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Whoops! 5 misguided tech predictions

December 14, 2021

Looking back on 2020 and 2021 highlights just how difficult it can be to predict the future of tech when so many influential factors are at play in a global market. So, this year, instead of making our own predictions for 2022, we’ve chosen to re-examine some bygone predictions that were spectacularly wrong.

1. Nobody’s going to watch tv
The introduction of televisions that are accessible to almost every household in the developed world to deliver news, information and escapism is seen by many as a life-changing innovation. Daryl Zanuck, co-founder of 20th Century Fox, didn’t see it this way. His prediction in 1964 that “Television won’t be able to hold onto any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night”[1] hasn’t come true yet. It’s possible that the increasing shift to downloading entertainment on the move on smart phones and tablets may lead to the demise of the TV, but with over 200m television sets sold globally in 2019 alone[2], it doesn’t look to be on the horizon just yet.

2. iPhones will crash and burn
In 2007, Steve Jobs announced the arrival of the iPhone. Love it or hate it, we all know just how much this handful of communication, photographic and processing power has shaped many aspects of innovation since then, but many people anticipated the announcement with scathing scepticism.

The CEO of Microsoft at the time, Steve Ballmer, forecast that “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” [3] In a blog entitled “Apple iPhone Debut to Flop, Product to Crash in Flames” [4], blogger, author and Instructor in Computer Science, David Platt, predicted that “the iPhone is going to fail because its design is fundamentally flawed”. They weren’t alone. Numerous journalists and influencers wrote similarly derisive reviews of the forthcoming phone. Nearly 15 years on we have to concede that, while not everyone likes the iPhone, few can say that the product has been a failure.

3. We’ll be earth-bound forever
As we teeter on the brink of space tourism becoming a reality, it’s worth revisiting the New York Times prediction of 1936 that “a rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” [5] The statement relied on the author’s belief that a rocket’s exhaust would have nothing to push against in the void of space but was retracted in 1969 in light of the Apollo mission, with the statement that “Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th century and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error.” [6]

4. Telephones just aren’t useful
Mobile phones aside, Alexander Graham Bell struggled to convince everyone about the value of his first telephone. When pitching his patent in 1876 to William Orton, the president of Western Bell, Orton stated in an internal company memo that it had “too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.”[7]

Just a few years later, in 1890, Welsh electrical engineer and inventor, William Henry Preece, was reported to say “The Americans may have need of the telephone, we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.”[8] Interestingly, Preece was accredited with developing his own wireless telegraphy and telephony system in 1892 while serving as Engineer-in-Chief of the British Post Office. Sceptics may question whether his disdain was fuelled by a desire to develop a home-grown solution.

5. People won’t want any cars, never mind self-driving ones
in 1903, the President of the Michigan Savings Bank issued advice not to invest in Ford Motor Company because “The automobile is a fad, a novelty. Horses are here to stay.”[9] While we do indeed still have horses, the automobile also stood the test of time and there is currently an estimated billion passenger cars currently in the world[10].

More recently, in 2015, Jaguar predicted that they would never make self-driving cars because “we don’t consider customers cargo. We don’t want to build a robot that delivers the cargo from A to B.”[11] This quote, attributed to Head of R&D, Wolfgang Epple, was followed just two years later by the news that Jaguar were ploughing $25m into Lyft to fund autonomous and connected vehicle activities. It seems in reality that no-one wants to be left behind in the race to self-driving cars.

Where in the world is tech heading?
In the light of such immense failed predictions, we said we wouldn’t make any of our own. But we couldn’t help ourselves. At Active Silicon, we’re pretty sure 2022 will see some relief in the global chip shortage, wider global investment in green technologies and sizeable growth in the adoption of automation in manufacturing. These are pretty simple and safe predictions, but rest assured that whatever comes along, our engineering experts will be ready to identify and adopt vision innovations into our industry-leading products.

Read more about our ideas, products and solutions and contact us to see how we can turn your imaging aspiration into reality.

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[1] https://www.businessinsider.in/the-10-stupidest-things-ever-said-by-techs-smartest-people/Television-wont-be-able-to-hold-onto-any-market-it-captures-after-the-first-six-months-People-will-soon-get-tired-of-staring-at-a-plywood-box-every-night-Daryl-Zanuck-co-founder-of-20th-Century-Fox/slideshow/21167185.cms?_ga=2.205588048.270380765.1638176871-1738350698.1638176870
[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/760287/global-tv-set-unit-sales-by-region/
[3] https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2007/04/ballmer-says-iphone-has-no-chance-to-gain-significant-market-share/
[4] http://suckbusters2.blogspot.com/2007/06/apple-iphone-debut-to-flop-product-to.html
[5] https://quotes.yourdictionary.com/author/quote/540647
[6] https://www.rfcafe.com/miscellany/factoids/ny-times-admits-moon-flight-possible.htm
[7] http://www.anvari.org/fortune/Famous_Last_Words/23_this-telephone-has-too-many-shortcomings-to-be-seriously-considered-as-a-means-of-communication.html
[8] http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/453.html
[9] https://medium.com/@aliniacb/the-horse-is-here-to-stay-but-the-automobile-is-only-a-novelty-a-fad-9e810a51363a
[10] https://www.rfidtires.com/how-many-cars-world.html
[11] https://www.cnet.com/news/well-never-make-self-driving-cars-says-jaguar-land-rover-exec/