What Tomorrow Will Look Like

Eric Savitz of Barron’s attended the Future in Review conference, which looks ahead to the world in 3-5 years. His report:

Let’s just say that the future looks a lot like the present, only with more of everything — more broadband access, more wireless technologies, more data storage and more competition for the West from China, India and the rest of Asia. Here’s a sampler:

  • Connie Wong, president of Hutchison Whampoa Americas, predicted that in five years, all mobile-phone handsets will be made in China, Taiwan and South Korea, with Nokia “transformed into a service provider.” She also expects widespread use of handsets for watching video, and an explosion of consumer-created content.

  • Tim DiScipio, chairman of ePals, which provides “school-safe” e-mail systems, made the scary observation that, according to Department of Education data, the fastest-growing segment of Internet users is kids two to five years old.

  • Tom Standage, a reporter for the Economist, concluded Wi-Fi isn’t likely to be the way consumers connect to the Internet outside the home, noting that there are only 30,000 public hotspots, less than 0.1% of the world’s access points, and half of those are in South Korea. “To an engineer’s proximation,” he quipped, “there are roughly no hot spots in the world.”

  • Martin Tobias, a Microsoft alumnus who is a partner with the venture firm Ignition Partners, alarmingly predicted that his former employer won’t ship its new version of Windows, known as Longhorn, before 2009. He didn’t seem to be kidding.

  • Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes and CEO of Groove Networks, forecast that within five years, 3.5-inch disk drives — the kind in desktop PCs — would offer two to five terabytes of storage, while laptops, with 2.5-inch diameter drives, will have one-terabyte drives. How much is that? Well, George Zachary, a partner at Charles River Ventures, repeated a recent comment from Microsoft executive Rick Rashid that with a terabyte of storage, you could record and store every conversation you have for your entire life. And with two terabytes, you could capture and store 360-degree photos of every minute of your life. Ozzie also made the point that the real security issue for computing is that systems need to be “complacency-immune,” since people don’t do many simple things they could do to protect themselves. Said Ozzie: “People are the fundamental problem.” They usually are.

  • Bill Janeway, vice chairman of Warburg Pincus, a big proponent of software delivered as a service, forecast “the death of the applications software industry,” with SAP as “the last man standing.”

  • Beau Vrolyk, another Warburg Pincus partner, seemed unimpressed with grid computing — linking many computers to take advantage of otherwise unused computing “cycles.” Noting that the average user would be hard-pressed to use more than a few percentage points of a computer’s number-crunching ability, he said: “There are still problems that can be solved with more computing power, but they are interesting mostly to esoteric scientists.”

  • Published by

    Rajesh Jain

    An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.