Ten good-enough predictions about tech, media and news

One wall of my office is covered with notes and diagrams trying to divine the future. Nobody can get it right, so I'm actually not worried about that. What's important is to generate views that are useful and helpful in planning. In that spirit, I thought I should share a few "predictions" and see what you all think. I'm thinking of the period 2015-2018. It's close enough to be real, but far enough to give the imagination some running room.

  1. Tablet-like experiences will achieve parity with computer-like experiences. I'm counting future "smartphones" as tablet-like, not just the note/slate size, and referring to usage on the network, not simply having one in your pocket or bag. Computers with keyboards are not going away, certainly not anytime in the near future, but designing for the tactile experience of tablets and touchscreens will be at least as important as any other form of information presentation design.
  2. Voice interfaces -- recognition and synthesis -- won't dominate but they will become a serious part of the mainstream. Piping that data through realtime translators will begin to make the Star Trek Universal Translator real. And it'll keep the gang down at the NSA amused.
  3. Computer chips won't get much faster in clock speed. Instead, the multicore processors that emerged over the last decade will sprout more cores, shrink in size and power consumption, and push their way from the desktop down into tiny devices.
  4. Networking costs will drop and mobile usage will soar. If you thought we had an information surplus and a lack of scarcity in 2010, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Everything really will be everywhere. McLuhan would recognize the network as an extension of the mind. Old fogeys will continue to complain about a loss of quality, how the world has gone to hell, and how you kids should get off the lawn.
  5. Apple, Google and Amazon will be big winners. Microsoft, Yahoo and any company that behaves like a newspaper will be big losers.
  6. Your media experience won't be tied to a device -- it'll be tied to your identity. Current state will live in the cloud and you won't know or care where the data is stored. Quit reading or listening on one device, switch to another, and pick up where you left off. Your pocket screen, tablet, 28-inch desktop display and 55-inch wall "television" are all portals into a single experience.
  7. Radio, television and print won't go away, but they'll be pushed to the margins. Real-time "channels" will still exist and be significant as discovery venues, but they'll be in the minority in terms of usage.
  8. All your devices will be location-aware. All your devices will recognize and network with each other without configuration hassles. All your experiences will become personalizable based on your preferences, your behaviors, your location and your current activities.
  9. Having lost their role as discovery media, any print or print-like "newspapers" that survive will have adapted to focus on other roles, such as explanation, briefing, and entertainment.
  10. "News" will no longer be a good label for the work done by any surviving "newsrooms," as networked word-of-mouth will have stolen nearly all of the "breaking news" function from professional journalism. Smart "editors" will focus on understanding, which they will support through facilitating and providing context, analysis, explanation and debate, and perhaps re-embrace civic action.


Who doesn't want to cherry-pick the good stuff? 10a) Whither investigative journalism? It's been withering for some time.

I'm not sure what you mean by "Tablet-like experiences will achieve parity with computer-like experiences". If you're saying consuming information on tablets and phones will be as good as consuming information on computers, then I think we are there, or thereabout, today. Likewise simple communications. On the other hand, if you are talking about the across-the-board experience, I'd have to disagree. Some people might be able to point and gesture with their fingers to compose messages or create information, but I think it'll be a long time before journalists and others who process large information, will be completely free of the need for a keyboard. I'm not saying this won't ever happen - but it doesn't appear to be on the immediate horizon.

I'm referring to the amount of usage (especially online, interactive usage) these things get. That's what's important to me as a provider of interactive services and content. What devices will people be using to consume, create content and interact? What does that suggest about the kinds of content and experiences I need to create? And the design?

Right now there's a lot of overblown hype about the iPad among people who largely were already Apple fans, have high disposable income with no barriers to obtaining a redundant interface, and feed their egos by being able to flash the latest and most fashionable toys. That's harsh, but let's face it: the numbers are very, very, very tiny. Tablets are all potential, and as I keep reminding people, we're only about 90 days into this journey and it's foolish to make wild projections based on early adopters.

What's important is the next several layers of consumers -- the mainstream. I'm guessing that it will take five to eight years for tablets to account for about half of total usage, and that people with workplace needs to create and manipulate text won't prefer them. Could be more, could be less -- but it seems certain that we'll need to understand and take advantages of the differences in interaction implied by tablets while continuing to support keyboard-mouse-monitor interactions.

