Success in high tech is all about predicting the future. If you know how industry-wide trends are likely to develop, you can make investments, start companies, and build products and services that build upon those major trends.
Predicting the future is a chancy business, though, because forecasts are subject to industry group. Sometimes conventional wisdom turns out to be, in retrospect, seriously out of kilter.
Now that we've reached the end of a decade, I'm revisiting five sure-fire, absolutely-will-happen predictions from 2010 that turned out almost the opposite. Here, IMHO, are the decade's biggest misses.
1. Social Media Will Set Us All Free
In 2010, social media was widely seen as a positive social good. Social media connected people, allowed them to create online communities, and encouraged the free expression of ideas. Social media, for example, was held to be the key element to the so-called Arab Spring, as well as other anti-autocratic revolutions. It was the "democratization of information" and it was definitely going to change the world for the better.
Today, that viewpoint (still being spouted by Mark Zuckerberg, among others) seems hopeless naive. Social media favors the mass distribution of disinformation and it can be and often is manipulated to bring autocrats and would-be autocrats to power. Meanwhile, the social media business model of harvesting information to push custom advertising has rendered privacy obsolete. Social media firms are increasingly seen as threats to democracy rather than as benefactors.
2. Big Auto Will Own the (Tiny) Electric Car Market
In 2010, conventional wisdom was that there was, at best, a niche market for all-electric automobiles. The basic technology--especially a charging infrastructure--wasn't ready for prime time, so the best that could be managed was a hybrid that had a combustion engine. No matter what happened, though, it was clear that it was the established automobile makers who had the design and manufacturing skill to bring viable electrics to market.
Today, Tesla--a company virtually unknown in 2010--completely dominates the rapidly growing market for electronic vehicles. Tesla did what almost everyone thought was impossible: completely transform how automobiles are designed, manufactured, and supported. This including building out a charging infrastructure, thereby making the hybrid concept obsolete. Tesla's success was such a gobsmack to the automotive industry that even as late as last year, industry analysts were predicting Telsa's imminent collapse.
3. Apple Will Remain the World's Most Innovative Company
In 2010, Apple was widely seen as the high-tech world's powerhouse of innovation. Under the leadership of the legendary Steve Jobs (who at the time was ailing but still alive), Apple had introduced the wildly popular iPod, iPhone, and iPad product lines, not to mention the iTunes supporting ecosystem. Apple's traditional Mac products were the hottest and most innovative desktop and notebooks of the period. Even more modest products, like Apple TV, seemed generations ahead of the competition. Most everyone naturally assumed that Apple's momentum would continue apace.
Today, Apple seems to mostly rest on its laurels. With the possible exception of the Apple Watch, Apple has mostly released updated versions of the firm's existing product set. Some Apple products have actually regressed, losing functionality while keeping the same form factor. Far from an engine of innovation, Apple now comes off like a caricature of a Baby Boomer: overweight, well off, and prone to go on and on about how great things were in the glory days.
4. BluRay Will Dominate Home Video Distribution
In 2010, it was a huge deal that the BluRay format had beaten out the DHD-HD format as the defacto medium for the distribution of video content. Over half of U.S. households owned a BluRay player and titles like The Dark Knight (2008) sold an amazing (for then) 1.7 million units in its first week. Most pundits were certain that BluRay would become as universally accepted as DVD, and before that, VCR. BluRay was the future of video.
Today, BluRay distribution is at best an afterthought. By 2016, revenue rom streaming services outpaced revenue from both BluRay and DVD sales and rentals combined. Three years later, consumers enjoy multiple streaming channels and seem content to simply view on demand rather than own physical media, which is (of course) vulnerable to breakage and loss. BluRay now seems limited, clunky and antiquated, destined for gradual obsolescence.
5. Google Will Be the Next Apple
In 2010, Google:
- owned a commanding dominance in the online search market;
- had a deep bench of engineering talent and plenty of money to fund innovation;
- had just acquired YouTube, becoming the largest distributor of video content;
- had just acquired Android, thereby owning an "open" alternative to Apple's iOS;
- would soon acquire QuickOffice, thereby owning a competitor to Microsoft Office;
- was experimenting "wearables" which were widely believed to be the next big thing; and
- was readying a purported "Facebook-killer" social media app.
Given all the above, overwhelming conventional wisdom was that Google was going to the next Apple--or at least the next Microsoft.
- still has commanding dominance in the online search market;
- still has plenty of engineering talent, but the natives are getting restless;
- still leads in free video distribution, but has failed to launch a viable pay-wall;
- has never managed to turn Android into a profitable business model;
- has a tiny market share compared with Microsoft Office, despite having free products;
- has released and canceled Google Glass, one of the most reviled products of all time; and
- has released and canceled Google Plus, which barely became an also-ran.
In short, Google remains basically a one-trick pony, famous less for innovation than for its consistent failure to extend its product line and reduced to symbolic gestures, like creating an umbrella brand name and shuffling its top executives around.