It’s the last anti-buzz of the year, so let’s do a quick recap of how myself and others did at tech predictions.
I’ll begin with myself. Last year I did something for the first time: I made an actual tech prediction. In keeping with the traditions of this column, it was sufficiently vague. The nature of anti-buzz is that the tone will generally be one of ‘talking you down from your tree’ rather than generating any hype. As an ostensible counterpoint to the oft-excitable tech media, I have a mandate to keep a somewhat conservative attitude, so making predictions can be tricky.
All that is to say is that grading my own tech prediction is a similarly vague practice. I’ve already committed to the idea that streaming services are here to stay and that they have shown us what the future of entertainment will look like, but we also aren’t at that critical mass point where cable and broadcast networks will be facing their Borders/Newspaper/iTunes moment any time very soon. Within my lifetime? Absolutely. But that’s a long-term prediction. My 2013 prediction was that we’d have a better idea of how soon it would be coming. I thought that the rise of high profile series on Netflix and similar would show us exactly how much television has to fear in the near future, but I would say that predicting television’s demise is still a tricky business. We did learn a few things: Streaming services are credible content producers, and if broadcast and cable networks aren’t particularly threatened by Netflix and company, the streaming services are complicating their branding; streaming services allow people to be fans of particular televisions shows without being fans of the networks that produced them. New devices like Roku and Chromecast are further removing the friction between your Internet services and your nice high-definition television set. This all feels like a prelude to the inevitable network television collapse. However, merchandise empires are still built on top of highly-rated shows. Sports and reality-TV still provide a need for “tuning in” at the specified time. It’s still hard to bet against traditional television in the near-term.
Which brings me to other tech predictions of 2013. Incidental to my own prediction was the common belief that Apple would get in on the ‘smart TV’ game with an iTV, but this never materialized. Perhaps the underlying hope was that if Apple pushed itself into that market, it might hasten the transition away from traditional television?
With Google set to make a new push with its Chromebooks and Microsoft being a little more explicit with its hybrid tablet/laptops, the most common tech predictions of 2013 were about that space between laptop and tablet, and whether or not it had any legs. If I had weighed in on this myself, I would have bet against the hybrid and/or the second coming of the netbook. The netbook really was a fad, an item meant to service a segment of the population that badly needed it, but it ultimately lost out to the tablet and smartphone market. PCs aren’t dead, not really, but its clear what the ‘casual computer’ looks like, and it’s flat, rectangular and doesn’t have a keyboard. I thought this was a settled issue, so that companies are still pushing the issue – and people are still thinking it has any merit – is confusing to me. The smart phone and tablet market got even bigger in 2013. If it wasn’t obvious where this is going before, it should be now.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with applying what we’ve learned from tablets to PCs, and there will always be a segment of the population that wants a small efficient laptop. Chromebooks, for example, might fill out a small software development company nicely. Certain professionals could enjoy a hybrid, especially if they are always on the move and have to vacillate between work and presentation, (real-estate agents come to mind). But the mass consumer wants a touchscreen and a long battery life.