Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Digital Nostradamus

Maybe it's just because as a programmer I keep up on technology trends, and perhaps because I'm a fan of Apple, I tend to see a lot of predictions in the technology sector. Some of it is interesting, but most of it consists of soothsaying which ranges from inane to irritating. The sheer bulk of it tends to get me frustrated.

Guessing the future is hard. Guessing about the technology future is even harder. Forecasting just a year or two in advance is difficult enough, but 5, 10, 25, or 50 years is almost impossible. And yet, somehow, there seems to be no shortage of people willing to share their prognostications.

I don't mind predictions. I like it when people state their opinion and share facts to support their claims. I don't mind when people state what they hope will occur. But it drives me crazy when I repeatedly encounter people state their guesses (outlandish or not) as though they were facts. And all too often these same people are unwilling to entertain alternative ideas or viewpoints. The place where this impacts me the most is at work. On the Internet at large, nut-jobs are a dime a dozen; one has to expect a deluge of nonsensical divinations. But at work I have a vested interest in keeping my company afloat and myself sane. Here are a few topics which spawn repeat offenders for me:

  • Will Flash ever be supported on iOS?
  • Will HTML 5 kill Flash?
  • Will Android supplant the iPhone?
  • Will [insert most recently announced Android tablet] be the iPad killer?
  • Will the iTunes App Store's walled garden eventually be its demise?

  • Most recently the Internet (and my work) is abuzz with speculation around the news of Steve Jobs stepping down from his CEO position at Apple. It confounds me how quickly people jump to conclusions and bend any fact or rumor to fit their viewpoint, often with disjointed logic.

    It's wearisome to keep up with and read, let alone try to reason with these people. And it's all about how the arguments are framed. For example, consider the differences between these arguments:
    1. Android will eventually win because it is an open platform.
    2. It's only a matter of time before Android tablets dominate the market, leaving the iPad a niche competitor.
    3. I prefer Android because I can customize it. I hope it continues to gain mass market acceptance so more developers will make apps for it.
    4. Apple is not the future, Android is. It's the Mac vs. PC all over again.
    5. Apple seems intent on losing market share by keeping it's hardware and software proprietary. Also, it refuses to support Flash. I predict it will eventually support Flash in a desperate attempt to remain relevant, but by then Android will be running on 80% of mobile devices. I can't think of a single reason to buy an iPad.
    6. Android has a strong possibility of becoming the eventual mass-market winner in the smartphone wars. Adoption from many carriers and handset makers have helped it gain recognition and cut into the iPhone's market significantly.
    Can you guess which of those arguments make me shudder? I'll give you a hint, there are only two which I find acceptable.

    #3 expresses an opinion. Good.

    #6 makes a prediction of a possible outcome, backed up with some evidence. Good.

    The rest are terrible to me. And sadly, they are actual arguments I've read. They are comprised mainly of opinions stated as facts, and arguments without substance. Could they be right? Sure, anything is possible. But they'd only be right due to chance and circumstance; not due to any insight on their part.

    I'm very open to the possibility of things like Android supplanting iOS. I just don't see any evidence of it. I think it is very reasonable to assume that if a great Android tablet hit the market that it could topple the iPad's dominance. I just don't see any evidence indicating that happening. What I do see is a veritable landslide of second-rate, bug-ridden, also-ran tablets being rushed to market.

    Businesses need to try to look into the future to do strategic planning. I just hope that my company doesn't get lost in this sea of speculation.

    I don't have much hope for the lunacy to end. But I trust that at least some rational thinking people will provide me some shelter from the madness.