The future of technology


TL:DR Predicting next years technology and trends’ is nearly impossible, technology trends change to fast. Stop predicting and start doing.

On the 8th of February I saw this tweet from @dcoplin regarding this story on the BBC.

It got me thinking, watching tv only online is being described as the future, but it is not. It is very much the present. I understand I am not likely to be described as an average user, but I do not have a TV aerial plugged into my TV. I have an Xbox 360 and a Raspberry Pi running XBMC. On my Xbox I have BBC iplayer, 4oD, 5 on demand, ITV Player, Netflix and Sky Now TV. I used to have Lovefilm but its interface was horrible (another story for another day). All this stuff is being described as the future, but it is all available now, and the UK offering pales in comparison the the USA. My Pi gives me my music and Airplay (I’m soon to buy more of these). The purpose of this is not to discuss how we watch TV in the future (read:now) but how we, as consumers and creators of digital devices and content predict the future.

The phrase ‘the future’ is such a crazy and weird expression. Never have we been able to predict the future; colonies on the moon and such, that is a great thing about being human, we just don’t know. We know it will happen, but when? The same goes for online TV. A few years ago what smart TV’s were the hot topic at CES they were too expensive to buy if you still wanted to have a roof over your head. Then last year they exploded. The future was the present, a mere year or so after they were too expensive to own. As that was happening, the Xbox and Playstation were taking over home media. They also exploded as media devices, in the process eliminating the need for me to buy a smart TV. And with that, the future was dead. I’m not saying smart tv’s are going away this year (they are not) but before they could dominate the market, they had a competitor that was better.

This is a great example of why the future of technology is so hard to predict. We know we will go to Mars, but we don’t know when. But I know that by saying we are going, I am not going to find myself being wrong next year. Consumer technology evolves at such an incredible rate. Next years ‘future’ is tomorrow’s present. It happens so fast that often technology is outdated before we are holding it. This will always be the case (thanks Gordon Moore). This is both a great and bad thing. My smartphone is old before I get it, but that gets me excited for my next one! CES is often a show of what will happen ‘in the future’ but this year we will be seeing a lot of the technology on display there before the end of summer at an affordable price. This is amazing. But 2 months later the trends will be different.

This all makes it very different to suggest what will be the future of technology (and tv watching). Companies that move slow, and 1 year late is far far to slow (Nokia, RIM), will find it very hard to keep up. It is a ruthless sector. If a large company takes to long to do it, a disruptive start up will come in, do it better and faster and make more money while they’re at it. The short 20 year life cycle of the internet has seen this so much, Lycos vs Google, myspace vs Bebo then Bebo vs Facebook, Nokia vs everyone else, watch makers vs Pebble.

Predicting the future just means you are wasting time on the present. If you (offline) media company doesnt have a serious route to online by now, then you really have to stop reading this and go create one. We have stopped ‘knowing the future is online’ the present is now online. Be less ‘predicting’ and be more ‘doing’. Do the future today and win tomorrow.