Nine years ago this week, my son was born and, to mark the occasion, I wrote an article, predicting 15 current technologies he would never use, because they would be obsolete by the time he would have a reason to interact with them. Now, as Isaac turns 9, it’s a good time to take a look back at my predictions and assess their accuracy.
Why revisit an article that I wrote for a different website (laptopmag.com) nearly a decade ago? Analyzing the ambitious predictions I made at that time provides an abject lesson in how slowly technology actually changes and how soon children are exposed to grown-up gadgets.
Looking at my listicle proves that I have no future as a futurist. Predictions like the death of windowed operating systems and the end of mice seem crazy right now, but were based on trends that were big at the time (everything going touch). Still, I got a few things right and other predictions are likely to prove true, just a few years later than I expected.
Let’s have a look back at my predictions.
1. No More Wired Home Internet
In 2012, I predicted that, within a few years, ISPs would stop running fiber optic cables to customer’s homes and deliver home broadband via cellular. At the time, we’d seen some weak attempts at wireless home Internet, including some WiMAX plans from Clear (remember them?) and it seemed like the end of wires was just around the corner.
Fast forward 9 years and we’re just now starting to see the start of a movement toward home 5G. T-Mobile just launched its Home Internet service and Verizon 5G Home (opens in new tab) is available in 28 cities. Wired continues to be, by far, the dominant way to deliver reliable Internet to your home or office.
However, there’s reason to believe that fixed 5G Internet will be the dominant form of home and small business connectivity by the time Isaac enters college.
“I do believe that in the long term it will happen,” Anshel Sag, a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, told me. “The reason why is because the fixed costs of upgrading traditional copper and fiber infrastructure for individual users simply does not scale to meet the demand of all connected devices.”
Sag said that 5G is still in its infancy and that it will take three to four years before carriers have the bandwidth and availability that they need to compete with wired home Internet and another three to four years after that for consumers to start making the shift en masse. The key, he noted, is adding C-Band and more capacity in mid-band and millimeter wave.
Once fixed 5G Internet goes mainstream, it will provide more competition and faster speeds to everyone from home users in rural areas to small businesses who are tired of their landlords deciding what carrier gets to wire the buildings. However, Sag says, you will still need a router as customers will have one large, high-performance receiver that sits near a window (or even outside) rather than giving every device in the home its own 5G connection.
Prediction Verdict: TBD. It looks like my son will remember using wired home Internet as a child, like I remember using rotary phones.
2. No Dedicated Cameras and Camcorders
In 2012, I predicted that point-and-shoot cameras and camcorders were so dead that my son would never use them. This has turned out to be correct. While he’s seen my mother, who is slow to give up on old tech, using her ancient Panasonic point-and-shoot, he’s never used a dedicated camera himself.
Even nine years ago, it was easy to see that, outside of high-quality DSLR and mirrorless cameras, standalone cameras were over. According to NPD VP of Industry Analysis Stephen Baker, who studies consumer tech markets for a living, the market for point and shoots has shrunk by 90 percent since 2013.
Prediction Verdict: Right
3. He Won’t Live with Landline Phones
This is kind of a gimme. When my wife was pregnant with Isaac, we canceled our home phone and went cellphone exclusive and, even in 2012, we were late to the game. So I predicted that my son would never use a landline phone and I also made it happen.
That being said, VoIP landline phones are still a part of many peoples’ lives. Cable and fiber optic providers continue to offer these services and many people, including my mom, still have them. When I was working in an office (pre-covid), we still had desk phones with individual numbers, but there are good reasons why a business would want to do that (ex: keeping work and home numbers separate).
Will my son grow up to have a home phone? No way. Could he work in an office that has business lines? Quite possibly.
Prediction Verdict: Right
4. His Computers Will All Boot Super Fast
In 2012, I wrote that, by the time my son uses computers, “new operating systems will be able to install updates and patches without requiring a reboot. However, if for some reason, you do need to restart the computer, boots will take only a couple of seconds”
I got this wrong (so far) because I overestimated how quickly operating systems and solid-state storage would improve and underestimated how young my son would be when he started using PCs. Isaac has been using PCs for several years now and all of them boot in around 30 seconds. That’s pretty fast, but it’s a far cry from “two seconds.”
