Internet 2016: 10 entrepreneurs predict the future of online in 10 years

We assemble a panel of experts to find out what the world of online will look like in a decade's time

What will the internet be doing in 10 years that it isn’t doing today?

That’s the question we posed to some of the top minds in the online arena, who helpfully dusted off their crystal balls for us. And over the next fi ve pages you’ll read their fascinating, sometimes startling, predictions for how the internet will pervade our lives in 2016 in ways you may never have imagined.

Our respondents were hand-selected from the worlds of entrepreneurship, investment, technology, blue chips and research to tell us about virtually every facet of the online world in 10 years’ time. Specifi cally, we tasked them to tell us the things that will be completely different in a decade, the markets that will be revolutionised, the new applications of technologies we can expect, and who the household names will be – the Amazons and Googles of tomorrow.

It’s said we’re entering the second key phase of the internet – Web 2.0 – where high bandwidth connectivity is something we take for granted in our working lives, promising a vast array of new opportunities. The question is: will you be ready to capitalise?

Socio-political shift

Ken Olisa, chairman of technology investment house Interregnum Plc draws from historical shifts to predict the socio-political changes we’ll witness

Santayana warned that those who fail to study history are cursed to repeat it. In the case of computing that’s not such a bad thing. The last 30 years have witnessed a revolution in our lives as the three ages of IT have unfolded. First the mainframe age brought effi ciency to the back-offi ces of big business. The mini-computer age spread those gains to smaller companies and to the factory. The PC age empowered people rather than companies and enlivened homes rather than workplaces. And with each new age, the world’s processing power – measured by the number of interconnected computers – exploded by orders of magnitude. Now the internet connects many millions of machines.

The process of expansion is relentless, leading to the next era – the age of ubiquity – when interconnected computers will be counted in their billions. Today’s PCs and mobile phones will be joined by a new generation of domestic appliances; healthcare devices; vehicles; RFID tags and applications and machines yet to be invented.

Each age lasts about 15 years, peaking at the mid-point. The age of ubiquity arrived with a stable internet, promising five more years of quantum change – change that will be fuelled by the fusion of burgeoning processing power, interconnection and functional integration.

My predictions? As in the past, technology will drive out unnatural inefficiency. So the home will have new solutions for management of energy, supply chain (shopping), communication and entertainment. Wearing something to monitor vital signs and administer medication will become commonplace. GPS and radar will combine to make transport safer and more fuel-efficient. Item-level identifi cation will deliver unprecedented efficiency to corporate logistics networks.

Finally, by extending commercial efficiency and open communication to ever-greater proportions of the population there is the hope that the two antidotes to war – trade and democracy – could gain a sustainable foothold.

The Individual

Jon Wright, co-founder of smoothie successstory Innocent Drinks looks at the rising infl uence of the individual

Attitudinal communities are replacing geographic ones. Niche broadcasters are taking on the titans.

The internet means that everyone now stands an equal chance of getting 15 minutes of fame – think of the success of Alex Tew with his million dollar home page Milliondollarhomepage.com. In addition, the removal of distribution costs through technologies such as BitStream opens up broadcasting to everyone, not just the media titans.

Everyone’s opinion counts. Better information, garnered faster for everything. The internet is opening up consumer opinions. Just look at the power of the eBay or Amazon buyer comments.

In terms of applications the internet has moved from text to images and now video. Next in the pipeline will be fully immersive, 3D experiences. This will deliver huge benefits in medicine from detecting disease to treating people remotely. As experiences get richer so distance learning becomes more and more possible. The possibilities for us are really exciting, we could offer people remote experiences – letting them explore in real time the farms where our fruit is grown and watch the passing of the seasons.

The business landscape

Alistair Baker, UK managing director of Microsoft assesses the business landscape in 2016

We’ll be using smart devices that are always connected and push the content that we’ve defi ned as being important to us, in the format most useful at any particular time (so when I’m in my car, for instance, my device will know that and automatically switch to voice communication of my emails).

From a business perspective, the internet will allow people to work from anywhere they like, whenever they like. Businesses will be less centred around physical premises which will mean they will have a lower cost base and also it will have positive environmental benefits through less commuting. However, this will also present challenges in management practices and the cultural and social aspects of working life.

The barriers to setting up a new business will be much lower and there will be greater potential for growth; people will immediately have access to a global marketplace for their products and services, even if they’re a one man band working from home. This means more people will look to change their working lives, moving out of big corporations and establishing their own enterprises in order to improve their quality of life. In fact, bigger businesses will need to work harder and provide a much more fl exible working environment to retain their best staff.

Over the last decade, the internet has had an enormous impact on the way we do business; in the next 10 years, I fully expect it to have just as big an impact on the way we as individuals structure our working lives.

The home

Michael Philpott, principal analyst at Ovum, a technology analyst fi rm, presents a vision of the home of the future

The ‘home of the future’ has been discussed since the 1950s, and although obviously there have been great changes over the past 50 years the concept still seems to elude us. However, by 2016 many of the attributes we associate with the home of the future will be with us – enabled by the internet.

