The Way of the Dinosaurs…7 Everyday Technologies On A Short Trip to ExtinctionBy Chris Weiss
Technology is advancing more and more rapidly. Products that we once thought were timeless icons are becoming useless, and products introduced just a few years ago are being replaced by smaller, more efficient devices that do the same exact thing much better. Here are our predictions for technologies that will join such classics as the VCR and CRT television in the annals of electronics history within the next decade or so.
Remember how cool you thought you were when you got your first cordless phone? The world was your oyster–so long as you didn’t need to leave the house. What a difference a decade or two can make.
These days, you could probably argue that the telephone is already extinct, but I consider it more of an endangered species. If you think about friends and siblings who have an actual hard line, you probably come up empty, but reframe the query in terms of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other elders and you could probably come up with a short list of names. We expect that list to get shorter and shorter as people realize just how redundant a land line really is in the age of mobile phones, texting, email and social networking. Don’t expect to see many of these weathered warriors outside of businesses by 2020.
Like its voice-based counterpart, the fax machine is a big, ugly hunk of hardware whose utility is steadily waning. Yes, when it comes to legal documents, you may still want to see the hard print. But you can always do that in person. And when it comes to just about anything less substantial than a 30-year mortgage, you better believe you’d rather read, sign at the X and resend via email. One of the most infuriating technologies ever, fax machines are large, bulky, wasteful and in need of constant maintenance and/or repair– everything our technological future is not. As digital signatures become more widely accepted, expect the average homeowner and businessperson to use any one of the aforementioned reasons to go all Office Space on the ancient relic known as fax machine.
No, we don’t believe that VoIP over tablet computers will replace cell phone communication. Nor do we believe that some mystical, new interpersonal communication system is on the horizon. What we’re thinking is that with the burgeoning growth of smartphones, traditional cell phones–the ones you spent 100 percent of the time talking on–will slowly be phased out. As smartphones become more popular and less expensive to produce, there’s really no reason that all phones won’t look like the smartphones of today. In the future, we suspect that your options will be phones that offer speed and function that we can’t yet dream of and entry-level contract giveaways that look something like the iPhone 4s or HTC EVOs of today. How is a one-trick pony going to survive in that world?
There has got to be a point where many slightly differentiated versions of the same damn device is too many. And we feel that the time is right about now. With the overwhelming success of the iPad, and all of the tablets that are getting ready to hit the market later this year, it’s clear that consumers and manufacturers are strongly behind the tablet. It’s thinner, prettier and more engaging than a netbook, and if you happen to need a keyboard, you can dock up to a full-size model at will. If you want to do real work, you have a notebook for that. What exactly did you ever need a netbook for again? Just wait until we get a variety of subsidized tablets, and you’ll forget the term netbook even existed.
It happened to VHS. DVDs are on the chopping block about now. So if you think Blu-rays are somehow immune to extinction, prepare to be disappointed. Sure, Blu-rays offer the best picture and sound right now, but streaming services are quickly catching up. As average bandwidth expands, and streaming libraries grow, more people will certainly ditch discs in favor of streaming.
Earlier this year, CNET broke a story about Netflix upgrading to 1080p sometime in 2010. Unfortunately, official word from Netflix negated that report, but while 1080p might not be coming this year, the information points to it happening sometime soon. With Netflix and other streaming services appearing in more and more TVs, you don’t even need to dedicate dollars or space to an extra home theater device, let alone an unwieldy collection of movies that you watch once or twice in your life. So why would you?
3DTV is perhaps our riskiest inclusion on the list. While it’s way too early to tell how successful it’s been so far or how much potential it has, we just don’t see that many people paying a premium on television just so they can watch bad movies not get any better with an extra dimension. Oh yeah, and having to pay more for a pair of geeky goggles to enjoy that ‘stunning’ 3D picture is a slap in the face too. I mean, the idea of 3D is hardly new and it’s never been anything but a niche technology. Why is that suddenly going to change? Only time will tell, but we don’t expect to see many 3D sets on the market by 2020, and at the very least, the glasses will be ancient history by then.
Let’s face it: no one ever really liked set-top boxes. There were too many different kinds that did too little and took up extra space that you just didn’t have. The best compliment that you could ever give a set-top box is that it was the best way to access certain content at a given time in history. But, everyone’s going to need to buy a new television at some point, and more and more, those new televisions integrate things like Netflix, YouTube and full-on Web browsing right into them. So, it’s already not too difficult to eliminate the set-top box that you never really liked that much anyway, and it’s only going to get easier. While their small form factor was never quite small enough in the home entertainment center, it promises to take up little room at the local landfill.
We know that Steve Jobs thinks that PCs are dying (or at least he thinks he’ll sell more iPads that way). What device or technology do you think won’t make it past the next 10 years? What do you hope to see replaced, changed or improved?