Windows update hasn’t gotten any less annoying in the last 9 years and, if anything, it has gotten worse, with ever more required updates and even occasional errors. However, if you really want, you can get Windows 10 to boot pretty quickly as we managed to start it under 5 seconds after disabling a whole bunch of services. The one saving grace here is that, like most of us, Isaac puts his laptop to sleep and rarely reboots.
Prediction Verdict: Wrong
5. He’ll Never Use a Windowed Operating System
I predicted that, by the time Isaac was ready to use a computer, desktop GUIs would no longer have windows that you drag around and resize. Instead, I posited, touch-friendly UIs would dominate, not only on mobile devices, but even on computers. I got this wrong and I’m glad that I did.
Back in 2012, tablets were everywhere and Windows 8, Microsoft’s latest operating system, favored touch input over traditional mouse and keyboard use, eschewing the Start Menu for a screen full of finger-friendly tiles. Microsoft also pushed users and developers toward a new class of “modern apps,” which had large fonts and icons and were meant to run at either full screen or side by side, not in draggable windows.
Though I hated Windows 8, I thought it was a harbinger of a world where every desktop OS, even macOS and Linux would be windowless. Thankfully, users rejected the Windows 8 UI in droves and everyone in the industry realized that what works on a mobile device isn’t ideal for a PC.
Isaac has been using windowed operating systems since he was maybe five or six, so they seem very natural to him. His first one wasn’t Windows, but Kano OS, a flavor of Linux running on the Raspberry Pi.
6. He Won’t Use a Computer with a Mechanical Hard Drive
In my original article, I wrote “by the time my son gets his first new laptop, you won't be able to buy one without an SSD.” As a hardware enthusiast, I was an early adopter of SSDs so I was using them in my PCs before Isaac was born in 2012.
So every PC he’s used has had solid-state storage of some kind. The Raspberry Pis we spend so much time doing projects with boot off of microSD cards. The only hard drives he’s used were in older game consoles: an Xbox One and a PS3.
He hasn’t technically gotten “his first new laptop” yet, because his daily driver is a hand-me-down, my old ThinkPad T440s, which has two SSDs. However, even if he bought one today, he’d most likely be getting one with an SSD as even sub-$300 systems now come standard with solid-state storage. If he was buying or building a desktop or configuring a gaming laptop, he could still get one with a hard drive inside for bulk storage, but SSDs are so cheap now that they’ve become standard.
Prediction Verdict: Right
7. He Won’t Go to the Movies
In 2012, I predicted that movie theaters would die soon, but I didn’t say exactly how soon it would be. Isaac has gone to a couple of movies in the theatre, but as the past year has shown, theatres are on their way out and he may not be going to the movies at all as an adult.
In my original article, I said that a confluence of factors would kill movie theatres: the improving quality of home theaters, the eventual death of the 90-day theatrical window and the cost and hassle of the movie-going experience. I wrongly thought that 3D TV sets would play a role by making the theatre 3D experience moot, but they turned out to be a fad.
However, ticket sales have been declining steadily since 2012, though in 2019, people still took 1.2 billion trips to the movies worldwide. The pandemic threw sales off a cliff in 2021, with just 223 million tickets sold, but even as life starts returning to normal, the box office will not.
A number of major studios dumped the 90-day theatrical window in 2020 and 2021 and consumers saw how much more convenient it is to just stay home. Plus, if there’s any risk of getting exposed to diseases, many people will make the calculation that it’s just not worth the hassle. Theaters are even more dead than before. I’ll miss them, sort of.
Prediction Verdict: TBD, but likely to happen in a few more years.
8. He Won’t Use a Mouse
In one of my worst predictions, I opined that my son would never use a mouse, because touch interfaces would replace point and click ones by the time he was ready to use a computer. This wasn’t wishful thinking on my part, because I prefer using a keyboard -- the clicker the better -- and mouse for productivity.
Again, I thought Windows 8 and the rise of tablets was indicative of an anti-mouse trend. I also thought my son wouldn’t be using a computer until he was much older, but he’s been working with Linux-based Raspberry Pis and later Windows PCs, both with mice, since he was five.
In the larger world, mice have remained popular too. According to Baker, sales in 2020 were 13 percent higher than in 2013, though he noted that, in the years between those dates, sales were basically flat.
