From the moment that I found out my wife was pregnant with our first child, a son, I’ve thought of his development in terms of tech. When pregnancy sites described our six-week-old fetus as the size of a “lentil,” I referred to him as the length of an RFID chip. When the doctor said he had reached 1.3 pounds, I told all my friends that my son was the size of an iPad. When he was born this week, he was about the size of an HP Envy 15, though unfortunately his cries did not use Beats Audio.
As my newborn son grows to match the size of a mid-tower desktop, a large-screen TV and eventually a server rack, I can’t help but think about all the gadgets he won’t even remember using that were so important to his dad. I’m not talking about long dead-and-buried technologies such as the VHS recorder or the 35mm camera. Rather, I’m thinking about devices and concepts most of us use today that will fall out of mainstream use so soon that he either won’t remember them, or will only have very hazy memories of having lived with them.
Wired Home Internet
I was surprised when a 23-year-old co-worker told me she didn't remember a time before broadband Internet. At some point, her parents must have had dial-up, but she was so young that she doesn't even remember back that far. Wireless broadband won't dominate the home market until he's 8 to 10, but my son won't remember a world where consumers pay for wired Internet connections.
Even today, 4G LTE provides comparable download speeds and better upload speeds than cable Internet, but the cost of using mobile broadband all the time is prohibitive. At some point in the next few years, broadband providers are going to realize that giving everyone home antennas is more scalable than wiring and maintaining each street's network of fiber-optic cables. At that point, the paradigm will shift and it will be cheaper to purchase wireless than wired Internet. Clear already offers a 4G WiMax home Internet hub with unlimited service, though it's not fast enough to compete with cable Internet.
Smartphone cameras are already killing the consumer point-and-shoot and the family camcorder. Unlike cameras, which most of us carry only when we think we might need to take pictures, smartphones are always with us. They offer all kinds of apps and filters for adjusting pictures on the fly and they allow us to share our photos and videos online as soon as we take them. DSLRs and micro four-thirds cameras will remain with us, but within a few years, the average consumer won't own a dedicated camera at all.
As of 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 26 percent of U.S. homes had wireless phones only. By the time my son turns 5 in 2017, only a handful of old people and Luddites will continue to own house phones while everyone will likely use cellphones exclusively. By the time my son is 10, most businesses will have done away with their desk phones and saved a lot of money and hassle in the process.
Waiting for one's computer to boot is one of the great tech frustrations of the PC era, but my son will never know that pain. With the move toward always-on computing, future users will almost never turn their computers off, instead waking them from sleep in a second or less. 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 because of SSDs and fast-starting operating systems like Windows 8. "When I was your age, we had to wait up to two minutes for a computer to power on, and we liked it," I'll tell him.
When my son is ready for his own computer, the windows will be gone from Windows. Microsoft 's PC operating system will still exist, as will Mac OS X. But, in the next few years, we'll say good bye to the window metaphor where each application you run is displayed in a draggable box that has a title bar and widgets.
Microsoft has already signaled its intent to kill the window metaphor by making the tile-based Metro UI the default screen for Windows 8. How long before Mac OS and even Ubuntu also default to touch-friendly UIs that don't have tiny widgets?
My first computer, a TI 99, used cassette tapes to store data. My second computer used 5.25-inch floppy disks, and the third system had a combination of a 3.5-inch floppy drive and a small IDE hard drive. The next PC had a zip drive and a tape backup unit. However, as different as these disks were, they all used the same magnetic platter technology that's been popular since reel-to-reel tapes ruled the earth.
Today, solid state drives finally allow us to end the ancient practice of storing our data on spinning magnetic platters. Because they have no moving parts, SSDs are infinitely faster than hard drives and more durable, too. Today, the cost of solid-state storage is significantly higher than magnetic media, but expect that delta to shrink significantly over the years while users come to expect SSD speeds from even low-end computers. By the time my son gets his first new laptop, you won't be able to buy one without an SSD. Hard drives and their cheap storage will only remain useful for servers, where space is more important than speed.
