We are utterly spoiled for choice on this entry. We couldn’t choose, so take your pick:

Hover-BoardThis telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication” — William Orton, President of Western Union, 1876

The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.” — President of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rackham, not to invest in the Ford Motor Company, 1903

Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months.  People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” — Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, 1946

The world potential market for copying machines is 5000 at most.” — IBM, to the eventual founders of Xerox, saying the photocopier had no market large enough to justify production, 1959

Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop.” — Time Magazine, 1966

There’s no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp, 1977

There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” — Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, 2007

That’s just a small selection. If you look, nearly every technology that has come to define our modern world has its own ‘terrible prediction’ of this sort prior to its inception. It states that it will never be more than an item of interest, that there will never be a market for it, or that it will be cost prohibitive, and usually comes from a notable figure within the relevant industry, or expert. Though there are exceptions, we are in general quite bad at predicting future developments when it comes to technology and its use in society – we often tend to linearly extrapolate from current consumer habits, and tend to under-appreciate the extent to which a truly revolutionary innovation can quickly change consumer habits, and the dynamics of society in general. And what we do predict can often be way off the mark, as we were all recently reminded thanks to ‘Back to the Future Day’ – no flying cars yet (although the film was prescient in other respects, such as flat screen televisions).

This also demonstrates the ‘wisdom of crowds’ effect: markets and consumer choice can often deliver solutions – genius in their simplicity – that experts simply fail to see. The smartphone is a great case in point. It involved technological innovation, yes, but the real power of it is in the idea that all these previously disparate activities could be brought together into a mobile device in a convenient fashion. Back to the Future II’s screenwriter, Bob Gale, has repeatedly said that smartphones were the big thing they missed: “It’s the Swiss Army Knife of today. The fact that everyone can have one device that’s a computer, that’s a camera, that’s a recording device, that’s a calculator, that’s a flashlight … we didn’t think of that.

And what about The Next Big Things that… weren’t? 3D televisions/cinema, digital watches, Google Glasses?

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