What is it about the change from one year to the next that compels people to guess about what’s going to happen?
In general, the worst kinds of predictions are from people who claim to have supernatural insight — psychics, spiritual hucksters and their ilk. The reason is that such people tend not to know much about the world, so their guesswork is often uninformed. They also pander to a gullible audience, so they tend to be believed no matter how flimsy their “process” is for arriving at insights.
Last year, for example, Peruvian shamans performed a ceremony at which they made vague predictions about “world leaders,” including Michael Jackson. They concluded that Jackson would “get stronger” in 2009. If by “get stronger” they meant that he would die, then the prediction was “dead on.”
Astro-Numerologist Jesse Kalsi predicted that the inauguration of Barack Obama “might be delayed.” The fact that he deleted the post where he made the prediction, and also used the word “might” doesn’t get him off the hook. This is a clear prediction fail.
Technology pundits usually do better, because their guesswork tends to be informed. In fact, the chief value of predictions is not the prediction itself, but the reasoning behind it, which can be insightful even when the prediction is wrong.
For example, Don Reisinger predicted last year that in 2009, Apple would end its exclusivity deal with AT&T. He was wrong, but it’s based on a good insight. Just recently, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson made it clear that iPhone exclusivity would end sooner or later. Last December, few thought exclusivity would end. Today, everybody knows it will. Reisinger’s prediction was wrong, but not bad.
Many tech predictions are so vague and couched in such gaseous, unprovable language that they’re not worth the virtual ink they’re written with. Alex Chriss predicted last year that in 2009, “The mobile industry is going to be boring.” Martin Veitch predicted that “virtual desktops and mobile devices will be everywhere.” “Boring” and “everywhere” are vague to the point of meaninglessness. These can’t be wrong — but they can’t be right, either.
And then we come to the outright prediction fails. These are the predictions that are clearly, unambiguously and spectacularly wrong. Here are my Top Ten Bad Tech Predictions for 2009 in reverse “David Letterman style” order:
10. Twitter will get a business model – Josh Catone. Unless the business model is to keep raising venture capital, Twitter hasn’t got one. Catone isn’t alone. This is the most popular wrong prediction about 2009. Dozens of pundits made it.
9. Apple will announce a successor to Steve Jobs – Louis Gray. Apple should have done this, but must have reasoned that the cult of personality would have been damaged by such an announcement. There can be only one “The One,” I guess.
8. iTunes will gain social networking features – Richard MacManus. I think the last thing Apple wants is users talking to each other, especially about iTunes. MacManus had some other fails, predicting that Facebook would embrace OpenSocial and that Yahoo would sell to a big media company.
7. Facebook Connect will become the de facto way to login to web sites – Sarah Perez. Nope. Hardly any web sites are using Facebook Connect. This is a fail for both Perez and Facebook. Perez also predicted that new iPods would be released with a VoIP app built-in — a gutsy call, but it didn’t pan out.
6. Microsoft will resurrect WebTV after buying Netflix – Lidija Davis. I don’t know where this prediction came from (left field?), but today WebTV remains un-resurrected and Netflix is still un-bought. Let’s all breath a sigh of relief that this prediction was wrong.
5. Twitter will be acquired – Sean Ammirati. Not a bad guess, really. It could have been acquired. It should have been acquired. But it wasn’t acquired. Fail!
4. Apple TV will evolve into an actual TV – Jason Schwarz. Great idea, but a bad prediction. Schwarz correctly pointed out in his prediction that “the current Apple TV box has not worked.” He guessed at a solution (he’s predicted this before), but missed the mark. Again.
3. Apple TV will be discontinued – Ed Kohler. Here’s another solution to the Apple TV problem that Apple doesn’t agree with.
2. Microsoft will try to buy RIM – Tim Bajarin. At the end of a long list of good predictions, Bajarin takes this stab in the dark — admittedly his most “outrageous prediction.” Here’s another prediction we can also be glad is not true.
And the number-one Bad Tech Prediction for 2009…
1. The Android platform will be outselling the iPhone by July – Matthaus Krzykowski. A spectacular fail! Not only is Android not outselling iPhone, it’s nowhere near even a quarter of iPhone sales. About 380,000 Android phones were sold in 2009, while Apple sold about 2.6 million iPhones.
And thank you to all the prognosticators: Good predictions inform us, but bad predictions entertain us!