Prediction Verdict: Laughably wrong
9. He Won’t Use 3D Glasses, Because 3D Will Be Glasses-Free
Around the time my son was born, it seemed like home 3D entertainment was the next big thing. The market was filled with 3D TVs, though people understandably hated using the expensive and bulky glasses that you had to wear for them.
At the time, I had also seen a number of promising glasses-free 3D technologies in the years before my son was born. In 2011, Toshiba introduced the Qosmio F755, a 3D notebook with a webcam that used eye tracking technology to output 3D, without glasses. And two smartphones, the HTC Evo 3D and the LG Thrill also had glasses-free 3D. It seemed like only a matter of time before glasses-free 3D was everywhere and worked for multiple viewers at the same time.
Based on these trends, in my 2012 article, I predicted that “by the time my son is 10, large-screened devices like TVs will be able to offer a compelling glasses-free 3D experience to many viewers at the same time.”
My son won’t turn 10 until next year, but I can already call this one incorrect. The market for 3D TV and 3D phones, with or without glasses, has been dead for years. Lifewire’s Robert Silva, who wrote a post-mortem for 3D TV, notes that companies stopped making these sets all the way back in 2016. In analyzing their failure, Silva cites more than half a dozen factors, including competing standards, expensive glasses, poor image quality and no evolution to 4K. On the other hand, my prediction got one thing right: my son isn’t using 3D glasses.
Prediction Verdict: Wrong
10. He Won’t Use a Remote Control
Remote controls are an old and often frustrating technology. Most of them use infrared to connect your home entertainment system so, if there’s anything blocking the line of sight, they don’t work. And, despite the promise of universal remotes, we always end up with piles of different remotes that go missing.
So, in my article, I predicted that “by the time my son enters grade school,” remote controls would be replaced by either smartphone apps or gesture / voice commands. On the bright side, you can replace almost any remote with a smartphone app, depending on your TV, cable box or streaming box. You can also use voice assistants such as Alexa or Google Assistant to control your home theater.
However, devices still come with dedicated pack-in remotes and most people still use them, because they are just so convenient. My son still uses the regular remote, though in theory, he could avoid it.
Prediction Verdict: Wrong
11. There Won’t Be Desktop PCs
The worst prediction I made in 2012 was that PC vendors would stop producing “most” desktop computers within six years. Laptops were getting a lot faster in the years before then and, in the last 9 years, the performance and price gap between desktop and mobile PCs has continued to narrow.
In fact, if you’re looking to buy a prebuilt, non-gaming budget PC, there’s not much benefit to getting a desktop. For example, today at Best Buy, $399 gets you either type of system with a Core i3 / Ryzen 3, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Sure, a desktop CPU is faster than the equivalent mobile one, but for non-techie consumers, the laptop seems like a better option because it’s portable and has a screen built right in.
But, for those of us who truly care about performance or want the pride that comes from building your own computer, there’s still nothing like a desktop. According to Baker, prebuilt desktops accounted for 20 percent of consumer PC sales in 2013, but dropped to just 13 percent in 2020, so the numbers are down a bit.
However, the number of people building their own desktops is on the rise. According to Baker, people bought 1.7 million empty PC cases in 2020, up from around 1 million in recent years. As for my son, he helped me build a desktop last summer.
Prediction Verdict: Wrong
12. He Won’t Dial Phone Numbers
I predicted that, by the time my son is in high school, he’ll be contacting friends using online messaging or video chat of some kind and never even share phone numbers. But why wait? At the age of 9, he has no idea what anyone’s phone number is and he’s never dialed one, but he still gets and receives calls from friends and family on Facebook messenger.
Given how slowly standards like this change, I don’t think that the idea of having a unique phone number for each person / SIM card is going away by the time he’s in high school. However, I firmly believe that he probably won’t be communicating via standard phone with his friends at all. For the foreseeable future, though, we’ll still need old-fashioned phone connections to call businesses.
Prediction Verdict: Mostly Right
13. He Won’t Watch TV in Primetime
In 2012, I posited that the growing popularity of streaming services, cord-cutting and time-shifting would lead to the end of “Prime Time” television, that magic period between 8 and 11 pm where all the hottest TV programs air.
