More Proof That the Future of Tech Is Unknowable

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ZDNet’s Ed Bott has an entertaining post on tech research giant Gartner and its predictions and advice for the tech industry. Such as its 2006 proposal that Apple get out of the computer business and license OS X to Dell:

“Apple should leverage its close relationship with Intel and team up with Intel’s closest ally, Dell,” the report states. “We recognise that this move would surprise and even shock many. We are aware that Steve Jobs cancelled previous Mac licences when he took over at Apple and that he guards the Apple brand zealously.”


Gartner claims that with the right partners, distribution channels and a more affordable price, computers running the Mac OS could eventually account for 20 percent of the total PC market.

Gartner isn’t uniquely prone to getting stuff spectacularly wrong: I’ve written about what a futile exercise it is for any research firm to forecast something as unpredictable as smartphone market share. The past, and even the present, simply aren’t very helpful anymore when it comes to figuring out what’s next.

Back in the 1990s and early years of this century, when the PC was the uncontested kingpin among devices and Microsoft had permanent-looking monopolies in operating systems, office suites and browsers, it was possible for a smart person to look a few years into the future and have a good shot at figuring out where things would go. In the era of smartphones and tablets and other status quo-crushing products, it’s much, much harder.

I’m not arguing that nobody should ever try to talk about where technology may take us over the next few years. But everyone would be better served if the industry ditched the tone of certainty that these predictions–especially the absurd ones–tend to have. It would be so much more honest to preface them with a disclaimer along the lines of “Of course, nobody really knows what the hell is going to happen, but…”