've used them for a while (Google Glasses, tablets, Android/Apple watches) and get tossed aside. People expect the power of a desktop PC on a gadget and when that doesn't happen, it's a throw-away.

    Hence you get the "experts" telling you about the death of this, that and the other because the newest trendy toy is taking the world by storm. Temporarily.
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2017
  3. psycros

    psycros TS Evangelist Posts: 2,181   +1,714

    "I could go on, but the point is clear. Many of the clearly inevitable, foregone conclusions of the past about where the tech industry should be today are either completely or mostly wrong."

    That's because their nearly always based on the wishful thinking of marketing shills. The industry has always tried to instill a childlike obsession with new toys in consumers..and they've done their jobs a little too well. For the teens coming up today the smartphone is passe, much like the PC which they view as just another household appliance. Their not going to care about yearly upgrades nearly as much as their parents. Another factor that the tech giants don't take into account is the rise of cybercrime. The hackers are outpaacing the defenders of your data, and the fact that every company wants to maximize their profiling of consumers only empowers the bad actors when they succeed in penetrating systems. If things keep going downhill at the current rate, or God forbid pick up steam, there could be an enormous backlash against corporate spying and the "cloud".
  4. CaptainTom

    CaptainTom TS Maniac Posts: 345   +158

    An excellent article.

    But the opinion in this paper is more then excellent - because it CORRECT! People are buying books because humans like PHYSICAL things, and some millennials are disconnecting from social media because they like TALKING to people.

    Mankind will always have every better technologically advanced tools, but they are tools. We only have to use them if we want to, and sometimes we won't :).
    TempleOrion likes this.
  5. BSim500

    BSim500 TS Evangelist Posts: 483   +853

    Entirely predictable economics. You can resell paperback books, you can't account locked DRM'd Ebooks. End result? Second-hand paperback books are often cheaper even after postage than overpriced digital-only (which as with $60 games or digital music, never did pass on the distribution cost savings to the consumer...)

    As many of us pointed out at the time, unlike the sheep who "need" to replace a $1,000 phone every 6 months or they'll die of shame in front of their art-student friends, PC's are now a mature technology with longer upgrade cycles that gets treated more like other appliances (ie, replaced only when fail to do the job). Likewise, people have learned from experience that ergonomics trumps salesman BS, ie, just because your phone can run Word doesn't mean typing a 30,000 word dissertation with lots of back / forth research / cross-referencing via the web browser, on a 4-7" screen isn't going to take you 10-20x longer to do so...

    No, nor was 100% cloud ever realistically predicted. Dilbert cartoons have long covered the ridiculous habit of over-compensating with a new technology and ending up with an inflexible "1-tool toolbox" that's useless when something goes wrong...

    As psycros said above, a lot of this stuff has been obvious infomercials / clickbait / technophiliac obsessions "projected" onto the readers all along, rather than any serious analysis. Likewise, present day hype of Smart-watches, the gimmicky IoT "OMG, you absolutely must connect your smart washing machine / pet feeder / toaster to the Internet because... well we'll think of something..." is already viewable in equally cringy "you don't need hindsight to spot the obvious 'solution looking for a problem' sales-pitch"...
    psycros, senketsu and Godel like this.
  6. erickmendes

    erickmendes TS Evangelist Posts: 428   +180

    About autonomous cars, I like to think they would be better used for services like Uber/Lyft then personal cars. If we think about it, each car someone own (instead of a company) is just a bunch of raw material that when it's not being used to it's fullest capacity (4 persons in a car...), it's parked, just sitting around, doing no good, rusting, cracking, just another waste of resources.

    Emergency rescue is another use, services that need fast response... Society should rethink the use of particular cars... It's really nice to have a car and go to wathever you want, when you want... But with autonomous cars thrown in the transportation system, urban mobility could be improved further, making cities big or small places for people, not for cars as it stand now.
    TempleOrion likes this.
  7. Forebode

    Forebode TS Booster Posts: 172   +38

    Discussions of inevitable paths for tech, doesn't have to dictate "when." When attempting to predict the future of tech, you can't go on consumer reaction alone. Yes it helps, but you must also take into account subjects like Environmental and Economics, among others.

    Forest fires are on the rise a long with massive storms. If it's more difficult to produce paper, book costs will rise. Will consumers still want to buy a book if it had a 500% mark up? or just get an ebook?, Would publishers want to risk the investment on printing so many books, and their prices may further increase due to demand.

