Dying Technologies

Business Week recently highlighted twenty technologies that they believe are on the way out. But are they? When you ask a spokesperson for the Chevy Volt if gasoline engines are dead, can you really trust the answer?

Let’s take a look…

Combustion Engines:
As long as gas is (relatively) cheap and plentiful, the combustion engine isn’t going anywhere. Until the day you can drive 300 miles on one charge, then stop for 5 minutes, and be ready to go another 300 miles; when you can run your leave blower, chainsaw, lawn mower on (cordless) electricity; and when you can run a boat (safely and cheap) on something other than petroleum based products… then and only then will the combustion engine be dead. Dead in 50 years.

Consumer Video Cameras:
This one I agree with, if only for the fact that they are already dead. Who is going out there and buying a camcorder these days? And if you are, you certainly aren’t buying one that uses tape. Already Dead.

Credit Cards:
If they are strictly saying that carrying around a piece of plastic with a magnetic strip is endangered, I could maybe agree with this. No matter the method, there will be a place for a company to sit between you and the merchant if you aren’t paying by cash (or cash-based EFT equivalent). As long as people want to buy more things than they have cash for, there will be credit card companies.

Desktop PCs:
The way *I* would define this, I would say it’s true. But Business Week is essentially saying that everyone will work on Tablet PCs or Smartphones. Not so fast. Desktop Virtualization is the future. A very basic PC on the desk which connects to servers to provide all the applications needed. Not everyone is going to have iPads. And who is this idiot at Gartner throwing around “static form factor” trying to sound smart? Form Factor is essentially a requirement/constraint the limits/dictates size. Her phase “I wouldn’t write off a static form factor” is nonsensical at best and gibberish at worst. She should have added a “paradigm” or “proactive” in there to round out her BS.

DVDs and Blu-ray:
Back in college, after dropping cancelling my Columbia House subscription I vowed to avoid buying CDs and wait until music came out in solid-state. It wasn’t too long before MP3 players were the rage and now you can buy just about anything (except the Beatles) on iTunes. Unfortunately between college and now pop music has produced very little of value, so I still haven’t bought much new music. Where was I… anyway, it’s no surprise the DVDs will also become moot in the not-so-distant future. As download speeds increase (along with bandwidth) portable plastic discs that spin will vanish.

Digital Music Players:
Considering I just bought an iPod last month I’m not too thrilled with this prediction. However, it’s probably true. They’ll be around for a few more years until smartphones can really handle all the storage needed, but 10 years from now they’ll be as relevant as a Sony Walkman.

Essentially saying that the Kindle will be replaced by the iPad. In our blazingly fast digital age, any time you have a device that does “one” thing well it won’t be long before another more popular device will pick up that functionality for a nominal fee. The Palm Pilot begat smartphones. The Kindle begat the latest generation of Tablet PCs. Regardless, I thought the e-reader was DOA because who wants to take a $400 piece of equipment to the beach?

Fax Machines:
Alert the media, the Lindbergh baby has been found! Yes, fax machines are still being used but they been on life support for over a decade. This is too bad because a good misplaced/late fax was a great prop in movies (The Firm, The Usual Suspects, etc.). As with most of these technologies it’s not the activity that is going way, but the dedicated technology that supports it. There will still be a place for wet signatures, and there will be a need to transmit that image electronically. There just won’t be a one trick pony that uses telephone lines to get the job done.

Game Consoles:
Here’s the thing. I could see the angle that much like DVDs, today’s games are on media that is on its way out. I also see the point that the biggest games have a big online component (not just World of Warcraft games which are exclusively online, but games like Call Of Duty with an online play against other live people). But you’ll still need specialized equipment to interact with many of these games, and even their expert still says that you’ll need a device to access the internet over the television. Isn’t that what a gaming console is? Instead of buying the game at the store and putting it in the box, you’ll just log on to the box and access your games that way.

I thought these were already dead… even drug dealers don’t use pagers anymore. . Anyway, they do make a good point that pagers have better coverage and are more reliable for emergencies. But in a limited way I don’t see pagers going anywhere too fast. They are too cheap and reliable at this point. My prediction is that it won’t be cell phones that take down pagers; it will be some new technology that replaces both.

