Seeing What’s Next

The adoption of smartphones in the US is on track for reaching 90% of the available audience by August 2016. This is a mere eight years after smartphones reached 10% penetration. As far as technologies go, that’s pretty fast. To get an idea of how rapid, I plotted a few other technologies and the time they took to grow within the US market.

Adoption Rates of Consumer Technologies

A few things to note:

  1. The time scale has a yearly resolution spanning 1900 to 2074
  2. The penetration scale is logarithmic and shows the ratio of Penetration/(1-Penetration) allowing a linear view of logistic growth.
  3. The blue bars summarize the growth pulses and give a starting year and duration in years.
  4. Note some traumatic events are marked on the time frame. They partly explain innovation gaps or decreases in adoption.
  5. The life expectancy of Americans born from 1900 to 1998 is also shown as green bars. This allows the reader to trace which technologies emerged during the lifetimes of people they might have living memories of. I overlaid one specific lifetime beginning in 1968 and color coded with Childhood, Adolescence, Higher Education, Work live and Retirement as a guide. You can note how the PC emerged when that person would have been in college.
  6. Some technologies have not yet saturated and may never do so. They are marked with a “Z” on the bar graph. It might be instructive to understand why.

You’ll also note that the time frame does not end today but that the technology curves do. The time frame includes the expected lifespan of someone born in 1998.

What will they see?

There is a lack of visibility or certainty among observers that anything worthy of inclusion on this graph will ever emerge.

And yet, when glancing at this graph, it would seem that the addressable market, the rate of introduction of new technologies and the speed of adoption have all increased. The area to the right of 2013 looks inviting to a plot of many lines.

Indeed, for the canvas to remain blank would be the riskiest of bets.

What would you put upon it?

  • Umac

    Is there a way to get the picture/graph readable?

    • professortom

      Click on it to get a full-sized view.

  • robdk

    Horace, it would be great if one could click and enlarge the graph.

    • Bruce_Mc

      What browser and OS are you using? Clicking works for me on Chrome and Safari. Note that clicking on the graph opens the png image only, and that can be saved and viewed in an image editor.

      • Luis Alejandro Masanti

        Or you can use “open in a new window” and increase size.

  • Great vision, thanks.

    What’s next? Just fun to guess:

    -smart extension from phones to other personal activities

    –smart cars (finally)

    –smart living room

    –smarter computer interfaces (gesture and voice, but also humor and intentions)

    -corollary for smart extensions

    –voice interfaces

    –gesture and motion detection

    –wearable devices

    -and also

    –smart house accessory (like recent thermostat and smoke detector)

    For longer shots I will say electronic personal assistant but that’s more a hope.

    • Bruce_Mc

      “–smart cars (finally)”

      I’d settle for smart car salesmen! 🙂

      I think that interactions with other people is where there is opportunity for change. Twitter, email, www, Facebook, and others seem like initial, almost random guesses at “social” to me.

      • Luis Alejandro Masanti

        “–smart cars (finally)”…

        Flying cars!

      • All Horace’s technologies in the graph are hardware technologies. Software is enabled by smartphones, but smartphone is the technology that is changing the world. Twitter seems made for mobile, but mobile is the breakthrough.
        I think the new interfaces will allow new hardware and that will allow new software and new social interaction.

      • Bruce_Mc

        Hardware technologies; you’re right; I was off the track. Well, drones, robotics, and 3-D printing and scanning are three likely technologies. Printing houses could be big.

    • Those sound like desirable features (e.g. “move faster than a horse”,) but what gets put on the graph is a product category.

    • Rocket_man

      “Humanoid” intelligent robotic servants, per Isaac Asimov. Would not expect these to come into being until the end of this timeframe.

    • obarthelemy

      I really think autonomous cars are the next big thing:
      – they seem on the verge of being feasible (say, a decade)
      – they slot in easily into current uses
      – they have several immediate, direct, positive consequences (more free time, fewer accidents, more fuel economy…)
      – they have long-term, profound advantages (parking, insurance, number of cars needed, ownership of cars, congestion, oil vs electric…)
      – I *hate* driving.

      • Sander van der Wal

        I don’t. In the graph, cars are the slowest adopted technology of them all. And because they are expensive, there is a second hand market that is bigger than the market for new cars. It is going to take ages for self-driving cars to become as common as people-driven ones.

        And remember, government income from speeding fines is going to disappear. That by itself will mean that governments will want to slow down adoption as much as possible. Or add a tax to make up for that income.

