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On Predictions

By  Dec 9, 2015

Topics: Information Technology

It's that time of the year again. With 2016 right around the corner, every tech and culture website is busy pumping out predictions for 2016. Some of these predictions will be right yet most will be wrong. In this quick piece, I want to offer a word to the wise: predictions are like sphincters, everyone has one and most of them stink.

Failed Tech Predictions

1. The Death of Smartphones by 2021

On the morning of December 9, 2015, an Ericsson report spread around the Internet wherein Swedish researchers predicted the death of smartphone devices by 2021. Their methodology:

"The company's ConsumerLab quizzed more than 100,000 customers in tech-savvy Sweden as well as 39 other countries about their opinions and technological desires for the future and says its research statistically represents the views of 1.1 billion people worldwide."

If you weren't paying attention, let's read that again, "quizzed more than 100,000 customers statistically representing 1.1 billion people worldwide." Maybe it's just me, but using 100,000 to represent 1/7 of the overall global population seems like a bad idea.

But alright, let's roll with it.

Of the 100,000 surveyed, what is their reasoning for predicting the end of the smartphone by 2021>

"It [Ericsson) found that half of smartphone users think that mobile technology will be a thing of the past within the next five years, as the growth of artificial intelligence starts enabling interaction with objects without the need for a phone or tablet.
"A smartphone in the hand, it's really not that practical. For example, not when one is driving a car or cooking. And there are many situations where display screens are not so good. Therefore, one on two think that smartphones will belong to the past within five years," said Rebecka Cedering Ångström from Ericsson ConsumerLab."

Interesting. A survey of 100,000 people found that one out of two respondents believe the smartphone will be a thing of the past by 2021 due to advances in A.I. Unless you aren't paying attention, 1 out of 2 means half. Thus the headline could also read, "survey finds half of respondents believe smartphone will be alive and well in 2021" or it could also read, more decoratively, "survey finds smartphone use to continue through 2021." If half of respondents disagree, it's all in the framing of the headline.

Do I trust this prediction? No.

2. Cloud as Terminology

Back on December 9, 2012, the financial publication Forbes posted an interesting article titled, "7 Predictions for Cloud Computing in 2013 That Make Perfect Sense". You can view the piece here. Within that piece, two predictions stand out as false inductions of future happenings. The first, this gem:

"Forrester Research’s James Staten predicts that “we’ll finally stop saying that everything is going ‘cloud,’ and get real about what fits and what doesn’t.” Sam Johnston , Director of Cloud & IT Services at Equinix , agrees, adding that “anyone with ‘cloud’ in their company and/or product names will scramble to rebrand. How many companies do you see with generic terms like ‘internet’ or ‘client/server’ in their names today?” As an added bonus, he says in Cloud Computing Journal, “there will also be a merciful fading out of the clunky-sounding ‘as-a-Service” or ‘aaS’ monikers, which “will also go the way of the dodo.”

Not sure about you but the term cloud is still everywhere. Have you been on a managed service provider site recently? Terms like SaaS, IaaS, PaaS and other likewise invented "aaS" terms are everywhere. Go ahead and look. Head on over to RackSpace or Salesforce or Accelops. Not only are the aforementioned terms everywhere, there are entire lists (Top 20 SaaS Providers and the like) dedicated to them.

I could extrapolate to explain why terms like IaaS and cloud aren't going anywhere yet I won't. These terms are with us, as platforms, as consumer facing terminologies and as internal points of debate.

Was this prediction right? Not in the least.

3. Cloud Replacing PC

Another from the same Forbes article:

"Gartner predicts the personal cloud will gradually replace the PC as the location where individuals “keep their personal content, access their services and personal preferences and center their digital lives.” (And still can be called PCs, by the way.) “The personal cloud will entail the unique collection of services, Web destinations and connectivity that will become the home of computing and communication activities.” And, Gartner optimistically predicts, “no one platform, form factor, technology or vendor will dominate. The personal cloud shifts the focus from the client device to cloud-based services delivered across devices.” (See “cloud and mobile becoming one, above.)"

Now, this claim has some validity. In 2014, Fortune reported the following: "Dropbox claims 300 million users as of May. Google Drive has 240 million users as of September. Microsoft says OneDrive has “more than” 250 million users." This goes to say that individual consumers as well as companies are utilizing cloud platforms to replace traditional PC software. This said, the prediction is wholly right. From PC World: "Shipments of new personal computers will drop 10 percent in the fourth quarter—which is two-thirds over—IDC announced Monday, meaning that for all of 2015, shipments will have declined by 10.3 percent from 2014. The firm now expects all OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to ship 276.7 million PCs this year, off the 308.2 million in 2014."

Are PC sales down? Without question. Yet are PC's still being sold with massive quantity? Yes. If you look at the number, in two years, PC sales nearly hit 600 million units or, you know, a bit less than 1/7th of the global population. Moreover, according to Forrester Research "there were over one billion PCs in use worldwide by the end of 2008." By the end of 2015, that number is over two billion. So, are PCs going anywhere with the rise of the cloud? No. Are cloud based operations transferring PC operations online? Sure. Both are true at the same time.

Was this prediction correct? Maybe.

4. iPhone Failure

Remember that time when Steve Ballmer, ex-Microsoft CEO, predicted the iPhone will have no impact on the market? It happened. In April of 2007, Ballmer wisely told USA Today: “there’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” He went onto cite the iPhone's $499 subsidized price as one, if not the main reason, why the product wouldn't work. We don't have to tell you now but the iPhone is doing pretty well in 2015. By some estimates it accounts for 13.1% of overall smartphone global usage.

Now, what is important to remember here is not how wrong the claim was, but who it came from. Ballmer was the CEO of one of the largest, most successful tech companies ever created. He was the head, the man paid to make sure Microsoft continued its dominance in the market. And yet, with all this, he got it wrong.

A failed prediction of massive proportions.

All this amounts to one conclusion. Sometimes predictions are spot on however most of the time, as noted, they stink. So, go ahead and read about future trends for the next month or so yet don't be surprised when most of them come up bust.