Five years ago, inspired by a Yahoo! Answers question (their top answers), I put on my tech futurist hat and wrote up some quick prognostications about
Which products, used by few today, will be essential in five years? This was published, incidentally, on Vox (now defunct). Are you getting that mid-2006 vibe yet? Well, it’s been five years (that was quick), so maybe we should take a look.
I won’t reproduce my original article (linked above), but I’ll go through each of the predictions and make some comments:
- Software as service is standard – My prediction was that social networking, media sharing, and all kinds of apps would be increasingly integrated/prepackaged OOTB. I think that this has been born out, certainly on the mobile and device front, although this year may be the inflection point for the desktop (iCloud, ChromeOS, etc). Even without that, probably the majority of consumer computing is now service/browser based. I find myself totally dependent on many cloud-based services (Evernote, Checkvist, DropBox, Google Docs, GMail/GApps, Twitter, FB, etc). Also, the majority of my small business’s software is also cloud-based.
- Global digital identity / reputation / relationship system – my prediction was that online/offline personas, relationships, and physical presence would be tied together, potentially controlled by a single company. I think in mid-2006 I would have guessed Google would end up taking it all, but FB was a strong contender, and they’re on top at the moment. Still, as of mid-2011, this ball is still in play, and there are certain components (location, reputation) that are still almost complete tossups. Note: while FB has been enormously successful and will almost certainly be the first Internet company to hit 1B actives, there are some signs that it may have peaked in its developed markets, so it’s not invincible. There’s also a lot of potential left in terms of social utility that’s still completely unexplored (and only in the most superficial ways in many other cases).
- Digital media – I predicted streaming/wireless syncing of media from anywhere. While iCloud was only just announced (to compete against Amazon Cloud Drive, and Google Music) and music has been lagging a bit (although celestial jukebox services like Spotify and Rdio have been hitting it out of the park, so maybe unfair to dismiss music completely), we’ve seen this come true much more for video. Maybe this is due to the competition traditional TV/Film has faced from the YouTube/Internet video juggernaut (my first YouTube video, uploaded just over 5 years ago). Netflix in particular, which not only has overtaken web traffic, but also BitTorrent. Expect the cord-cutting to accelerate. One last observation. Amazon’s current homepage menu now completely highlights digital goods:
- Smart phone – I think I hit this one 100% percent. Not much to say about it. Well, one caveat is that while there were rumors of an iPhone floating around for years, it wouldn’t be announced for another 6 months. Apple gets huge props for single-handedly helping to drag the lagging handset/telecom industry into this future, as well as totally shaking things up with its App Store. I’m sure there are some charts somewhere that show recent numbers on mobile vs fixed Internet use, but if that number hasn’t been crossed, I’m sure it will be soon.
- RFID – I was totally wrong. At Lensley, we’ve been doing some neat RFID integrations with clients, and RFIDs have had huge adoption in thing that touch people’s daily life, like in supply-chain and public transit (as well as less well thought out ways, like US Passports). On the whole, though, they’ve remained too expensive and too niche to get much consumer love (kits from Sparkfun notwithstanding). While NFC in Android (an RFID-compatible superset) has gotten lots of hubaloo, there’s pretty much zilch in terms of real world use, much less anything remotely spimey. We’ll have to see how mobile payments pan out over the next couple years. (2012?)
- Self Monitoring – While the Quantified Self has been getting some traction (a conference! breathless writeups!) and there are a proliferation of services and devices (Runkeeper, FitBit, Gowear Fit, Zeo, Withings, etc), this is still a pretty niche/nascent movement. I have no doubt it’ll keep growing, and there are some pointers (the proliferation of Feltron-like reports for social activity, checkins) that there’s a tipping point approaching. We’ll see
- Personal Aggregators – I saw the other day that Flipboard’s at 400M flips/month, and one might argue that Facebook’s news feed algorithms, modern blogs (Gawker, HuffPo, Engadget, etc), or even Twitter have stepped in to fill big roles in terms of filtering the bombardment of crap, but it seems like treading water. I would have expected some smarter/more robust attention management tools to have been developed, but maybe I’m completely wrong on how most people handle infoglut.
- Shared everything – obviously wrong about fine-grained privacy. Facebook has given us a “mostly private enough sort of for now” model that’s been pretty sucessful. Certainly at moving everyone torwards the social-everything model (you win some, you lose some).
Of my long-shots (things that I thought would be awesome), we actually got one of them in a huge way. At the time I had written this, I just received my iRex Iliad ($700) after waiting for years for an honest to goodness E-Ink device. Sadly, it was a pretty useless white elephant of a device. However, the display was phenomenal, so I threw it on the list. In late 2007 Amazon released the first Kindle, and a few weeks ago, Amazon announced that it is now selling more Kindle books than print books. The Kindle 3, BTW, was the best-selling product in Amazon’s history.
3D printing/fabrication has gotten a lot more traction (even a recent Stephen Colbert interview), as has the maker movement in general. Although it’s still niche, the pricing is right. At $1300, the Thing-O-Matic is cheaper than most people’s first laser printer.
AR HUDs, are as ever, another 5 years away. (The OVF on my X100 is pretty sweet though.)
OK, that’s all well and good. But how about the things that I missed completely. Here’s a short list:
- Location – while I tangentially mentioned location, I never listed LBS, mapping and other location services explicitly. Looking back, this is a 100% obvious thing, considering how much usage has exploded since. My only excuse is that being hip-deep/working for so long on local/map/mobile stuff at the time probably blinded me to how ubiquitous it wasn’t for the rest of the world while writing this. (I was working on geocoding/map/checkins at Upcoming, and from ZoneTag to Checkmates, to Yahoo! Maps, I was surrounded by all kinds of crazy LBS/geo/mobile stuff).
- Twitter – I probably first saw Twitter about a month after I wrote my original post. At the time it was “twttr” was a completely different beast – very SMS focused, like group chat. I passed, and didn’t even bother signing up until a few months later when visiting with friends in the UK (it got a lot of early traction because it was cheaper than texting). It took a while (early 2007?) for me to really get to grips with Twitter (writeup here). Kudos to Jack, Noah, Ev, et al for trying out something new, and then working at it for years to refine it. It’s gone through a lot of transformations (mostly for better)…
- iPad – I was a close follower of the Mobile+UMPC+Tablet industry at the time, and if you had told me that in a few years Apple would have released a friggin Dynabook with 10 finger multitouch, 10 hour battery life, amazing responsiveness, and an a complete App Ecosystem (backed by 10s of millions of sister devices), selling for $500 I would have smacked you. After which, I’d have gone out and bought a lot more Apple stock. Like the iPhone when it launched in 2007, the iPad came from a few years in the future and dragged everyone else, kicking and screaming.
- Wikileaks – Even during the year of the iPad launch, however, probably the biggest and most unexpected story of 2010 was Wikileaks (some of my favorite writeups). It has literally changed the world, and the most amazing thing is that it’s been a story that’s been in the making for years, if not decades. Wikileaks and many other stories happening right now (the Arab Spring, Anonymous, LulzSec) in many ways epitomize Clay Shirky‘s postulate that “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring… It’s when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen.”
OK, in hope of publishing soon, I’ll be wrapping up now. No 2016 predictions from me, but maybe it’ll be worth catching regardless up in a few years. For those that are really interested in the things catching my attention these days, here’s a spring graph I made early last year:
Update: An editor from the International Business Times dropped a line yesterday with a few questions. Here’s the writeup they did today in the Luxury and Brands section today: Blogger Correctly Predicted the Future in 2006 (Mostly)