Computing in 2019


On my way to work I’ve been listening to a bunch of the Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leader Podcasts. They are all fascinating. I feel like it’s such a better use of my time than just listening to music. I actually look forward to my drives because these talks just turn my creative side loose.

The Vinod Khosla lecture was particularly fascinating. Khosla is best known for starting Sun Microsystems, but he currently is making waves in cleantech and other environmentally friendly technologies with his VC company Khosla ventures.

In the talk, Khosla mentions how 10 years ago he predicted that long distance phone service would be irrelevant today. He was laughed at, but today none of us think twice about placing a long distance call. Whether we’re calling from home or our cell phones, it’s the same cost to call across the country as it is to call next door. All domestic minutes are created equal. This sounded nuts in 1999. I used phone cards to call home when I did my first internship in Massachusetts in 2001. I used to carry quarters in my wallet in case I needed to access a pay phone! Now pay phones are disappearing and calling cards are worthless. Crazy how fast things changed right?

All of this got me to thinking: how much has computing changed over the past 10 years, especially as it pertains to the web and web business? And what will it look like in 10 more years?

Here’s how I see it (and please, correct me if I’m wrong or if you have a differing opinion):

Computing as it was in 1999

  • A desktop was a much better value than a laptop for the same money spent.
  • Laptop batteries barely lasted a few hours (my college laptop from 2000 lasted about 15 minutes after a few months).
  • Memory and storage space were at a premium.
  • Wireless internet barely existed.  The most common way to access the web was a 56k dial-up connection, with high speed ethernet just starting to become available.
  • CRT monitors were more affordable than LCD monitors.  CRT’s were expensive and therefore screen space was expensive.
  • The best use of the web was informational.  Music and video were too bandwidth heavy (with the exception of  file sharing over Napster or P2P networks on college campuses).
  • E-commerce was just becoming something people were getting comfortable with.
  • E-mail was starting to become a common method of business communication, slowly minimizing the impact of the fax and phone.
  • Software was something that you paid for and was installed on your computer.

Computing today in 2009

  • The cost of components has driven down so fast that for all intensive purposes laptops are just as affordable as desktops.
  • All laptops have wireless cards installed and the wireless web is readily available at eateries, coffee shops, hotels, and airports.
  • Most homes bundle high speed internet with their cable or satellite TV offerings.  Some apartment complexes (mine included) offer free high speed internet and cable to all tenants.
  • Download speeds of 5-15 Mb/s are the norm on high speed connections.
  • The cost of memory and storage are essentially negligible.  3 GB of RAM or a terabyte of hard drive space (more than most people need) costs less than $100.
  • Average users generally do not need the storage or computing power of an entry level computer.
  • The internet is readily used for shopping, audio, video, software/applications, and more.
  • Free web software has in many ways caught up (or even surpassed) their offline paid counterparts.  Think Google Doc’s vs. MS Word.
  • Netbooks offer enough computing power for most common tasks, while being more portable, cheaper, and having a longer battery life than traditional laptops.
  • Cell phone networks are offering 3G mobile broadband cards at affordable prices, sometimes in conjunction with the purchase of a netbook.
  • The iPhone has created an entirely new internet of applications.
  • E-commerce has become the norm.  The majority of web users (85%) have made a purchase online.

Bold predictions for computing in 2019

  • Memory and storage will actually become negligible, as will computing power.  A computer that is faster than 99% of what most people need will cost under $200 and be the size of an iPod.
  • Battery life on a computer won’t be an issue.  Wireless electricity, which is already here, will aid in reducing/eliminating the need to ever charge things the way we view charging now.
  • If your computer is small and you can take it anywhere,  screen size will be the big phenomenon.  The laptop will eventually fade out as companies come up with more innovative ways to emulate the mouse, keyboard, and monitor. Companies like Myvu are already doing this with their personal media glasses (crystal model shown above).
  • Local storage will be pointless – unlimited safe, secure storage will be available for free in the “cloud” and be accessible from anywhere with any electronic device.
  • Broadband will be free and limitless for every device in every location. Think how the Kindle uses Verizon’s 3G network and extrapolate that technology 10 years.  Download speeds will be so fast that we don’t even pay attention.
  • Cable TV won’t exist as we know it today.  With free HD channels over the air and limitless content available in HD on the web, there won’t be a place for that monthly fee.  It’s already starting.  Look at Hulu or Netflix or – right now baseball fans can stream HD games to their computer, which of course can be hooked up to a HD TV as a substitute for the cable broadcast.
  • SaaS (software as a service) over the web will take over operating systems to the point that we don’t “install” programs anymore…and we don’t even notice or care.  Maybe the Google Chrome OS is the OS of the future?