  • Bruce_Mc

    It may take a very smart 25 year old who has been using a smartphone since they were 10 years old to come up with the next big thing – which will seem obvious to them. That person won’t exist for a few more years because of the rapid rate of adoption of the smartphone.

  • stefnagel

    These are the whats; what about the whys? As Horace says, what’s the job to be done? That’s the key to future technology, services: communication, transportation, entertainment, information, health, finances, personal security. Certainly Apple thinks in giant market sectors firstly, not form but function, not things but events, not atoms but electrons.

  • normm

    Notice that no other technology on the graph is as straight a line as smartphone growth. The purest example of logistic growth in a technology so far!

    • Walt French

      An extremely rapid rate of adoption would appear to fit almost ANY adoption curve that allowed for fast uptake.

    • charly

      DVD players were also very fast and it did not have the very short life of a mobile phone.

  • Futurist

    Solar/Renewable Energy deserves to be on the chart. Very slow adoption so far but will reach a tipping point as oil becomes more scarce and as chargeable vehicles get longer range capacity. Eventually the combined monthly cost of household energy plus car expense (gas + ownership financing) will reach a pain threshold that makes solar panels or the future equivalent a no-brainer.

    • nuttmedia

      Interesting point, though I would be surprised if it has even reached 10% penetration in the U.S. market. I would imagine your thesis is at work in places like Japan where energy costs apply greater pressures, mostly due to constricted supply as you posit.

    • RenewablesAreAPipeDream

      Renewable is never going to reach 90%. Not even close. Nuclear is the only one that could achieve that. And even that won’t happen for a long, long, long time with all the new technologies (and certainly more to come) for extracting fossil fuels. Just look at how expensively and aggressively Germany has tried to do “renewable”, and how little that thaw accomplished.

      • charly

        Peak demand makes nuclear uneconomic above 60%. See for example nuclear loving France. Their share of nuclear in electricity consumption is about 60%

        Solar has at least the advantage that it generates electricity when demand is high

      • vincent_rice

        That’s wrong surely. Peak demand in Europe is around 6pm to 8pm when everybody returns from work/school, cooks the dinner and watches TV/play video game/Internet. For most of the year it’s dark at that time.

        Lowest demand is on nice summer days (we don’t really use air-con remember)

      • charly

        Lowest demand is at 3 at night. But i didn’t say when demand was highest but when demand was high and during the daytime there is a lot more energy usage than during the night

  • Fran_Kostella

    I love rich information visualization and this is an excellent example of what is possible, thanks for posting this! I can spend a lot of time studying this for insight and thinking about the context, the social milieu, the stack of enabling technologies required and the cost of each technology. I can think of a lot of new technologies that I’d want to add, like new energy technologies, but I’m sure most of them are still below 10%.

    Two areas of interest occur to me. First, at what point does a technology pass from luxury to necessity? At some point indoor plumbing passed that threshold, is that true for all of these technologies?

    Secondly, is it possible to encode the relative cost of these technologies here? In 1930 the cost of a car was a huge proportion of the median annual wage, so I’d expect that curve to be different than the average smartphone.

    • WFA67

      This mirrors something my sister-in-law, a poet, said at the time of the early fax machines:

      “What at one time is a luxury sooner or later becomes a courtesy.”

      Example: “What? You don’t have e-mail?”

  • dicklacara

    Mmm… According to the life expectancy plot, I’m living on borrowed time…

    So, I’ll never know if anything I predict will be proven right or wrong…

    • FalKirk

      Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends. ~ Joseph Campbell

    • By definition of median, half the people will live longer. Some, much longer.

  • nuttmedia

    The time span for innovators, early adopters, and early majority have clearly compressed in the last two decades. Consumers’ embrace of new technology is so strong, it will become more interesting to examine the various friction points that slow the rate adoption. Will be watching the wearable market with great interest.

    • Walt French

      Surely that’s one of the most striking features of today’s economy: how rapidly entertainment, technology and ideas race around the globe, leading to broad waves of adoption rather than sequential and often horse-drawn, awareness of innovations.

      • nuttmedia

        Difficult to precisely pin attribution, but I do wonder to what degree the internet, social media, etc. acts as an accelerant. Surely it is part of the equation, but I also wonder if, as some derivative of Moore’s Law, society as a whole is that much more entwined with the physical advance of technology.

    • charly

      I think it has more to do with price. Tablets, smart phones and even hdtv’s are incredible cheap compared to the cost of a color tv or refrigerator when they entered the mass-market.