Fast forward 9 years and these trends have accelerated. For many of us, the real prime time is whenever Disney+ posts this week’s episode of Falcon and Winter Soldier or Amazon drops the next episode of the Expanse (in both cases, usually 3 am ET). However, traditional broadcast networks like ABC, NBC and CBS still release their best content during Prime Time and, given the way ratings drive commercial revenue for them, they are unlikely to change anytime soon, even though viewers are changing their habits and watching these same programs at different times via the web.
As for my son, he has never sat down to watch a Prime Time show, unless it just happened to be on and he caught it by accident. My guess is that he will never in his life say something like “I can’t go anywhere at 9 pm on Friday, because the X-Files is on,” which is what I would say back in the 1990s.
Prediction Verdict: Right
14. He’ll Never Use a Fax Machine
I predicted that my son would never use a fax machine and, perhaps unsurprisingly, he hasn’t proven me wrong in his first 9 years. Some businesses and financial transactions still use faxes, because of issues accepting digital signatures. However, given that we can now scan and email documents or, in a worst case scenario, use fax software, there is zero need for a fax machine. I can’t remember the last time I sent or received a fax.
Baker said NPD no longer tracks fax machines so can’t even tell us how poorly they are selling. However, the market is full of printer / scanner/ fax combination devices so it’s always possible that someone is using those to actually send faxes.
Prediction Verdict: Right
15. Optical Discs Will Be Gone
In my article, I said that “it may take until my son turns 10 for the major entertainment companies to stop publishing in DVD and Blu-ray format, but make no mistake, discs aren’t long for this world.” He’s 9 now, but I’m pretty sure we won’t see the end of Blu-ray by next year so this prediction was premature.
In my son’s life, he’s used optical discs many times in PS3 and XBox game consoles. He’s also seen our collection of DVDs and Blu-rays, but noted that we almost never watch them and, in fact, we disconnected our Blu-ray player. So, now that we no longer play XBox or PS3, we are in effect a disc-free household at present.
However, there’s good reason to believe that optical discs and physical media in general will survive for quite a bit longer and that good reason is “when you own the disc, you actually own the content.” In the past several years, savvy consumers, especially movie buffs, have seen many instances where an online service either lost the rights to content or went out of business. The terms of service at many online movie and game services even say that they can’t be held liable if the content you bought suddenly goes offline forever. And there’s no good way to sell or trade-in a game or movie you own digitally.
So where does that leave us? Some people will continue to buy movies that they want to keep on Blu-ray and, because of the trading of used games, even new consoles have optical drives at least as an option. However, the convenience of streaming means that those sales will get smaller and smaller over time.
Prediction Verdict: Wrong
I have several takeaways from the exercise of making and evaluating these predictions. First and most importantly, the “higher tech thing” isn’t always the best thing for usability, even if companies want to push consumers toward it.
At the time my son was born, it seemed like the leading platform vendors, especially Microsoft, were trying to kill the keyboard / mouse and windowed OS UI concept that had existed since the 1980s and replace it with touch-only interfaces. I hated this trend (I still miss having a keyboarded phone), but I thought it was inevitable. However, users pushed back, Windows 8 was an abject failure and today traditional PCs with windowed GUIs continue to hold their place alongside mobile devices with touch.
Second, It takes a really long time for well-established technologies to completely “die,” even if as with fax, everyone agrees that they are lame and need to go. But more often the reason that technologies hang around is that there are still good reasons for them. Optical discs are much less convenient than streaming, but they let you actually “own” whatever content you bought.
Finally, never underestimate the speed at which a child learns. I didn’t get my first PC until I was 13 and didn’t do my first build until 19 so I assumed my son wouldn’t be using “grown up” technology for a long time. Instead, he got his first tablet at age 1, was using Raspberry Pis by 5 and programming in text-based languages and using the command line by 7 and helping me build a PC at 8.
|No More Wired Home Internet||X|
|No Point and Shoots||X|
|No Landline Phone||X|
|No Windowed GUIs||X|
|No Using HDDs||X|
|Movie Theatres to Die||X|
|No More Mice||X|
|No Remote Controls||X|
|No Desktop PCs||X|
|Never Dial a Phone Number||X|
|No Watching Primetime TV||X|
|Never Use a Fax Machine||X|
|No More Optical Discs||X|