I think that’s all I have for now.  Certainly computing has changed a ton in the past 10 years and will probably change even more in the next 10.  I’d love to hear what you guys think about this.  What are your predictions? How will these changes impact business?  Schooling?  It’s fascinating stuff to ponder.

7 comments on Computing in 2019

  1. Tim says:

    The phone booth phenomenon is something I have noted before, they simply no longer exist. Superman wouldn’t be of much use in 2009.

    While I agree with your predictions I think it’s going to be taken one step further, and it’s already started. Directly linking humans to their computers to monitor blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, etc… The problem, as I see it, is that big brother won’t be able to leave well enough alone, it will be the opportune moment to spring RFID upon the masses as a saving grace for health care. That in itself is a good thing, but to think they won’t monitor our actions, movements and ultimately coral us like cattle is laughable based on what we’ve seen from our government over the last 20+ years. With the good, with the innovation, there will undoubtedly be some large changes that may turn out to cripple us instead of helping us. It will be interesting and scary to see what happens as the future unfolds.

  2. nethy says:

    Thanks for the link Adam. I’m always looking for good podcasts. They seem so hard to find.

    Predicting the future is a tricky business. It tends to produce a lot of embarrassment. But fun is fun! Some of the snags are predicting that short term trends will go one forever (laptops will become microscopic) or that new and exciting things will colour the future. It’s because when we look back, we see revolutionary technology in its infancy and trends that went for a long time. We don’t notice all the technology that didn’t work out or all the trends that ended.

    I think the trick is getting right the things which are linear and the things that move in jumps and paradigm shifts. Even harder, which trends end up creating paradigm shifts and when. Memory, bandwidth and computing power have been linear trends up to now. But then, a lot of the things that had been linear sort of hit a wall (processing speed, battery life, green revolution). The internet connected PC world with grannies on facebook was a paradigm shift. Impossible to predict it. Impossible to predict anything else without it in the picture.

    Black art as it may be, getting it right is a big deal. A lot of commentators put a big chunk of the first wave of PC millionaires’ successes (Gates, Jobs, etc.) on to their ability to understand the implications of Moore’s Law. Seems either genius or blatantly obvious with 20/20 hindsight, especially since by the mid 80s this had been a 30 year trend, but trends end. Even now, if you look at a graph for long enough I’m sure you will be able to come up with a perfectly good explanation for why Moore’s law is on its last legs. Here try it:

    BTW, when I recommended Anderson’s “Free,” It was because it deals with exactly this sort of thing: There is a trend. What happens if it continues? What can you gain by ‘getting it’ before everyone else?

    Good post Adam 🙂

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Nethy –

      I agree about how hard it is to find good podcasts. Any recommendations for me? I’m not sure what I’m going to do once I finish these ones. Since I started listening to “Free” I’ve been addicted to this stuff just like you 🙂

      You bring up some good points. I definitely should have mentioned how interruptive technology that no one can predict tends to throw off “predictions” like mine. I doubt anyone in 1990 could have predicted the role that the web plays in our daily lives.

      I *almost* mentioned the possibility of PCs hitting a wall. I mean, with netbooks you already sort of see that. If everything moves to the web, the PC becomes less and less important (as does the desire/necessity to innovate PC components).


  3. […] really is crazy to think about how far we’ve come in such a short time.  Our business and our lifestyle wouldn’t have […]

Comments are closed for this post.