      Two important frictions for adoption rate is price and space needed, Modern electronics is cheap and uses almost no space so you get a fast adoption

      ps. Other products that could be interesting to look at:
      Electric iron, vacuum cleaner, cassette player, pick ups (both speeds), dvd player.

  • MCF

    Fantastic chart. It would be interesting to distinguish visually between enabling technologies (e.g. internet, electricity) and those whose utility is proportional to other technologies (e.g. smartphone utility derived in large part from internet).

    PS – can to share data and sources?

  • Seb

    So, one thing is obvious: the Iraq war killed the VCR.

    • Futurist

      Well that and the DVR (not shown on chart but reaching deep saturation)

      • I don’t know what you mean by deep saturation but DVR reached 43% by mid 2012. In mid 2007 it was 17.2%.
        Sent from my iPad

  • egd3hr

    Interesting how the technologies with the most vertical trajectory (highest adoption rate over shortest period of time) are mostly communications related technologies, Radio, TV, Cell Phone, Smartphone . . . Only the washer seemed to come close for a non-communications related technology.

    • I think you mean the refrigerator (thinner blueish line rocketing up) not the washer (thicker grey line stumbling a couple times).

      • egd3hr

        You are correct, Daniel

  • egd3hr

    I think a great subset of this chart would be to plot the following:
    VCR, DVD player, Internet, PC, Smartphone, Streaming Video, Tablet. Would be interesting to see the interaction of drop off of legacy technologies as new ones that do the same job are introduced and grow

  • Frank Ichel

    I would put in the graph of future product innovation: small flying electric helicopters for efficient short distance travel without congestion.

  • nuttmedia

    As one who never argues with data, it seems for certain The Buggles were wrong… Video did not kill the radio star

  • dondi

    In one sense, it’s unfair to list smartphones and tablets as separate technologies. In a global sense, they’re just evolutionary configurations of the personal computer, like the laptop. The cell phone qualifies, since it used entirely new communications technology and infrastructure, and personal computers were the technological milestone which moved computing to within the reach of the mass market, although it might be more representative to just make that “computer”, and start it at the first commercially available computer.

    But as the RIM engineer realized when he examined the original iPhone, it wasn’t a phone – it was a personal computer; they weren’t competing with a phone, they were competing with a mini-Mac in a new form factor which also made phone calls. So arguably, the tablet is just a new form factor of the PC, and the smartphone (in its current form) is a hybrid development of the personal computer and the cell phone, and not really a new product category.

    I would also question HDTV, which is an incremental development of a device to consume broadcast signals, and the adoption of which was driven by industry changeover of the delivered signal from analog to digital, combined with the availability of high-resolution flat-screen technology which was common in computer displays. Most people needed to get a new TV anyway, and HDTV broadcast was on the near horizon at the time of the analog/digital changeover.

    • Kizedek

      You can say that about a lot of things — like, conventional ovens (gas, electric, or flame) and microwave ovens. And, yet, while overlapping, their separate use and jobs-to-be-done is fairly separable. Many people have one or the other, many have both; and they can be used separately, exclusively or in partnership.

      Yes, the technologies underlying a conventional oven and a microwave oven are different (albeit electricity is the basic requirement for microwave ovens), perhaps more different than the technologies shared by the iPhone and the iPad. However, they are both “ovens”; while a case can be made that the iPad is more “PC” than even other (“media”) “tablets”, let alone phones — due to jobs-to-be-done.

      The thought that the iPad should be lumped with PCs more than with other (media) tablets is controversial, but perhaps makes more sense than lumping it with smartphones… certainly in light of the recent articles and discussion about Apple’s tablet market share vs PC industry.

  • obarthelemy

    I’m a bit puzzled by the choice of starting point for “smartphones”: I think people keep being mislead by the “smartphone” misnomer: those aren’t mainly phones, they’re mainly computers.The addition of phone or 2/3/4G capability is no more relevant for those devices than it was for desktops (pretty relevant, but not a game changer compared to wifi or even cable/BT/IrDA). And nobody’s doing a “connected PC” vs “unconnected PC” dichotomy, either. Pretty much everything I’m doing now on my smartphone (email, reading, music, games, contacts, calendar, to-do…), I was doing in 1999 on my Palm Vx and 2005 on my T|X (wifi ! yeah ! and videos). And there was earlier stuff: Psion Organizer, Atari Portfolio… if you insist on looking at it from the phone angle, the Nokia 9000 is from 1996.

    • literacy

      Perhaps try reading the 10%-90% penetration part.

