One of the keys to staying successful if you work with technology is the ability to predict what tools people will need in the future before anyone else does. There are lots of people that are very rich right now just because they were among the first to realize how important the Internet would be.
So what's the next big thing? Well, obviously I don't really know (no one does) but there are a few very clear trends that I think will shape how we use technology in the future.
#1 - All data is the same
People are starting to realize that all different types of data work in the same way. TV, cell phones, land lines and internet should all be powered by one massive data pipe.
#2 - All hardware is the same
Many people still think that cell phones are fundamentally different from desktop computers, but the line between the two grows increasingly blurry. It's just a matter of time before people realize that cell phones, video game consoles, laptops and desktops are all the same basic device. They are all computers. It's that simple.
Neither of these two ideas are particularly insightful or useful by themselves, but there's a lot you can take away if you take this a step further. For example, you can look at the types of services that some companies offer and tell that they aren't ready for the future of technology.
The same way American car companies spent the past 20 years setting themselves up for complete irrelevance, I think cell phone and cable companies are demonstrating absolutely no willingness to adapt and survive during the next wave of technological change. Text messages still cost money even when phones have unlimited data plans. I still can't pay to watch only the tv channels that I want (I don't need 260 channels about fishing).
Because of the inaction by many established companies, there will be a huge opportunity for third parties to come in and slowly take over these industries. Hulu and Google Voice are both great examples of services poised to make traditional media and telecom companies worthless.
It's hard to predict what we can do right now to prepare for this transition, but I think that if you keep these two trends in mind whenever you're making important decisions, you'll be miles ahead of the competition.
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