Any ambitious innovation must target to fix the problems of tomorrow considering the technology environment of tomorrow. Fail to consider the future environment and you might be pouring R&D dollars into the bin.
Innovations that did bet on tomorrow:
Remember when Gmail launched in 2004? It offered 1GB of storage when Hotmail or Yahoo only gave a few MBs. Google was anticipating the increasing volumes of email people would have to deal with in the future, while betting on the exponential reduction of storage costs. Gmail now give more than 7 GB of storage.
YouTube growth also rides on decreasing storage costs, increasing bandwidth and better video compression techniques to make Internet Video go mainstream. Not to mention the habit of a new generation of kids to search with YouTube rather than Google.
GPS navigators vendors should also be careful with Google Maps on new handsets such as Android or iPhone. With Unlimited Data Plans, why have a GPS Navigator when the GPS mobile phone can provide online up-to-date maps with extra real-time information? There are some advantages to run maps from the cloud rather than from a device memory, and Google will leverage on them.
Many anticipated that people would not carry a mobile phone and an mp3 player, when only a single device would do it. For Apple the iPhone was a matter of survival with iPod having the biggest market share by far, and Nokia adding Mp3 players to their phones. Not only did it created a great convergent phone-mp3 player, but also added the multi-touch and the mobile web revolutions.
Innovations that were shortsighted and are soon to die:
ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) aimed to manage the bandwidth of data connections so that different QoS could be handled over the same network. With increasing amounts of bandwidth, driven among others by Gigabit Ethernet, the Internet can perfectly cope today with Voice (and even Video) communications, as Skype demonstrates, without any complex bandwidth management in the network. Why managing the bandwidth when there is plenty, and more is to come?
WAP was designed as a scaled down version of HTML to render web pages in a small screen. With faster microprocessors and larger memory powering-up mobile phones, WAP window is over before it ever delivered on its promise. MMS is a similar case. Why MMS, when you can send an email with a photo from new phones with web/email capabilities, using unlimited data plans. Mobile Internet is become more and more Mobile Internet the Internet way.
Fon and other Wifi Hotspots networks might suffer from the limitations of Wifi (100m-300m of range) as a technology to provide wide area coverage. With WiMAX, HSDPA, EVDO (and LTE coming), wireless broadband is crossing the chasm. Once Wireless broadband is available and affordable, how can a Wifi Hotspots Network spotty coverage compete?
Technology trends can easily be predictable, at least regarding capacity growth, be it Moore’s Law on computing elements or its equivalent on bandwidth growth. Before embarking on an adventure, make sure it is consistent with future trends and its corresponding problems.