    Electric cars might seem like like a pipe dream to me, since I see that initial hurdle of converting everyone to only make them, as being a near impossibility without government interaction. It seems my government tends to reward stupid with more stupid. I don't see then forcing [by incentivising electric or penalizing gas vehicles] companies to only sell electric.

    Not everyone likes/adheres to change, but it's inevitable that change will need to occur.

    I'll argue that 100% cloud could be more probable for countries that don't have the problems the US has with it's FCC and ISPs. For security reasons, they'd have to change what cloud really is, and possibly have it link to a nas at your residence.

    New tech is released and consumers jump on it, only to sell with diminishing returns later. Sadly, most tech improves based on profitability. If the first 5 versions barely make a profit, they may never get to the 22nd version that would be a godsend in a reasonable amount of time.

    Tablet weren't necessarily a fad, but they do tend to avoid the need to replace every year (nor every other year). It's more like if you want new features specifically or your current tablet is dead and you'd rather not replace the battery. This is how I am with phones and while I'm glad the churn and burn mentality of, what seems like, the majority of phone users to increase technology... I do wish it was toned down more. Release a phone every 2 years.
  8. ET3D

    ET3D TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,504   +236

    Part of the problem with predictions is the definitions put into them. In a world where smartphones had 3.5" screens people needed tablets. As phone screens grew to 5"-6" as standard, the need was much lessened. So we took that continuum and separated it into phones and tablets, but failed to take into account the middle ground. It's just the the vision was somewhat myopic.

    Same goes for netbooks. People wanted that form factor, they just didn't like the compromises. Small laptops, of the same size and weight as netbooks, are gaining in popularity.

    Some other stuff is just technology not advancing as much as we think it would. I think that eBooks are a good example. It's not just that people want a book, it's also that e-readers just never advanced to the point where they are really comfortable to use.

    I think it will continue like this. Every new form factor or technology has downsides. It will only truly catch on when the technology and design are good enough to replace something else, and by that time it may be called something else. Cloud will catch on when it's seamless. VR/AR will catch on when it won't require bulky headsets, etc.
    psycros likes this.
  9. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 2,851   +1,393

    Absolutely, and all in pursuit of the all-mighty item, currency!

    IMO, IoT will be a bane until every manufacturer makes the security of such devices their top priority instead of their highest priority being stuffing their pockets with money. Even then, I see IoT as something I do not need at all.

    That one thing, though, currency, is, IMO, what many tech companies are after when their priority should be building a great product. If you have a great product, it will sell. Perhaps you will not make as much money off of it as one might with the latest fad product, but at least it will be a great product that a company can be proud of.

    One thing my wife and I were talking about this morning is solutions these days are sometimes way to complex for the problem. Technology is great, but it has a place; over-engineering a solution for something may be worse than not engineering a solution at all in some cases.
    TempleOrion, psycros and senketsu like this.
  10. thelatestmodel

    thelatestmodel TS Addict Posts: 141   +59

    Great article. I would add VR to the list of endangered species that might not survive - I'm a big fan, but a majority (not all, but a majority) of people I have spoken to think it's ridiculous. They hate having a thing on your face that shuts you off from the world and might make you feel queasy. Amazing technology, just not wanted by the general public.
  11. senketsu

    senketsu TS Guru Posts: 648   +421

    I bought a Kobo and find between it and paper books I still read more and prefer to read on the Kobo (amount of books it carries, page brightness and font choice, line spacing and boldness of text, how little device weighs, easy to carry in hand), but I have stopped with the e-book thing for one reason...DRM.
    I'm not going to pay near full price for books when I don't even have the digital file of the book in case my Kobo dies, the parent company is sold, etc, etc. When I bought it I was able to upload the contents to Adobe Digital Editions or Calibre giving me an epub file so if anything happened to the Kobo and its ecosystem, at least I have a file I can access and read. After 2 updates to reader/software I can't do this anymore. So if my device dies or there are changes in service, I'm fubar with a lot of money invested in books and no books. Back to paper for me
    TempleOrion and psycros like this.
  12. Polycount

    Polycount TS Guru Posts: 1,026   +243

    I do think those sorts of services will be the primary use for self driving car tech, but I disagree that it won't become mainstream. Personally, I'm just waiting for the day that my car can drive me wherever I'd like safely, and without human error putting me at risk of a fatal crash - and without the need to pay a taxi service.