Dash-mounted GPS System:
This one is a no brainer and falls under the “device that does one thing well that another device picks up.” (see also: MP3 players, Fax Machines, E-readers)

Physical keys have been around for eons. Business Week’s argument here is that biometrics will be the wave of the future. They ask: “Why carry a ring of keys when secure access to your home, car, or office can be more exact?” Well, I’ll tell you why. When a friend needs to stop by and water your plants… are you going give him one of your fingers? When the power goes out, how do you get in your house? Sure you don’t need a key to start many cars these days, but wherever cheap and reasonable security is needed, you are going to find keys for a long time to come.

Landline Telephones:
I have stubbornly kept my landline for the past 13 years. My parents have the same telephone number since they switched over from party lines in the 40s. It’s sort of expensive to keep, but I like having a landline. With all that being said, it is a dying breed, but I don’t know if I’d call it a “dying technology”. With all the advantages that cell phones have, their biggest issue is coverage. It’s very unlikely that a landline goes dead, but you drop calls on your cell phone all the time. As long as there is a need for near 100% reliability and connectivity, landlines will have a place… it just might not be in the home.

3D Television with Glasses:
The claim that I have an issue with is: “Michael Inouye, an analyst with New York\’s ABI Research, says he doubts the claim of workable holographs by 2016 but says 3D television with glasses will be obsolete on the retail side within three to five years.” I don’t buy this for a second. I saw Avatar in 3D. I enjoyed the movie, but my enjoyment had nothing to do with 3D. For me 3D brings nothing to the table. I’m not even sure holographs bring anything to the table for me. If people wanted realistic viewing, they’d go outside. I don’t even think 3D TVs *with* glasses are going to take off, let alone TVs without glasses. Perhaps it’s my curmudgeon coming through, but I see this discussion as obsolete.

Metronomes and Tuners:
I’m surprised Watches aren’t on this list. Since it’s assumed everyone across the world is going to have a smartphone in 5 years, why would anyone need a watch? You don’t get much more stodgy than the classical music world. I don’t see these items disappearing in the next 20 years.

I’d actually argue that the PDA didn’t die, it evolved. Today’s smartphones are much more like PDAs of the past than they are like the phones of the past. Touchscreens, keyboards, calendars, “apps”… Perhaps the argument should be that cell phones, that are just phones, are the true dying technology here.

Point-and-shoot Digital Cameras:
I agree with this one. Prices for Digital SLRs are coming down fast for those who care about digital photos and quality. Smartphones are getting better and better at taking pictures for those who only care about taking pics on the fly. Smartphones are also better for sharing on the fly. Point-and-shoots are gone in less than a decade.

Power Cords:
This is one I’ve heard about for years. I’ve had a cordless toothbrush for almost 10 years, and I’m still amazed that there is no metal-to-metal contact to recharge it. But to increase the effective distance from millimeters to meters, well that’s a whole other story. Business Week says it’s only a year to three years off (which probably means 5 to 10). One random thought on this one: Scientists believe we are entering a new period where the earth will experience much greater sunspot activity. The impact to satellites, cell phones, or radio isn’t fully understood. Could sunspots interfere with wireless energy?

Remote Controls:
Now this is one death I could get behind! Everyone hates having 15 different remotes in the house. Universal remotes never work for everything, and are sometimes ridiculously big. Even smartphones aren’t any better than universal remotes. But Business Week is talking about hand motions and voice command. I just don’t see it. Humans are creatures of action. I don’t see people sitting in their house yelling at their TV to turn the volume down two notches. I’m sure voice technology will get better over time, but is there anything more annoying than trying to check on the status of your flight using one of those voice activated systems? My favorite is when I’m on the road trying to use it and background noise is interpreted as me saying something… “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand your request. Please try again”. Can you imagine your TV saying that?

USB Memory Sticks:
I think people are already relying too much on the internet and internal networks for data transportation. Sometimes you need something a little more secure and portable. All the discussion on Business Week about cloud computing is just filler. There will always be a need for secure transportable data that doesn’t include the internet or a network. It may not be USB in 5 years, but there will be something.

All in all I agree with most of the items on this list (except for Keys, I bet 50 years from now people still have physical keys). Perhaps this list is a good tool to help investors figure out which companies to invest in and which to avoid (I’m looking at you metronomes.net!). At any rate it will be fun to look back at this in 5 years and see who was right. Me, or Business Week.

Share your thoughts in the comments below.







One response to “Dying Technologies”

  1. Mark Avatar

    Well researched, well said, well done. Keys, metranomes and tuners, watches, these are the things the future will still include. Thanks wadE!

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