Can we Predict The Next Decade in tech today?

I have been covering the PC industry since 1981, which means I have watched the tech world develop over a four-decade period. The advances in tech come fast and furiously, but each decade has its own focus. For example, the decade from 1980 to 1989 saw the birth and growth of the personal computer industry, and most of that decade was focused on PCs in business and on productivity.

Starting in 1990 and for most of that decade, we saw the growth of laptops and portable computing, and thanks to things like multimedia and desktop publishing, the PCs in the 1990s began gaining ground with prosumers and consumers. Multimedia computing, driven by the introduction of CD ROM’s and new multimedia software, made the PC a product for consumers and started to become an important educational tool in the home.

2000 to 2009 saw the PC become cheaper, and laptops became more powerful, yet thinner and a bit lighter than they were in the 1990s. In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod and changed the face of portable music consumption. In 2007 Apple introduced the iPhone, and by 2009, the iPhone and Android smartphones, thanks to apps and services, evolved to become an early version of the more powerful pocket computers we carry with us during the last decade.

In 2010, Apple introduced the iPad, and, according to Steve Jobs at the time he launched the iPad, the iPad could “someday replace a laptop.” While that has not happened yet, the iPad and tablets have had a pronounced impact on the world of portable computing, and with Apple’s most recent introduction of the iPad OS, their tablet is on a path to potentially duplicating most of what a person does on a laptop.

The 2010-2019 decade saw the explosion and true impact of social media, for good and bad. At the end of the decade, we got a glimpse of what the future of smartphones might look like thanks to the introduction of Samsung and Motorola’s foldable smartphones. In early 2019 Lenovo introduced their foldable laptop, the X1 Foldable. This could lead to the next decade being one where foldable smartphones and laptops drive new innovation in mobile computing designs.

As I look back over this last decade, I find that so much of what really happened in the world of tech was not part of any forecast for the new decade in terms of accurate futuristic forecasting.

In fact, In 2009, could anyone have predicted the following?

  • Facebook and Twitter would have an impact on a presidential election? That by the end of the decade Facebook, Twitter, and Google would be the interest of governments around the world regarding their management of customers data, privacy and security?
  • Smartphones would enable brand new services like Uber, Lyft, food delivery services, etc.

  • Smartphones as navigation tools, which allowed companies like WAZE to be born and the major smartphone vendors making GPS and maps a central tool that a smartphone could deliver.

  • Smartphones’ impact on the camera industry. Although Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, it did not really take off until Apple began populating their site with iPhone apps in 2010. At that point, the demand for Phones really grew, and during the last decade, the cameras on smartphones became better and better’ Now they are the primary way people take photos. The iPhone camera in 2007 was minimal at best while the iPhone cameras today are verging on DSLR territory.

  • Streaming music, video, VOD, and its impact on the cable, cellular, music, and movie industries. For the cable business streaming has caused cord-cutting in droves and has threatened the cable industry. On the other hand, it has been a boon for the music industry, and Hollywood and the cellular industry has benefited greatly since their customers need more data for streaming services, which allows them to bring in new revenues they did not have in the last decade.

  • Tesla and electric cars- Although Tesla started in 2003, the previous decade was more for R&D and setting up its supply chain and manufacturing. The Tesla Model S arrived in 2012, and over this last decade, demand for electric cars and electric hybrids have skyrocketed. In 2009, most bets were that Tesla would not survive. Now it is leading the entire auto industry into the era of electric cars.

    In the auto industry, we saw advances in back-up cameras, in-car navigation, automatic braking, and adaptive cruise control. In the next decade, they hope to bring us self driving vehicles and vow to make their cars smarter and safer.

  • Smartphones as a ubiquitous pocket computer.
  • In 2009, many were still on the fence about the importance and impact the iPhone and smartphones would have in the future. But by 2010, when Apple opened its apps store and began greater innovation on the iPhone design and functions, along with the introduction of smartphones from Samsung and others using Android, smartphones became the one digital device we all carry with us today. Its impact on our mobile computing capabilities and the way it is used to call rideshare services, order food delivery, make mobile payments, navigate to a designated location, etc. make it the most valuable personal computer we have today.

  • Mobile payments-Enabled by smartphones and in China today is the way most people pay for just about anything they buy.

  • Cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, and Blockchain – This emerged mid decade and picked up steam over the last five years.

AI and ML-These technologies have been around for over 30 years but really only began to be used in broader applications and services over this last decade.

I do not know of any forecasts at the end of 2009 that predicted most of the things mentioned above. While Tesla, Facebook, Twitter, and others launched in the 2000s, their impact was not felt until this last decade.

As one who has put out next year forecasts since 1995, I might be tempted to tackle the next decade forecast too. But as I review the shortlist of things that happened in the last decade, there are only two items that I felt would be transformative in that decade, and that was smartphones and streaming music. I missed streaming video and most of the rest of those mentioned above.

However, as I look towards the next decade, I think there are at least four sure bets in terms of technology advances that could really be impactful from 2020 to 2029.

The first is 5G. I think that 5G, with its ultra-high-speed wireless capabilities and broad reach, will be one of the most transformational technologies in the next decade. Higher speed wireless networks will enable a whole host of new types of applications and services, many we can’t even imagine today.

The chart below predicts global 5G adoption, and from the other research reports I have seen on this subject, the numbers Ericsson suggests in this chart from their Mobility Report, seems on the money. By the end of the decade, 5G will impact smart cities, smart cars, smart homes, smart manufacturing, and a plethora of other applications and services and become the backbone for most communications at all levels of business and personal mobile applications.

The second will be the evolution of smart cars and automated vehicles. I have no doubt, given what we see in the tea leaves in automotive research today, that by the end of the decade, we will have level 5 fully automated self-driving cars and the broader building out of smart roads and smart cities.

The third will be the role and impact AI and ML will have on technology applications, services, and products during the next decade. AI-based robots embedded with ML capabilities could take out millions of jobs that are repetitive and clerical. It could be critical for next-generation medical research and diagnosis, and there will be no business or industry that will be untouched by AI and ML by 2029.

The 4th technology that will be big in the next decade will be AR and VR. Today both are used mostly in vertical applications and training, but by the end of the new decade, I believe AR and Mixed reality will go mainstream by mid-century and could become the next big mobile computing platform impacting both businesses and consumers in big ways.

Bonus prediction:

Quantum Computing, by most accounts, is still in its infancy. But we see advanced research in Quantum Computing inside top scientific and technically focused universities, as well as inside big corporate research centers like IBM, Intel, HP, and many more. I suspect that by the end of the next decade, Quantum Computing will be highly defined, and semiconductors, applications, and services will be launched by late in the next decade to deliver the promises of Quantum Computing.

While those four or five things seem plausible, who knows what other technology breakthroughs or evolutions, we may see become a reality in the coming decade. I just hope that I will live long enough to see what this next decade will deliver in the way of technical advances and innovative and disruptive changes to the way we work, learn, and play.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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