In Pictures: 8 technologies that are on the way out - and one that we'll never be rid of
In the blink of an eye, a technology that's on top today can be made obsolete by the next big thing. Six futurists predict which of today's common technologies are headed for the scrap heap, and what will replace them.
If "change is the only constant" applies anywhere, it's in the world of technology. One day you're proud of knowing how to set your VCR, and the next your DVR is recording shows you didn't even know were on. Few would have guessed in 1980 that vinyl records would be obsolete in 15 years; fewer still would have predicted that CDs would in turn be obsolete a mere 10 years after that.
We asked a panel of experts to peer into the future and identify some business and consumer technologies that are on their way out -- and what will replace them. Here are eight technologies they say we'll soon see the back of, plus one that it looks like we'll be stuck with forever.
So long, smartphone
You saw this one coming: "The smartphone screen will disappear altogether due to the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technology," predicts Ann Mack, director of trendspotting at marketing communications firm JWT Worldwide. Indeed, research firm IDC forecasts that shipments of wearable devices like smartwatches and smart glasses will surpass 19 million units in 2014, and that the global market will reach nearly 112 million units in 2018.
But today's wearables will themselves be swept aside by more sophisticated devices, according to Ian Campbell, CEO of Nucleus Research. "Next, the top button on my shirt is actually a computer interface to my cloud," he says. "Google Glass will end up a niche product like Segway."
Why stop with just wearing our tech, when we can have it embedded into our bodies? From implanted RFID chips being used to unlock doors to bionic ears and eyes, pioneers are already exploring the potential of "transhumanism."
"In 20 years it'll be hard to tell where the person ends and the computer begins," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. We'll see smarter prosthetics and military applications well before then, he adds, but it'll take a couple decades for embedded devices to become mainstream. "Health, religious and privacy concerns will slow its adoption.
Mo' betta mobile power
Batteries are ubiquitous in today's device-ridden, mobile world. But we're all familiar with their drawbacks: They're heavy, take a long time to charge and provide a toxic disposal challenge.
"Batteries will be replaced by supercapacitors [a.k.a. ultracapacitors], most likely, or fuel cells as more efficient ways to store and provide energy," says Enderle. Supercapacitors operate like regular capacitors but can store much more energy. They're expensive and don't (yet) hold as much energy per weight as standard batteries, but they charge almost instantly and can last through a million or more charge/discharge cycles.
"They'll be supplements within 5 years, and mass replacements should occur within 10 years," Enderle predicts. "The need is critical to many markets like consumer electronics, defense and automotive."
No more clicking or typing
Say goodbye to your mouse and keyboard. They will yield to "an intelligent interface that uses voice, gestures and other commands," says William Halal, Professor Emeritus of Management, Technology & Innovation at George Washington University. "Touch and other inputs may be included, of course. But the mouse and keyboard will likely be used only by techies and those doing serious computing, and the old GUI is likely to yield to these more natural interfaces."
But Enderle thinks there will be some resistance to this change. "We really don't like learning new ways of doing things," he says, "and something like this will likely be driven by the youth market. Ten years is the likely time frame, but it could take 20."
Devices that talk -- to each other
Traditional buttons and switches are already disappearing from our gadgets and appliances, with everything from clock radios to multiroom music systems now controlled by smartphone apps. Future IoT-connected devices will require less of even that kind of interaction.
"Devices will be connected but also self-diagnosing and correcting," says Campbell. "If there's a problem with the dishwasher, the repair person can remotely fix the issue without ever contacting me."
We're not ready psychologically or legally to turn over that control, cautions Enderle. "Liability concerns will keep most of this from happening until you can get localized artificial intelligence to monitor the equipment," he says. "Otherwise, there's too much chance for a hacker to burn down the house. This'll take more than 15 years."
Big data meets security
Traditionally, security measures have tended to be reactive: IT modified the company's firewall settings after an intrusion, and anti-malware vendors updated their threat definitions after a threat had been identified.
"This approach will be replaced by predictive security," which uses data mining and analysis to track and anticipate cyber threats, says Jai Menon, vice president and chief research officer with Dell's Research division. Tools such as OpenDNS' Umbrella Security Graph are already helping researchers get out in front of attacks as they're unfolding.
Soon, Menon says, "we will start to develop countermeasures in advance, based on the prediction of new exploits." That approach will apply not just to external threats, but also to identifying and shutting down insider threats, he adds.
Access to corporate systems is usually determined by defined roles, such as administrator, business user or guest. But future systems will take into account not only a person's role but "the device they're using, the current threat level, the security of the location from which access is requested and so on," says Menon. "Heuristics will monitor patterns of use, and if a user begins to do things 'out of character,' it will set off alerts."
Campbell from Nucleus Research predicts that a persistent, personal identity will also be part of the new security framework. "People will have a single identity for school, personal, corporate, etc. You won't add a new user to the corporate network but rather authorize someone's identity."
Mix 'n' match software
Many IT departments still develop custom applications for their users, but Menon says the practice will become largely extinct as application programming interfaces and packaged software services proliferate: "Salesforce provides 200,000 APIs; ProgrammableWeb is currently tracking more than 11,000 APIs; Google and Bitnami and Amazon Web Services provide hundreds. If you can't find a service that does what you want, you probably aren't looking hard enough." Companies will need developers who are expert at orchestrating APIs and packaged services, he adds.
"Application development has always gotten more containerized and off-the-shelf," agrees Campbell. "Code gave way to procedures which led to modules and then DLLs... but you'll still need to be clever to arrange those building blocks into something useful."
When it comes to email, JWT's Mack speaks for many when she says, "There has to be a better way."
The problem comes when you try to replace it. It's easy to imagine a messaging service in a wearable or embedded device, but what about sending attachments? What about archiving? If you design an electronic messaging system that can send files, address multiple recipients and establish a permanent record, you end up with something a lot like email.
"Email will live on forever," says Campbell. "I'm willing to call it the cockroach of software. We may hate it, but it will be around until the end of time."