Seven years ago, I wrote about 10 technologies that had been wildly overhyped and, many years later, had either flopped or had yet to materialize.
Some, like manned space travel, were ridiculously obvious. As a kid at the 1964 World’s Fair I saw a mechanical enactment of a space shuttle docking with a space station and a film of what life would be like, living in space. Aside from a few trips to the moon, 50 years later, we’re still on the launch pad.
Other overhyped innovations were a bit trickier to classify. Take speech recognition, for example. I got angry comments from folks who thought it was already here when, in reality, the tech was terribly quirky and only adopted in narrow niches. Today, voice recognition is finally becoming seamlessly integrated into our lives.
Likewise, MP3 players, smartphones, and tablets had been around forever before Apple and others came along with must-have products that worked easily and seamlessly and changed everything. What makes the difference between niche and mainstream adoption of disruptive technology? Generally, three major factors:
1. Killer apps. PCs took off with spreadsheets, word processing, then email and finally the Internet. Wonder what the killer app for smart watches and 3D printing will be.
2. Moore’s Law. The ever-shrinking electronic circuit contributes to low-cost processing power, network bandwidth, battery life, storage, and of course, smaller form-factors. Today’s state-of-the-art processors actually integrate over a billion transistors.
3. Standard platforms and infrastructure. Some are set by standards-setting bodies while others are ad-hoc innovations by private companies, but without the likes of Bluetooth, GSM, and Android, for example, there would be no compatibility between device manufacturers.
I’ve identified seven enormous, old school markets that aren’t just ripe for technology disruption – they’re overripe, way overripe. And some have been so overhyped it’s hard to believe we’re not further along than we are. And yet, here we are … still waiting.
Buying and selling real estate. If you happen to be a Realtor, you might want to close your eyes. I have one question: why do we still have Realtors? The entire process of buying and selling homes is either flawed or wrought with fraud. I sold a house myself once (they call that a FSBO) and, after being berated and extorted by dozens of Realtors, it turned out to be the smoothest home sale I’ve ever made.
Ecommerce has penetrated just about every major market except real estate. This one is long overdue and so doable it’s shocking that nobody’s done it right yet.
Wearable tech. You probably think the hype has just begun but that’s so not true. The first wearable computers were demonstrated, launched – and yes, overhyped – way back in the mid-to-late ‘90s. I know because I ran marketing for a microprocessor company and had customers who made all sorts of wearable gadgets.
Don’t even get me started on Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio. Wasn’t that like the ‘50s?
Money. The digital wallet space is getting so hyped and so overrun with competing products, you can just feel it ready to explode. Bitcoin, Coin, PayPal Beacon, Square, Google Wallet, Apple’s rumored iMoney – there are dozens of companies vying to replace your old leather wallet.
You’ve got to wonder why, oh why, in this technologically advanced age are we still carrying cash around and dealing with decks of credit cards and paper receipts that just end up in the trash?
Living room convergence. We’ve been yapping about technology convergence in the living room for nearly two decades. What’s ironic is, not only are all the entertainment, media, and cable companies not converging with Internet technology, if anything, the living room just keeps getting more and more fragmented and convoluted.
But hey, at least we have streaming video. Woohoo.
Smart home. Thirty-three years ago, a fellow engineer at Texas Instruments and I did a joint paper for an MBA class. It was a proposal for integrating smart home technology into new home construction. That’s how long the promise of the smart home or home automation has been around.
It’s actually sad because, from a technology standpoint, we’re already there. And while there are tons of companies in the space, each has its strengths but nobody has been able to put together an affordable, scalable, end-to-end solution. At least not yet.
Smart cars. With all the low-cost sensors and cheap processing and networking technology we have, who would have thought we’d still have low-pressure tire blowouts and we’d still be slamming into cars right in front of us or in our blind spots thirteen years into the 21ST century.
Get this: I saw my first head-up display demonstrated in the mid-‘80s. So I ask you: Why are we still diverting our attention to look at dashboards?
Residential construction. Have you ever built a house? OMG, it’s like the Stone Age. Drawings and permits are all still done by hand. Staircases aren’t straight. Walls aren’t straight. The beams and sheer walls are covered in grease pencil calculations. Wood floors that are supposed to be flush with tile floors are a quarter-inch too high. And nobody can budget or project-manage to save their lives.
Last year I read an article about an office building that collapsed during construction. I couldn’t sleep for a week.
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.