A look back at a 20-year-old Motorola announcement suggests we're lousy prognosticators
bf blog post cell phones
I got lost in the Google "stacks" this week, as I sometimes do. I've
always loved wandering through bookstores or libraries, and, in the
digital age, the Library of Congress newspaper archives, and now, as it
improves and broadens its reach, Google's archive searches.
What you find can always serve as an excellent reality check on our
expectations of innovation and our abilities as prognosticators. Almost invariably our expectations and predications are wrong.
Science Fiction Nears Reality: Pocket
Phone for Global Calls
The small and portable telephone that
can be used anywhere on earth has been a staple of science fiction and
a Holy Grail of telephone engineers for several decades. Today Motorola
Inc. will become the first company in the world to announce plans to
build and operate such a phone system.
It was the early days of the Iridium system, and we all know how that
struggled. The Times went on to report the Motorola would charge less
than $3,500 (!!!!) for a pound and a half phone, and calls would cost
$1 to $3 a minute.
More from the Times story:
Potential users of the handsets are
expected to include vacationers, business people and engineers
traveling in places where phone service is not available or where an
international call can take hours to complete.
Today, all that functionality and nearly all that coverage is available
to us on cellular phones so small we lose them frequently. The cellular network itself is vastly more useful than for
simply transmitting voice from one person to another. All in 20 years.
I first used a cell phone in the mid-1980s, while riding
with a colleague down Interstate 95 in Rhode Island on the way to New
York City. He had a company-issued Motorola cell phone, a brick that
you all no doubt recall (and some of you probably designed!) As I talked to my wife while riding at 65 mph, I marveled at the fact that
motion or place was no longer going to limit communications.
Twenty years later, I stood atop the Great Wall and sent a photo from
my phone back to friends in the States. They received it microseconds later and it cost me almost nothing. Amazing.
No one in 1990 looked at the bat wings-birthed brick and envisioned millions of
people sending 140-character messages by the billions to share the
droll and mundane in their lives. Or to find discounted pizzas a block away or to serve as a dictation device or...
Today, a company called Neul announced more details of its first
"white-space" radio network. Even they don't know how the story will
play out in 10 years.
Last week, I dragged Jeff Bier in front of our camera (see below) at Design Automation Conference and he demoed a novel use of a Kinect video gaming system to manage presentations. The Kinect was launched just last November, and already people are exploiting its technology for applications Microsoft never even dreamed of!