In 1999, people wore worried about the millennium bug. For those too young to remember, some were worried that at the turn of the new millennium, all the computerized clocks would reset, and set the date to 1st January 1900, instead of 2000.
Ten years. In 1999, people wore worried about the millennium bug. For those too young to remember, some were worried that at the turn of the new millennium, all the computerized clocks would reset, and set the date to 1st January 1900, instead of 2000. As it turns out, the fear was unfounded, but it’s an interesting point in time to examine the drastic change and growth in technology since.
Computers are the most obvious place to start. Moore’s law states that chip processor speed will double every two years, and whilst this hasn’t been exactly true, it hasn’t been far off either. We’d say that the preceding 10 years have seen a growth factor of at least 8 to 10 in processor sizes. Hard drives have also seen similar increases in growth, as has the amount of RAM included as standard. What we can do with computers has changed. There has also been a shift from the standard grey plastic to other colors and materials, showing that how a computer looks is now almost as important as what it does.
Operating systems have evolved as well. Linux has gone through several iterative improvements, and is now a credible alternative to Windows, which has itself gone through a couple of evolutions, from ME to XP to Vista (seems more like a devolution here), to the much hyped Windows 7. The Mac OS has also changed beyond recognition, as the old Mac OS 9 gave way to OS X, which has ushered in countless innovations through the 5 upgrades of its operating system.
The Internet has grown beyond recognition. eBay and Amazon have seen exponential growth in themselves, and the web is now is a major component of every company’s selling strategy. There has also been a transition from web surfers as passive receivers of content to generators of content themselves. This has happened through both people finding it easy to set up websites on their own, as the cost of hosting it on servers becomes cheaper and cheaper, and through the advent of “web 2.0” and websites such as YouTube, Blogger, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc., which make it easy for people to share content with each other and the wider world. Also to be noted is the growth of the netbook and cloud computing, which underlines a different way of looking at computers, deeming that the most important item nowadays in computers is the web, and so the computers sold now are relatively cheap, and have access to the web, where everything (data and programs) is stored online, which is all one needs.
Nearly everything is wireless now. And there’s a whole bunch of clearly-defined protocols for different purposes. Every device is at least compatible with Bluetooth, infrared, or Wi-Fi protocols, which all have different uses, and more is to come with the adoption of 3G and WiMax in the near future, as well as making it easier to connect and communicate with devices on these standards.
In 1999, there was the Nintendo 64 and the Sony PlayStation. Ten years on, there is the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360, and the Nintendo Wii. The Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo GameCube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 have been and gone. Games now are more complicated, the graphics rendered more lifelike, output is now possible in HD quality. It’s possible to use some of these machines to view photos, video, and audio, to surf the net as well, and obviously to play against others online, as well as buy upgrades and game demos. This generation of video games, especially the Wii, also have motion sensing technology, which adds a new dimension to games. Handhelds have evolved as well and can be used to surf the web and play audio and video in addition to playing increasingly sophisticated games.
Digital cameras outsell 35mm film cameras now, and by some margin. At the turn of the century, the top of the line models had barely a megapixel or two, and didn’t have enough memory to hold many shots. Today the consumer is spoilt for choice, with today’s top models easily having 12 megapixels. (As an aside, after about 6 megapixels, any increase is like a law of diminishing returns, with little increase in quality for every megapixel gained.) Now they recognize faces and smiles, stabilize the instability of your hand, take video, and have storage for hundreds, if not thousands, of photos.
MP3 Players and Personal Media Players (PMP)
The ubiquitous iPod is everywhere. Now it’s got four models, each of which dominates its respective sub-market. They, as well as other MP3 players and PMPs, do more than just play audio. Most play video as well, some tune in to FM radio, some display pictures, and many can surf the web through Wi-Fi. They also serve as storage disks, and some are big enough to load operating systems into and boot from. Innovation in this area has been particularly rife, and will continue to be so in the future as well.
What Happens in the Future Then?
Miniaturization, for one. As more can fit into less, the smaller everything can become. And everything has been getting smaller…phones, computers, cameras, the whole bunch. Our guess is that they will continue to get smaller, until a sort of practical minimum has been reached, after which it won’t be able to go any smaller without rethinking design. People might not actually buy these, but they will exist.
Generalized phones, instead of specialization. Why get a separate camera, phone, MP3 player, GPS, and PDA, when one device can do all of these? Add the ability of a computer to add and remove programs, and one feels one could throw away the computer as well, if the device had enough power. It is around, and has been for a while now, like the GPS that can take pictures and “geotag” them, so you know exactly where you were when you took a particular picture, but the difference is that phones can not only do them (phones have been able to get email and surf the web for at long time), but actually do them well. What seems to be happening is a move towards a do-it-all phone. They exist now already, but it’s possible to see that they will continue to add more features (and implement them well) in smaller and smaller form factors.
More emphasis on design and style. As more becomes available for less, the features that an item has will be standardized, and as such will cease to remain unique selling points. Thus, in order to win new consumers, design will become more important, both tangibly, as the outside shell of the item, and intangibly, in the ease of use and intuitiveness of the interface. We see this beginning again with phones, as now that pretty much every phone has the same features, give or take some variation in the combinations and relative strength of these, and in computers as well.
The past ten years have seen some incredible growth in technology, and while the predictions outlined above seem like reasonable guesses to make, there is no guessing what the next few years will usher in. One thing to be sure of, though, is that the pace of change will be faster still. Here’s to the next ten years!