    Granted, I hate manually driving in general, so I suppose I'm a bit biased there.
    TempleOrion likes this.
  13. dirtyferret

    dirtyferret TS Guru Posts: 447   +471

    Just a few notes that I see

    I used to head into the city 2-3 times a week from 2011 - 2014. The commute on average is at least 90 min for most people and everyone on the train is on their cell phone or tablet/book reader. You never saw anyone with a book in hand, occasionally you will see an older guy with the WSJ but that was rare.

    Too many people have no computer skills compared to 10-15 years ago. Give them a mobile phone and they are off surfing the web, streaming music, making purchases on Amazon. Put them in front of a computer and they literally look at you asking how to launch Word or Excel. A few years back I had one new hire ask me how to launch a web browser from her desktop.

    Once you remove gamers, people who need a HEDT, and people who work from home and need a keyboard & large monitor; Most people want a laptop for the home if they want a computer. You look at sales and laptops outsell desktops almost two to one...and on a personal note I hate when people ask me to solve their laptop issues.
  14. Johnnyblaze1957

    Johnnyblaze1957 TS Enthusiast Posts: 58   +12

    You hate driving what is wrong with you lol I have a manual shift because driving is very enjoyable and just feels good, especially when I used to ride a motorbike loved it.
  15. Johnnyblaze1957

    Johnnyblaze1957 TS Enthusiast Posts: 58   +12

    Yes but none of those "skills" are needed to live I would sooner read a book than use an e-reader my mobile is a Samsung note 4 which fills my needs and mobile phones are great. I would sooner converse with someone if I can than ring them. Yes what is needed for work fair enough but nothing beats going somewhere and seeing it live than sitting at home and seeing it on tv.
  16. ET3D

    ET3D TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,504   +236

    I'm sure that when asked, most people would hate the idea of carrying a rather large slab of electronics with a 5"-6" screen, that gets hot during use and can even explode. And yet over a billion phones are sold in a year. So if you focus on negatives...

    People I talk to like the idea of AR, of having an overlay over the world. The road to that includes VR headsets, and they have some drawbacks. That's just current technical limitations. The technology is still at an early stage. The ecosystem is growing slowly, but I do think VR is on the rise, not on the fall. The better the tech gets, the more people will use it.
  17. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 10,482   +4,351

    I hate driving because the bast-ards with flashing blue lights make it boring. lol
    senketsu likes this.
  18. ET3D

    ET3D TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,504   +236

    I understand this, and I tend to look to DRM-free solutions and stores, but over time I realised that given price and ubiquity of the platform, there I cases when I don't mind that much. I do buy eBooks on Amazon, and given that the app runs on tablets/phones in addition to dedicated readers, and that books are sometimes heavily discounted on sales, and that it's compatible with DRM-free books sold elsewhere (such as on Humble Bundle), it's not that big an issue for me to buy Kindle books.

    Same goes for games and Steam. It's a large enough platform that I don't think it will die soon, but even if it does, when many games are available for under a dollar, the loss won't be that huge.

    I lost stuff to DRM in the past. I also lost physical books, or had them ruined due to the glue no longer holding the pages or the book getting wet, or whatever. I was sorry when I lost both physical and electronic books, and I sometimes replaced them. I just feel that it shouldn't stop me from buying more. (What should stop me is that I buy stuff I don't read or play, but it's hard to convince myself not to buy something that appeals to me.)
  19. Polycount

    Polycount TS Guru Posts: 1,026   +243

    HA!! Thanks for that, I needed a laugh.
  20. senketsu

    senketsu TS Guru Posts: 648   +421

    I haven't seen anything in these self-driving car articles anything about motorcycles. Small, nimble and acceleration/braking that is extreme compared to what poky cars can do, how will their electronic brains deal with them. A self-driving car I could accept especially if they do well in bad weather, but you'll have to pry my right hand off that motorcycle throttle LOL
    Johnnyblaze1957 likes this.
  21. PaulAnthony58

    PaulAnthony58 TS Rookie

    Just before leaving full time education circa 1976 we (the class) were told by the ever so trendy (tweed jacket wearing with leather elbow patches) math teacher

    "You wont have to go to work in the future because everything with be done by robots".

    The school computer back then was a machine that took its input from a punch card reader!

    And I'm still pulling 40 plus hours a week WTF

    all good stuff :)
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2017
    Johnnyblaze1957 likes this.
  22. Boilerhog146

    Boilerhog146 TS Evangelist Posts: 615   +214

    And here I thought only the weatherman (meteorologists)what I did in the air force,were the only guys that could be wrong most of the time and not worry about losing their jobs.tech Analysts as well.wrong again! Your FIRED!er I mean Great job.lol

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