Ready for 2019?

Ready for 2019?

Part of the fun of working and writing in the tech industry is the speed of change. The rapid pace of technological development means there are always new trends to watch, new issues to discuss and new problems to ponder. But in watching and commenting on all this evolution, I am constantly struck at how there is a delay between the development of new technology and the understanding of how consumers will use it. It’s as if business refuses to look ahead and think creatively, always taken by surprise when a new technological marvel threatens their business models.

A few examples. How long did the music industry take to understand that the arrival of the internet and the proliferation of mp3 players meant consumers would want to access music online? Far too long – long enough for the concept of music piracy to become so entrenched that it will probably never go away. What about social networks? Too many businesses view Facebook, Twitter and the rest with suspicion, despite the reality that they have completely transformed society’s behaviour and have placed consumers in charge of the marketing conversation.

Earlier today, I managed to see the new pilot Battlestar Galactica spin-off, Caprica. Apart from thoroughly enjoying it, I was struck by the technology the characters used; such as foldable, paper-thin touchscreens and desktop interfaces. These all helped to paint a society only a few years or decades more technologically advanced than our own while remaining completely recognisable. Apart from the obvious sci-fi concepts of developing a robot army and creating digital consciousness of our dead loved ones – which I would like to think will remain fictional concepts – the every-day technology on display is not that far from becoming a reality in our world. Therefore, the episode was interesting for not only presenting legitimate technological research but dramatising how people may behave with and interact with these new devices – far more important for any business model.

The foldable digital newspaper — turning a paper-thin sheet of plastic into an interactive, touchscreen digital device — is on the horizon. From that, it is only a short hop, skip and jump to the kind of paper-thin PC tablets seen in Caprica.

The consumer of the future is entirely different from yesterday. He/she is more likely to have multiple platforms for broadcasting or publishing their opinions, likes and dislikes to thousands of people worldwide. He/she is more likely to produce and distribute their own content – video, music, journalism, comics and more – without the need for publishing deals, television networks, music companies or newspaper chains. He/she is definitely more likely to control the advertising material they are exposed to – skipping ads, deleting or subscribing to email campaigns and choosing whether to interact with your brand or not.

Microsoft recently released an eye-popping video based on their current research projects to predict the kind of digital world we’ll be inhabiting in ten years time. These ideas are not science fiction but are just around the corner. It shows how far things will change in just a few short years and the ramifications for consumer behaviour are massive.

Exciting stuff. Revolutionary stuff. Stuff with the potential to radically change business, education, commerce and most human communications. What the video doesn’t allude to are the aspects of human behaviour that are not built into the original design. What kind of criminal activity will try to exploit the digital wallet? How could users potentially bend the electronic newspaper format to their own content? How will the realities of classroom behaviour impact the usage of digital interactivity? What are the psychological consequences for our society of everyone potentially being connected to everyone else — instantly?

These are the aspects of new technology that aren’t mentioned in the instructions in the box. Scientists, psychologists, philosophers and business analysts are still interpreting and deconstructing the impact internet behaviour has had on society, over a decade after it first went mainstream. Many of the more innovative uses of a connected world wide web have been developed by clever users, bending the technology to their will, instead of the needs of corporations. Hence we have viruses, hackers, peer-to-peer networks, BitTorrent, YouTube, Facebook and more. Some negative and exploitative, some taking the fundamental ideas behind the web and creating something truly incredible.

Instead of continually playing catch-up with digital trends, CEOs, marketing managers and entrepreneurs should instead be looking ahead for the next potential trends and preparing their business models to capitalise on how consumers want to use future technology to access products and content. What will the electronic newspaper mean for the journalism industry? Will it change advertising models? How will gadgets that store shopping lists or guide you to particular products in a store provide opportunities for smart businesses for additional marketing streams? What security implications are thrown up by a digital wallet and who will be the first business to develop commercial answers?

Those businesses that plan for tomorrow are less likely to replicate the struggling industries of today, continually lamenting the shrinking of traditional advertising, the destruction of old distribution models and the ability of the average consumer to have a far greater impact on your marketing message.

Are you ready for the future?


  1. The development of technology really excites me. Imagine if you took the technology we have now, for example the iPhone, back in time 150 years. I imagine you’d be burned at the stake for being a witch.
    I say this because even 30 years ago, nobody could have possibly guessed that we’d be able to watch movies on our telephones or check our bank accounts using a little laptop. And Bill gates is famous for saying “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” And that was only 28 years ago. Now we’re asking for terrabites, just for our music library.
    I’m so excited to see what the next development is. Thanks for such an interesting article 🙂

  2. Hi Jonathan – thanks for sharing this video. This future is indeed so close and it’s exciting to be part of it! I believe publishing will be moving onto these devices very quickly once it becomes cost effective and easy to use – that tipping point is coming!
    Thanks, Joanna

  3. Jonathan, I used to work as a consultant for IBM (I ran their e-business centre in Brisbane for a few years and their Interactive Multimedia Centre in Sydney for a couple of years before that)and one of the things I used to do (a lot) was to give talks to CEOs trying to give them a vision of where technology was going and how to position themselves.
    My experience is that, although top managers were always ineterested in hearing such talks, they almost never saw the connection to their own businesses. Even when they ‘got it’ they were extremely reluctant to invest in innovative technologies. They always wanted to see examples of several other similar companies having done the same thing and having made money from it! Thus no-one was ever the ‘first penguin’.
    To be fair to them, this kind of conservatism is not a bad strategy. Most CEOs don’t want to take their companies powering ahead of the competition. Although the rewards would be high, the risks are also high. And taking risks is not what the board expects from the CEO. Investors just want a steady return on investment and a bit of growth where it can be managed with no risk.

  4. Kimota says

    Fully agree with the reasons for risk-free conservative thinking. But I am continually dismayed at the head-in-the-sand thinking that has become the norm when dealing with new developments. Every day, I read and hear more about traditional media companies complaining that the advertising dollars are no longer there to make them viable. This despite over ten years of an internet that was always going to compete for advertising capital.
    Similarly, the moment digital transfer technology was developed, there would be a demand to access music racks over the internet. Waiting the best part of a decade before begrudgingly accepting that they needed to think about it meant the music industry contributed greatly to the situation they are now in – beset by piracy and struggling over DRM and other issues.
    This isn’t about taking risks and diving into the unknown, but being fully aware of the future risks to current business models posed by new technology and developing strategies to prepare for it. I would think the CEO that protected the business from future legitimate threats to income would be applauded.

  5. Excellent foresight into the potential risks that accompany the rewards of such technology. Would be nice if risk management analysis was taking place along with the creation of the technology.
    S Edward Wilson