Much Has Changed in Tech in 10 Years…But Much Has Not

on July 14, 2017

There have been numerous columns by thought leaders over the past couple of weeks commemorating the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the iPhone and its impact on consumers, businesses, tech, and various industries. As sort of a companion piece, I’ve been thinking about some other momentous changes in tech over the past decade…as well as some areas we thought we’d be further along.

What Has Changed in a Big Way.

A Computer In Your Pocket. If we knew then what we know now, we should have called smartphones ‘pocket computers’ or some alternative moniker. It’s a phone, camera, media player, navigation device, e-reader, gaming device, health/fitness tracker, etc. – all in your pocket, doing much of what a PC can do, and in many instances more easily, quickly, and nimbly.

Cloud Everything. The other huge growth space over the past ten years has been cloud. It has had an enormous impact on the enterprise market. But one way to think of how cloud has changed things in a big way for the everyday consumer is the fact that if your laptop breaks or you get that dreaded ‘blue screen of death’…it is not ‘cataclysmic’ in the same way it used to be. If e-mail, documents, and media are stored in the cloud (as they should be), the PC has become the device to create content and access your (cloud stored) content.

Broadband Ubiquity. We are now accustomed to having broadband nearly everywhere. It might still be in vogue to complain about the cable company or the relative monopoly in fixed broadband, but broadband speeds have improved steadily, and prices have remained stable. In wireless, LTE is ubiquitous and fast in most places, and data plans allow for nearly unlimited consumption, with some safeguards.

Massive Improvements in Voice Recognition. AI and services such as Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, and so on would not be possible without the significant improvement in voice recognition. It’s gone from barely usable in voice response systems to working with fairly high accuracy, enabling a new wave of apps, devices, and ways to communicate.

Rise of Social Networking. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn have become a huge part of our communications, and content creation/consumption fabric. Each of them with its own purpose, and some used by certain market segments more than others.

Content Creation and Consumption. Three big changes here. One, is the proliferation of content sources and channels, (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc.), with the full continuum of content quality, from fantastic to awful. Second, is the how we consume content, with the expectation that all content is available on-demand. And third, the growth of user-generated content, enabled by digital technology and smartphone video cameras.

What Hasn’t Really Changed.

This list applies to aspects of mainstream tech that haven’t really changed or changed less than we would have thought by now.

Still Using PCs. Smartphones are ubiquitous and tablet growth has plateaued. But the ‘post-PC’ era has not materialized as some predicted during the peak of the 2010-14 tablet boom. Most consumers and business professionals still mainly use a PC or laptop as their default device. There’s lots of experimentation with hybrid devices, Chromebooks, and the like, but PCs look like they’re here to stay, in some shape or form, for the next several years.

The E-Mail Experience Has Not Changed. Texting and enterprise messaging solutions such as Slack have proliferated. Voicemail is hardly used by anyone under the age of 30. But e-mail is still the mainstream form of messaging, especially for professional purposes. And nobody has yet found the formula for making e-mail more manageable. There’s some AI, and features at the margins, but most of us still wade through our email (and more and more spam) in the same way we did 10 years ago.

Digital Wallet/Mobile Payments Not Mainstream. Square, Venmo, Apple Pay, and Samsung Pay are all great, in that the technology is there and the user experience is good. But the digital wallet and mobile payments are still not mainstream enough that you really can leave your wallet at home. This is an industry problem, not a technology problem.

TV Hasn’t Really Changed. There has been growth in cord cutting, skinny bundles, and ‘sticks’ to enable access to Netflix, Amazon, and the like. But if anything, the experience of watching TV has become more complex, and each ‘skinny bundle’ offering comes with a major ‘asterisk’ (i.e. no local channels, sports, CBS, etc). This category is still in the ‘going to get worse before it gets better’ phase, like living through a house renovation.

Broadband Remains a World of Haves and Have Nots. Above, I mentioned how fixed and wireless broadband speeds for the average urban/suburban customer have continually improved. But for the 15% of U.S. households, and a couple of billion users globally, fast broadband remains elusive. There’s lots of work going on in this area, with folks from Google to Qualcomm to Facebook exploring creative solutions to spread broadband to poorly served areas. But this is tough slogging, and will remain one of tech’s biggest challenges over the next ten years.

Electronic Medical Records. With smartphones, apps, and digitization of nearly everything, it’s still surprising to me that most doctor visits involve filling out some poorly photocopied form, with one’s personal info and medical history, by hand. Tons of money has been thrown at this, and there’s been some change, but it’s really in pockets.