    • Walt French

      I agree that the name is highly misleading; too bad that Microsoft copyrighted “Pocket PC.”

      But as somebody who was looking longingly at a better way to stay connected on the go than my kludgy setup (a RAZR, maybe earlier a SE T68i, acting as an EDGE modem and connected via BlueTooth to my laptop), the Nokias of the time were (a) the best and (b) Not Acceptable due to the clumsy screen handling. It was only with the iPhone’s pinch-to-zoom, clever double-tapping that zoomed/realigned/reframed and smart scrolling that made it easy to flick through text on a tiny screen (all subjects of patent infringement lawsuits these days, BTW), that I could see using a phone for an internet browser.

      That’s my most-used app on my iPhone, so the fact that predecessor smartphones had gawdawful browsing capability is hardly a minor point.

      So yes, *everything* has a predecessor. But today’s smartphones go back to January 9, 2007.

    • simon

      Nothing to be puzzled about if you’ve actually read the articles and looked at the graph. 10% penetration.

  • pk_de_cville

    I’ve never seen a chart as rich as this. Abstracting it could be very useful for trends in Social Sciences, Art, Health, and Politics.

    Perhaps it could be the center of someone’s thesis someday tracking by region or globally…

    Disease Control
    Wars and Conflicts
    Healthy Water Access
    Art and Fashion Styles
    Women and Girls Education and Empowerment
    Technology Adoption in Underserved Areas

    I think this type of chart in any of these areas would give us insight in our role as citizens of our planet, a mere speck in space.

    (Please excuse my drifting so far off topic!)

  • Grainsofbitcoin

    What is next is Bitcoin.
    I know you have been dismissive on twitter of Bitcoin before, but consider this:

    Bitcoin competes asymmetrically with the status quo.

    Bitcoin can perform most of the jobs to be done that the financial sector now does in disparate parts.

    Bitcoin is currently not ‘good enough’. It meet several criteria of a disruptive technology

    • The only job a currency needs to do is to be liquid. As many liquid currencies exist, they are all good enough. Looking at financial systems, the last innovation in banking was the ATM. Most innovations in finance prior to that were conceived in Amsterdam in the 17th century and for accounting in renaissance Venice. Finance and banking are not industries that benefit from innovation since they don’t create much value.

  • Deborah Lee Soltesz

    Could you clarify the huge gap and high start point game console curve? Are your data incomplete for game console tech?

    • The data for consoles is problematic because consoles have been in use in some from since the 1970s. It probably isn’t the same technology so the better approach would be to track each generation. The current generation is commonly thought of as the seventh but I don’t have enough data to plot older generations.

      • Deborah Lee Soltesz

        Thank you! I’ll share this with my other compsci/gamer buddies. We’ve been discussing your graph for a few days – fun and fascinating!

  • bitcoin and 3d printing is next

    • charly

      Bitcoin at the moment is purely a ponsi scam

      Bitcoin has the issue that it needs to be “mined”. That alone is a reason why fiat bitcoin type currencies are better. Fiat currencies are also more stable.

      3D printing will probably be almost as successful as paper printing. Problem is did paper printing ever reach 50%?

  • Victor Hoong

    I believe the next thing (mass adoption consumer tech device) is wearables.. Google Glass / Smartwatch / smart wristband… We could argue whether this is one category, two or three.

    It would be good to decide exactly what question we want to answer with this graph and then determine the criteria on which to add technologies. Where is the calculator, walkman, iPod, tape player, record player, cd player or home hi-fi? (and countless others) What about software? social networks? What happens to the graph and the story it tells when these are introduced?

  • ePatient_Dave

    In addition to showing the inhibitors (wars), it might be useful to show accelerants: the space program, semiconductors, CAD; what else? –And re the surge in rapid adoption: I wonder what portion of that is due to the instant / viral awareness of the ultimate accelerant, the internet.

    • The primary accelerant is a process called “modularization” which allows each subsequent industry to leverage all the previous industries by incorporating their advances as modules in its own. The availability of electric power allowed home appliances and entertainment to emerge. More recently, the availability of internet allowed both personal and mobile computing to prosper and the availability of a computing infrastructure is allowing the rise of digital services, which will allow ________ to emerge.

  • Steffen

    Dear Horace;

    great illustration! I am Professor at Ravensburg – Weingarten University, Germany, and we are working currently on a book about digital transformation and would like to integrate your graph. Therefore it would be very handy if you could sent us the underlying data from the graph.
    We are happy to talk further details – preferrably via email.

    Take care Steffen