Back to the future: the world of tech predictions

How tech has changed in 10 years – and how it may look in 2029

Amazon’s Echo smart speaker: Alexa was one development no one predicted in 2009.

Amazon’s Echo smart speaker: Alexa was one development no one predicted in 2009.

 

Imagine life without the iPad or Alexa, without virtual reality headsets, Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok, without self-driving cars on the streets or consumer drones in the skies.

Welcome to 2009, when no one listed any of the above in their predictions for what tech would shape the next decade. Here we take a look back at the world in 2009, and fast-forward to what 2029 will be like, if any of today’s predictions prove correct.

2009 was a very bad year and a very good year for tech

Ten years ago, tech businesses were reeling from the financial crisis and savage cuts in business spending. Companies were debating whether and when to buy Windows 7, which replaced the Vista operating system in 2009 (Microsoft has said it will stop supporting Windows 7 in January, for anyone who has not upgraded since).

But seeds were being planted that would grow into enormous new industries. The first bitcoin was minted in January 2009; the ride-hailing app Uber was founded in March; Spotify launched in the UK that year; Fitbit introduced the first fitness tracker; WhatsApp was founded; Apple launched push notifications.

One smart analyst at Gartner spotted the trend for group texting, suggesting that private chat rooms would soon evolve. But it took until 2019 for Mark Zuckerberg to announce that Facebook would pivot its attention to private group conversations, rather than the public noticeboard of its main business.

Only the start of the smartphone era

The iPhone was two years old in 2009 and the App Store launched only in the summer of 2008. Mobile connections were 3G, if you were lucky.

Nokia’s Symbian operating system was still dominant, but forecasters suggested 2010 would be the year of Android. The promise of augmented reality, which allows users to overlay computer images on the footage from their phone cameras, was widely heralded, but has taken longer than expected to materialise, with the only notable consumer breakthrough being the Pokémon Go mobile game in 2016.

Mobclix predicted in 2009 that by the end of the decade, 95 per cent of phones would be able to shoot video and that video conversations would be common.

Radical change in home entertainment

After the launch of the second generation Kindle from Amazon set the market racing, 2009 became the year of the ereader. The following year, with competitors launching their own ereaders, Gartner gushed about “ereader ‘mania’ for the 2010 holiday season”. But US sales of ebooks peaked in 2014 and momentum has moved to audiobooks.

Big boxy cathode ray-tube televisions were still outselling plasma screens in 2009, but the LCD flat screen was racing to become the preferred way of watching TV. Sales have been strong since, but IHS Markit predicts that LCD shipments will suffer their largest decline ever in 2020, with the market swamped by oversupply.

In 2009, Retrevo predicted Blu-ray players would finally start to show signs of life as prices came down and more Blu-ray movies became available, but acknowledged that “the race is on with streaming services and the jury is still out on the winner in the next few years”. It was not until 2013 that Netflix launched its first original content series House of Cards, but as we close out the decade, Apple TV+ and Disney+ have joined it with a host of others in a streaming and content battle.

What will the 2020s bring?

The forecasts for the 2020s are largely extrapolations of current trends, as advances continue in 5G, self-driving cars, robots, AI, the internet of things, smart homes and quantum computing.

But there are still some surprising conclusions.

Deutsche Bank predicts the death of our plastic credit cards as we tap and pay with our devices, but says notes and coins will survive because many people still see cash as an easier way to monitor their spending and for their purchases to remain anonymous.

Forrester forecasts one outcome of the increasing use of facial and other recognition technologies will be “adversarial fashion” - clothes designed to confuse tech such as automatic licence plate readers, scrambling the data collected by their systems.

Thankfully, prognosticators think most of us should still be around in 2030 to check on their predictions. The Silicon Valley venture capitalist Craig Vachon says advancements in gene-engineering tech will mean many of us will live to 120 years old and we will also think differently - brain-computer interfaces will give our thoughts direct access to the internet.

Ericsson’s Consumer & IndustryLab goes further in predicting an Internet of Senses, where augmented and virtual reality will allow us to experience the office and take holidays to travel the world, all from the comfort of our home. All human senses will be digitised, it says - all the better then to smell a digital rat when we get the next set of predictions in 2029. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019