Article: The Future of Technology

About a month ago, I posted my last ever article for the Occidental Weekly, a piece about the then unannounced iPhone 4. However, that wasn’t my original idea for my last college newspaper article ever–I had wanted to go out with a bang. My idea was to write a wide-spanning piece about where consumer technology is heading, and offer some concrete advice that readers could use going forward. Unfortunately, that article wasn’t able to get printed in the paper, but I did ultimately write it, and there’s no better place to publish it than right here. Here it is:

In the last four years, there have been astronomical changes in technology. Back in the stone age–2006–nobody had an iPhone, having a flat screen TV was a big deal, and if you used the word “tweet” people would have thought that you were crazy. The idea that you could browse the internet from your phone–or have your mom friend you on Facebook–seemed like a ridiculous impossibility.

Technology is going to keep on changing in new and hard to predict ways, but it is possible to look ahead at what’s coming down the pipeline, and to be ready to adopt or accommodate things as they come. This is my take on where things are trending, and what these changes will mean for consumers.


Ebooks are going to become mainstream–there are too many big companies with too much money behind ebook efforts for them to fail. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony, and even Apple have all gotten into the ebook game. Publishers have the opportunity to avoid the printing costs on books, and electronics companies want to get paid to sell something that costs practically nothing to deliver, so the draw of ebooks to these firms is clear.

The advantages of ebooks for consumers seem obvious–readers can carry thousands of books with them on one device, look words up in the dictionary on the spot, and search the text of the book for the phrase they’re looking for. The problem is, no ebook reader experience really matches that of a physical book. Furthermore, the various and companies each have their own ebook stores that don’t work on their competitor’s devices. For instance, if you buy a book from Amazon’s Kindle store, you won’t be able to view it on any non-Kindle software.

Savvy consumers should wait to see how things play out and which ebook formats and readers become dominant. Otherwise, they risk getting locked into a company’s system that may not survive in the long term, and lose their books in the process. Alternatively, consumers can seek out ebooks that are free from copy protection and are in open formats like pdf or epub that most (but not all) ebook readers can display. Websites like Project Gutenburg feature thousands of out of copyright works (such as books by Jane Austen, James Joyce, and H.G. Wells) for free in these formats.


Now that everybody has upgraded to HDTVs, here comes 3D to get you to buy a new TV all over again. The very first 3D TVs are just starting to come out, and content is coming later this year, including 3D Blu-Rays (which will require a new Blu-Ray player), 3D videogaming on the Playstation 3, a 3D ESPN channel, and 3D movie channels on DirecTV. The problem is nobody seems certain whether people are willing to wear glasses to watch their TV.

Without glasses, 3D content is blurry and unwatchable, which means that users must be willing to wear the glasses, and will need to buy enough glasses for everyone who would possibly need one. Imagine having a movie watching party and needing to worry about having enough pairs of glasses to go around. Different companies use different glasses technology (though fortunately the TVs all take the same 3D inputs), and many of them are expensive (think $150 for a pair). Further, some people have issues with glasses-based 3D, complaining of eye strain or headaches. All this makes me wonder whether 3D will catch on with mainstream buyers in the near term.

If you have a lot of money, there’s no reason not to go 3D now (in the worst case 3D TVs can act like regular HDTVs), but for everyone else the best idea is probably to wait to see if this technology takes off. 3D will only get better as time passes, and prices should drop as it does. The tipping point will come when the TVs can deliver an experience so compelling and immersive that it is worth the tradeoffs of the glasses for most people. I think that day will come, but we’ll have to see how long it takes to get to that point.

Phones as Computers:

Phones today are as powerful as desktop computers were just a few years ago, with gigahertz processors and hundreds of megabytes of RAM. Phones are able to do more and more of the tasks that were previously only the domain of full computers, such as surfing the full internet, creating Excel Spreadsheets, or editing HD video.

Things are only going to keep going further in this direction as the phone moves to being not only the primary communication device, but also the primary computing device in people’s lives. Already, the new iPhone operating system has been revealed with the ability to run multiple programs simultaneously, and the forthcoming Windows 7 phones will have a desktop-like Microsoft Office suite and can play games on Xbox Live.

This is probably the most fast moving area in tech right now, and phones are going to keep doing more and more astounding things. One of the most cutting edge of these is something called augmented reality. Augmented reality applications use the phone’s camera and GPS to present a live view of the things around you with a layer of information on top of it. For instance, it can show you what the buildings around you are, or the subway lines beneath your feet. They have the potential to provide literally anything you would want to know about the things around you.

The rapid innovation in phones means that they are becoming obsolete more and more quickly, which is frustrating since most cell phone buyers are only eligible for an upgrade every two years (you can buy a phone when not eligible, but it typically costs hundreds of dollars more). But, all this innovation does mean that we’ll soon be carrying devices in our pockets that will be able to do pretty much anything we can think of, and that is really exciting.

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