In 1900, John Watkins predicted the birth of the mobile phone, digital photography and television. Whilst these revolutionary claims came true, many others haven’t been blessed with such accurate foresight. This blog will reveal seven of these tech predictions that were excessively optimistic, misguided and positively wrong.
As Winston Churchill perfectly noted:
“It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.”
7 Tech Predictions that Didn’t Come True1. “Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will be a flop” | 1966
In February 1966, TIME Magazine published an essay envisaging our world in 2000. Though largely accurate, there was one prediction that turned out to be colossally wrong – that online shopping would fail to take off.
According to the article, this type of “remote shopping” wouldn’t become popular because “women like to get out of the house, like to handle merchandise.” With over £1.1 trillion spent online in 2015 and expected to grow, we can confidently categorise this prediction as ‘a flop’.
Alan Sugar is known for his bold opinions but in February 2005, our Apprentice star went a step too far. By Christmas 2006, Sugar claimed, the iPod “will be dead”.
Unfortunately for him, we now know this prediction was unequivocally incorrect. In 2008, only a few years after Sugar’s claim, over 54 million units of the iPod were sold worldwide. As this success continued, the iPod has become the most popular MP3 in history. Perhaps he should have listened more closely to Steve Jobs when he claimed in 2001 that “with the iPod, listening to music will never be the same again.”
In March 2005, YouTube featured only around 50 videos. Perhaps understandably, its co-founder, Steve Chen, claimed that this video platform wouldn’t survive.
However, luckily for Chen, Google didn’t agree. Seeing great potential in YouTube, by November 2006 Google had bought the site for around £883 million in Google stock. Now, according to YouTube, it has over 1 billion users with its top video, the infamous Gangnam Style, gaining over two and a half billion views as of April 2016.
Bill Gates may have founded Microsoft, the world’s largest PC software company. And he may now be the richest person in the world with a net worth of £77.7bn. However, back in 2003 he showed that even he can make wrong digital predictions when he reportedly claimed that spam “will be solved” by 2006.
Anyone with an email account can see that this has definitely not come true as email providers battle to divert these unwanted emails into our spam inbox.
Only three years ago, the CEO of Blackberry, Thorsten Heins, suggested that tablets will no longer be of use by 2018. In his words, “tablets themselves are not a good business model.”
Though its growth has been slowing since 2015, in 2016 a huge 206 million units of tablets were shipped. By the end of 2016, eMarketer has also predicted that spending on tablet will make up over 64% of all UK mCommerce sales. It seems that Heins recognised his error as he later took his comment back, claiming that Blackberry are “interested in the future of tablets, whatever that is.”
6. “I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse” | 1995
Robert Metcalfe was an undoubted digital and technology genius. He co-invented the Ethernet as far back as 1973 and founded 3Com. However, in 1995 this same man also outrageously claimed that the internet was doomed to failure.
In a column for InfoWorld, he suggested that a number of issues concerning digital capacity and speed meant that the internet will fail to take off and by 1996, it will come to an end. Like Heins however, he also realised his mistake and quite literally ‘ate his words’ by dramatically scrunching up a copy of this column and eating it on stage.
I think we can safely say that the television has played a huge role in our society. In 2014, 97% of UK homes had at least one digital TV. Of these people, an average 3 hours and 40 minutes of T.V. was watched every night.
In 1946 however, America Darryl Zanuck, executive of 20th Century Fox, had other ideas. He claimed that initial interest in the “plywood box” was just a fad and “television won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months.” We have all made mistaken predictions, but this surely to be recorded as one of the biggest howlers.
There have been some truly terrible tech predictions made over the years as industry experts try to guess where the tech world will take us. And this continues on today as predictions of self-driving cars, foldable displays and AR flood the internet. Only time will tell whether these claims are lauded as genius, or mocked as foolery.
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