Pundits have been predicting the death of the movie theater since the first televisions hit the market, but this time, it's really going to happen for a number of reasons. First, with large HD televisions going mainstream and 3D sets becoming more affordable, the average home theater is almost as good as the average multiplex theater. Second, studios and their cable partners have begun releasing some movies for on-demand viewing on the same day they debut in theaters, a trend which is likely to continue.
Finally, the cost of going to a movie theater is so out of control — movie tickets in New York cost around $13 each — that nobody is going to keep paying it. In a world where an on-demand film that's still in theaters costs $7 to rent and one that just left the theater streams for $2.99 from Amazon, who will spend more than $50 for a family of four to go see the same movie surrounded by annoying patrons, dirty seats and overpriced popcorn? Art house theaters that offer specialized films and a sense of community may remain, but the average multiplex will be gone before my son notices it was ever there.
Within five years, the cost of adding capacitive touch capability to screens will be so small that every display, from large-screen TVs to laptops, will have it. More precise pointing devices such as the mouse and touchpad won't disappear overnight, but they'll likely fade away or become secondary input methods within the next several years. Already with Windows 8, the user interface will support touch even if you don't necessarily need to use it all the time.
Ever since the first 3D films hit theaters in the 1950s, viewers have been forced to wear some kind of glasses in order to experience three-dimensional effects. However, in the past year or so, we've started seeing a number of glasses-free solutions hit the market.
In 2011, Toshiba released the Qosmio F755 notebook, which uses its webcam to track your eye movements and serve up really compelling 3D images, though these are only optimized for a single viewer. Last year, phone vendors HTC and LG both launched handsets with glasses-free, stereoscopic 3D screens that weren't home theater quality, but were good enough for some three-dimensional fun. 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.
When I was a child, the family TV didn't even have a remote control. We had to actually get up and walk across the room to change the channel. By the time my son enters grade school, most of us will have moved on to either using our smartphones or a combination of gestures and voice commands to change channels.
By the time my son is in elementary school, PC vendors will have stopped producing most desktop computers, though all-in-ones with large screens, high-end workstations for people who do industrial-strength computations, and servers (probably in blade form) will remain. As someone who loves to build desktops from parts, I hope the market for PC components remains intact so my son and I will still be able to custom build a computer together, but I fear that option may disappear too.
I still remember my parents' phone number, which hasn't changed in more than 30 years, but how many of us dial numbers rather than just tapping a name in our contacts menu? With the advent of VoIP chat services like Skype, Google Talk and even Facebook audio chat, you can just dial someone by username. When my son is in high school, he'll be asking the pretty girl on the bus for her user ID, not her phone number.
In ancient times, people had to gather around their TVs at a set time each week to watch "Starsky and Hutch." Then VCRs arrived and you could find out whether the Duke boys outsmarted Boss Hogg any time you wanted. DVRs now let us tape shows without using tapes, but because most TV networks make their shows available for free either via Web streaming or cable on-demand, we don't even have to record shows.
In the age of email, instant messaging and 4G connections, there's only one lame excuse for the continued existence of the fax machine, a gadget that had its heyday in the 1970s, and that excuse has to do with signatures. Some companies and their lawyers will only accept a scribbled signature as valid on contracts and forms, so if you want to file that loan application or send in your insurance claim form with your signature on it, fax may still be your best option.
However, three things will finally slay the fax. First, more companies will start accepting online forms with electronic signatures as valid, so someone's illegible signature on a hard copy isn't needed. Second, for those who just can't let go of the signature requirement, touch devices will allow people to scribble their John Hancocks into digital forms. Finally, the death of landlines will also mean death for fax machines.
I still remember the first DVD I bought, because it was a copy of "Hard Boiled" that I ordered from a now-defunct website called Urban Fetch. 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.
Optical discs will last another decade or so because consumers aren't eager to repurchase films they already own on disc and because there are still a number of old or rare titles you can't find on cloud services like iTunes or Amazon. Yet with the growth in downloadable and streaming video services, all physical media is on the fast track to extinction.
Online Editorial Director Avram Piltch oversees the production and infrastructure of LAPTOP's web site. With a reputation as the staff's biggest geek, he has also helped develop a number of LAPTOP's custom tests, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. Catch the Geek's Geek column here every other week or follow Avram on twitter.
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.