Taking a long-term view isn’t easy nowadays.
Even the recent past seems blurry at times. Google’s just seven years old, but it’s hard to imagine life before instant search. Broadband has been widely available for only a few years, but already dialup internet seems to high-speed users like a throwback to the Neanderthal era.
In an age of rapid-fire change, contemplating the future is downright headache-inducing. Investors who plan strategies over multiple years or decades recognize that today’s must-have technologies are probably destined for tomorrow’s waste bins. But there’s no scientific method for identifying their replacements.
That’s why this week’s column includes input from an assortment of experts who share their views on top contenders to be the technologies of tomorrow.
Next time around, we’ll see what future-thinking folks predict about the opposite question: Which heavily touted technologies are destined to flop? For now, let’s take a look at the positive trends futurists see on the horizon.
Simplicity: Over the past couple of decades, gadget makers have toiled ceaselessly to add functionality. As a result, your cell phone can now play games, do math and sound off like a barking dog when your ex calls. Your digital camera can shoot extremely poor-quality video. And nearly every device you own with a screen also contains a clock.
The problem, says Ian Pearson, futurist in residence at British Telecommunications, is that most people buy a device for a particular purpose. They neither want nor care about all the extra capabilities.
“We’ve done 20 years of adding functionality, and 99 percent of that functionality isn’t needed,” Pearson said. “There will be an enormous market over the next several years for really simple stuff.”
For investors, there are few obvious examples of simplicity-minded gadget makers. Apple Computer’s iPod is often cited as a model of the simpler-is-better ethos. With shares selling for close to their all-time high, however, Apple (AAPL) is a pricey pick. Royal Philips Electronics (PHG) has an internal strategy effort called “simplicity-led design.” But many of the products incorporating the simplicity concept won’t be on the market for several years.
Pearson says the simplicity principle can apply to software as well. It’s something, he says, that he’d like Microsoft to consider before adding yet another feature to its next version of Word.
By Joanna Glasner