You are here
When technology trumps expectations
Here we take a look at the top 4 examples of technology trumping expectation, and speculate which path the Internet of Things will take.
1. Tin can
The can's distinguished history began in 1795 when the French government, led by Napoleon, offered a prize of 12,000 francs to anyone who could invent a method of preserving food for its army and navy. The prize for doing so was won by Nicolas Appert who then sold the patent of the first tin can to Brit Peter Durand in 1810.
The can saved the lives of many polar explorers and sailors, but tinned food was neither sufficiently cheap nor palatable to find its way on to the average British dinner table and so it remained largely unknown. It wasn't until the turn of the 20th century, and the arrival of a certain Henry Heinz, that things began to change. A well-tuned advertising campaign and a vast selection of new products ensured that the tin can soon found its way into the hearts and cupboards of the British public. Not only did it mean that, for the first time, working classes had access to a wide variety of nutritious foods, it actually changed the dynamic of family life itself as women no longer had to spend hours slaving over a hot stove.
The tin can still powers on. Today, households in Europe and the US alone get through 40 billion cans of food a year.
It is hard to imagine life without cars. Busy roads intersect and surround our living environments. And yet when they were first being commercialised in the early 20th Century, few investors saw their potential. In fact the President of the Michigan Savings Bank tried to discourage Henry Ford’s lawyer from investing in the newly formed motor company by saying: “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.” Horace Rackham ignored the advice and quickly turned his $5,000 investment into $12.5 million, as cars most definitely replaced horses. These days horses are mostly resigned to stables, while the global vehicle population has continued to grow, passing one billion in 2010.
Although many had great expectations for what the computer could do, the industry had low hopes for how it would look and function. The first digital computer, the ENIAC, was invented by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly at the University of Pennsylvania and completed in 1946. It occupied about 1,800 square feet and used roughly 18,000 vacuum tubes, weighing almost 50 tons. In 1949, Popular Mechanics magazine looked at a similar 30-ton calculator and dreamed of miniaturisation, proclaiming: “Computers in the future may have only 1000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh only 1.5 tons.” Today, the average weight of a laptop is 3.5kg (0.0035 tonnes).
4. Mobile Phone
The first wireless telephone call was actually made in 1900 by an inventor named Reginald Fessenden in Washington D.C. but it wasn’t until 90 years later that there were a million users of mobile phones, a feat even the industry did not see coming. In 1981, Marty Cooper, Director of Research at Motorola, said “cellular phones will absolutely not replace local wire systems.” There are now more mobile phones in the world than people and yet the expectations continue to be beaten. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, said in April 2007 that “there’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” How wrong he was.
5. Internet of Things?
In Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2016, the Internet of Things was shown to be close to reaching the peak of inflated expectations. But will it meet them? Patrik Sjostedt, EMEA General Manager at Hitachi Insight Group, has said that it normally takes 5 – 10 years for a new technology to progress from peak expectation to mainstream adoption, so this period will be the most interesting for the IoT market. Huge risks and costs are balanced by enormous opportunities and the winners will likely be those who can work together to co-create the next big thing. Looking back at previous technologies and how they faced up against expectations will help the industry maximise on this. No one wants to be on one of these future lists as someone who underestimated the power of IoT!