At this point, we all know that we live in the future. The vast majority of human knowledge is available for free on the Internet, everything from computers to cantaloupes has some sort of touchscreen, and the Washington Nationals are the best team in baseball. Truly, this is the age of wonders.
Every future, though, has a future. Time is linear (or so it has been explained to me), and tech companies are always looking forward to see what the wave of the future is. Fortunately for them, they often (unlike sci-fi writers) come close to the mark. Let’s take a look at some of the predictions that are being made today about tomorrow (and at one that, unbelievably, came true).
It might be a stretch to say that Intel
(NASDAQ:INTC) is a company in crisis, but it’s certainly facing some pretty tough decisions. Rival chip-maker ARM Holdings
(NASDAQ:ARMH) has been presenting compelling alternatives to Intel’s chips to server makers and hardware companies; Apple
(NASDAQ:AAPL) already uses an ARM chip in the massively popular iPhones, iPods, and iPads; and even longtime Intel ally Microsoft
(NASDAQ:MSFT) has announced that it will sell a tablet powered by an ARM chip.
So what can Intel -- a company whose chips were once so ubiquitous that “Intel Inside” used to be a given -- do to restore the public’s belief in its future? Well, we got a glimpse of Intel’s plan at its Developer Forum in San Francisco last week:
Prove that the company has unmatched long-term vision and the creative and scientific personnel to pull it off. One of the key concepts put forth was the removal of boundaries between user and object, a development that Intel says will be made possible by the constantly decreasing size of microchips. “When you get intelligence that small, you can turn anything into a computer,” Intel futurist Rob Johnson writes. “You could turn a table into a computer. All of a sudden, it’s possible to turn your shirt, your chair, even your own body into a computer.” This kind of sci-fi thinking is fanciful, sure, but it’s also a way for Intel to flex its creative muscles and extend its relevance into the future.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has taken a decidedly different tack. Rather than asserting that the company still has the power to do amazing things as it is, CEO Steve Ballmer has declared that the future of Microsoft is dependent on a fundamental change in its thinking.
Hardware, not software, is where the tech giant is headed, says Ballmer: “I think when you look forward, our core capability will be software, [but] you’ll probably think of us more as a devices-and-services company,” he told the Seattle Times
The Microsoft Signature line of PCs, the Xbox, and the upcoming Microsoft Surface tablet are all indicative of the company’s eagerness to jump into the device world.
So we have a future in which Microsoft is a hardware company (will they be called “Microhard?”) and Intel is putting microchips in our breakfast cereal. Whether or not these predictions come to pass could have a major effect on the tech market; Microsoft, in the short term, would almost immediately become a major player in the fast-growing mobile device industry, while Intel aims to challenge the very core concepts of computing. There’s one company, however, that made a prediction 25 years ago…and saw it come off perfectly. That company, of course, is Apple. As an alert Gizmodo writer noticed
right after the release of the iPhone 4S, Apple predicted in 1987 that there would someday be a computer with a touchscreen and a computerized assistant you could talk to.
That alone would be pretty incredible, but Apple wasn’t done: The company somehow managed (black magic, probably) to pinpoint the date
of Siri’s release within three weeks of the actual release date. In the video, Siri is a bowtie-wearing Andy Samberg look-alike who stays in the top left corner of the screen (Apple managed to resist giving Siri a face, thank God), but the principles of the interaction between user, tablet, and digital assistant are dead-on, and the video takes place only three weeks after the date on which it was actually released.
The fact that the company that somehow predicted its own technology a quarter-century in advance managed to screw up iOS 6 Maps as badly as it did, though, should serve as a reminder that all predictions, no matter who makes them, should be taken with an entire shaker of salt.
No positions in stocks mentioned.