I'm especially interested in #9 & #10, as I teach in the Mass Comm department at a small private college. Our challenge is to help students understand how changes in our industry will affect them, in terms of classes to take today and jobs that will be available tomorrow. Thanks for making me think about this.

I think tablets will be a hot consumer device for about three years, starting this holiday season. They are bigger than a cell and have internet everywhere with 3 and 4g. Still, they really are consumer devices, not designed for those of us that produce content. I love point 5 and couldn't agree more. Point 8 - "All your devices will be location-aware." is the most important. This is currently beginning as more companies move data to the cloud. It will be cool to walk into your house and have the music you were listening to begin playing on a stereo and the sites you were viewing up on your computer.

Always enjoy your thoughts. Only possible nitpick with these predictions is the time frame; especially 4-10 (except 8). I expect to see those sooner than 2015, a lot sooner.

addendum to #3: those tiny devices are going to be integrated into practically everything, if they already are not. The last thing I want is inter-fabric advertisements in my open-source, free clothing... but you know its coming.

If you assume that people seek to become more efficient over time, then the sum total and quality of tablet experiences will exceed the number of PC-based interactions at some point. Why? Tablet experiences are increasingly transactional in nature and over time will steal mindshare away from PC behaviors. The app vs web discussion is often a red herring. It fails to take into account the real reason for app popularity: the most popular and useful apps are the ones that simplify discrete tasks and deliver consistent results. Compare phone apps to PC applications, which are general purpose at the expense of efficiency. Sure, some people won't take the commitment it takes to commit to learning a new phone UX architecture and will prefer to use the tried-and-true PC. If we ever get to the point where learning how to use a different kind of phone requires the same mental stamina as jumping from the Atari 2600 controller to the Nintendo gamepad, that will be the day I ask you respectfully to get off my damn lawn. @connectme

I agree with this list, though not necessarily the timeline for print to be so deeply marginalized. Print readership for most newspapers remains eight to 10 times stronger than their online versions. I just don't see it eroding quite so quickly. That said, smart newspapers (and we're getting smarter these days) will continue to look at total local print and online audience as the most important metric.

I want to single out and amplify Brian's observation, because it's an important one that seems to whoosh right over the heads of most mass media people in their eagerness to see tablets as electronic print:

"the real reason for app popularity: the most popular and useful apps are the ones that simplify discrete tasks and deliver consistent results."

In the 16 years I've been working in online news, I've seen our products change from clean, minimalist rivers of information (because that's all the tech supported) into bloated nightmares of corner peel, window shade, popup, popunder, autoplaying video, sticky note and animated-layer advertising. The payload has become 5 percent information and 95 percent scripting and graphics. You can barely get some news sites to render with anything less than a 2-gigahertz CPU, a gigabyte of memory and a megabit data pipe.

So now we have apps, and Brian's observation that the most popular and useful apps are the ones that simplify. What will we do with that? I'm afraid I'm not very optimistic.

You write "So now we have apps, and Brian's observation that the most popular and useful apps are the ones that simplify." And ask the question: "What will we do with that?" It's a fair question, but for me the bigger question is what does that tell us about the state of the online news nation? I've thought for a long time online publishers have lost their way in terms of presentation - a printed newspaper is far easier to navigate and consume than just about any major web site. This is just plain wrong. I also think the payload problem you mention is closely connected with publishers' inability to make online news pay - this is something I can intuitively grasp, but I can't articulate why this is the case.

I suppose you mean the actual media and not the entities that dominate them. But in regard to the latter: It is interesting to note, that in a world where polling asks "what media do you spend time with," everyone knows the right and wrong answer. It turns out people watch a lot more TV and engage a lot less with the internet than they self-report. It also turns out that the Internet is not quite the level playing field that it is technically outfitted to be. Big Media is not big just because it controls the means of distribution, it is big because it has established a level of trust with consumers. In entertainment, anyway, it is abundantly clear that most people prefer to be offered a limited set of choices in a familiar and easy to use selection format. Therefore, while Radio TV and Newspapers will shrink as media, NYT, Sony, NBC-Universal and the like are not like to lose so many eyeballs as it might appear.