Predicting the Next Big Thing (Fails)

27th October, 2013

There have been moments throughout history where individuals have, for whatever reason at the time, decided that a piece of technology will not make the cut. We have seen it countless times and I still find myself evaluating new pieces of hardware and quickly drawing the same conclusions. History has shown us many times that even the most erstwhile; philanthropic sector leaders can have a howler once in a while. Let’s look at a few:

1)      The iPhone is going nowhere.

Really? Someone said that? Indeed they did. Poor Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, stated that ‘there’s no chance the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.’ Little did Steve know that within 6 years Apple would hold (depending on which source you read) nearly 15% of the worldwide market. And Microsoft? Trundling along with just over 3%. Missed a trick there, Steve.

2)      Bye bye Spam mail…

In thinking about our previous blog posts regarding the evolution of spam mail, we can now engage with the faux pas of a certain Mr Bill Gates. Years back, in 2004, Bill stated that ‘two years from now, spam will be solved.’ Well, Mr Gates, it isn’t. Plain and simple. But net luminaries can have off days too.

3)      It’s a bird? It’s a plane? It’s….a car?

Yes, the perpetual Superman line repeated but in 1924 Eddie Rickenbacker predicted that within twenty years we would whizz around in flying cars. Nearly 70 years have passed since Eddie made that prediction and there is finally a ‘viable’ flying car coming to market, albeit with the clutch-contracting price tag of over $275,000. If that doesn’t power your motor, here are some previous attempts (or fails, your choice.)

4)      Tablet heap

Amazingly, this year the CEO of Blackberry, Thorstein Heins declared that within 5 years the tablet market would be – along with dinosaurs, Betamax and Minidiscs – extinct. Whilst the exact quote should be taken in context with his ideas surrounding using larger touch devices I am sure his direct market rivals would beg to differ: Apple, Samsung, Google, Acer and Amazon to name a few are doing okay(ish).

5)      Legwork vs. Landlines vs. Mobile

Okay, this one combines two failed predictions that together span more than a century. First, we have Sir William Preece, chief engineer of the Post Office who in 1878 patriotically declared ‘the Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.’ Oh dear. Skip forward. Unfortunately for Sir Bill, landlines are everywhere, even before the internet turned up. A gifted researcher named Marty Cooper (Director of Research, Motorola) stated his belief that mobiles would never take off due to their inherent cost (1981). Along with Sir Bill, Marty’s telecom’s prediction would be remembered for all of its inaccuracy.

It does feel somewhat unfair compiling a list dedicated to besmirching the names of these individuals. How were they to predict technological progression over the course of time? They couldn’t and I am sure that as we can look back with a pinch of salt, at the time they were formulating their thesis to the best of their abilities using what was available to them.

And as they say, hindsight is a wonderful thing.