Entertainment will be completely interactive, public services such as education and healthcare will be readily available from the comfort of the armchair, and security and home automation will be controlled from virtually anywhere.

Perhaps the biggest change, and something that was not envisaged back in 1950, was that all these services will also be available whether you are in or out of the home. Mobile broadband technology, together with fixed and mobile network and service convergence and intelligence, will mean that services stay the same but devices change, depending on where you are located.

There will be many new services and applications tried out on the consumer market over the next 10 years, some will be successful, many will not. What will be important is the integration of services and applications that will enrich the experience. Integrating voice into an online gaming session, as a simple example, will completely change the gamer’s experience.

The workplace

David Bradshaw, also a principal analyst at Ovum presents his view of the workplace of the future

Most of the IT functions that companies do for themselves in-house will, by 2016, have moved out of house and be provided as a service. Only a few core systems will be so important (or so out of date) that they have to be retained on premise.

IT suppliers will have to radically change their business models, with business software increasingly bundled with business service. For example accounting software will be supplied by your accountants because doing so makes it far easier for them to carry out audits.

Software itself will become far more intelligent and gain a controlled degree of autonomy, for example the ability to sense anomalies and raise alerts, and to adapt itself to the way you use it. However, it won’t become ‘intelligent’ in any anthropomorphic sense. Computers are only useful when they do what we want them to do.

Desktop systems will reduce to ‘thin’ clients with interface devices and a screen. Microsoft will no longer dominate the desktop, indeed desktop systems will effectively disappear, being little more than ‘break out’ boxes for the network. Hopefully the need to carry around heavy laptops will disappear too.

Because of high oil prices and environmental issues, there will be strong pressure to reduce most forms of long-distance travel, especially air travel which has a high environmental cost. In particular, video conferencing will provide everything from high-quality desktop conferencing to ‘virtual’ threedimensional conference rooms with wall-sized fullmotion video. Tools for collaboration and presence will grow in importance and sophistication.

Most organisations will have offices and other locations, and most employees will still travel to work part of the week. Their physical presence will still be required, even if it’s just your paranoia or the need for the social dynamics of the group.

Mobile

Mike Short, VP of Group Technology at O2 explores how mobile internet will develop in the next decade and who the winners will be

The ubiquity of the mobile offers fantastic opportunities that companies are already beginning to seize. i-mode’s success in Japan has demonstrated the potential for new and old companies to make money delivering web services and content to the mobile.

In the UK, companies such as Re5ult and AQA (Any Question Answered) are turning to text and mobile internet (WAP) based services to make their millions and give consumers the Google experience of instant knowledge. The volume of UK WAP traffic is forecast to exceed the 25 billion pages barrier in 2006, and there are now over five million regular monthly WAP users in the UK.

And it’s not just budding entrepreneurs that are realising mobile’s potential. Issuebits – the company behind AQA – is the brainchild of CEO Colly Myers, a mobile-industry veteran who once ran handheld-device company Psion and phone operating-system vendor Symbian. The 82ASK service (i.e. 82275 on a keypad) is making its money from every advisory service thinkable on text and projects £3m sales in 05/06.

Another mobile heavyweight – Opera Telecom, is now the largest mobile aggregator in UK, and has impressively racked up sales of £99m despite having only been in operation since 2002. This has been achieved by offering a suite of services to clients from GMTV to Emap and creating its content to sell on to customers.

In the next five years, the landscape will change further as mobile becomes a media business in its own right. Mobile will become a channel, like the internet, where consumers search for and subscribe to content. Location-based services will offer levels of information unavailable on the deskbound internet.

Communications

Seb Bishop, director and CMO of MIVA (and formerly Espotting) says the trend for media consumption via the web will become total

In 10 years I believe the internet will be the hub from which all media is consumed and from which all communications are delivered.

Every major city will be ‘Wi-Max’ enabled, providing consumers with city-wide wireless internet access across multiple devices from computers to mobile phones.

Broadband speeds will increase to the point where TV and film will be delivered directly across the web. This will enable consumers to view exactly what they want, when they want and on what device they want. It will also result in a far richer and more interactive TV experience than we’re used to today.

Voice over IP (VoIP) will be totally ubiquitous. All voice calls will be delivered over the web and this will fundamentally change the face of the telecoms industry as we know it. With free calls from one VoIP user to another, monthly call charges may well become a thing of the past.

VoIP will result in complete convergence between web and telephony and this will open up new ways for companies to interact with customers. VoIP links will appear throughout websites, ads and TV programmes enabling consumers to speak directly and instantly to companies over their wireless web connection.

Community search will be firmly established and highly sophisticated.

Users will browse the web from within a walled garden comprising the favourite sites and blogs of friends, family and colleagues, ensuring highly personalised and relevant search results. User created content will continue to develop. In 10 years blogs will have been overtaken by more rich media user-generated content – and consumers are likely to be making money out of it.

Killer applications

Fresh from the £175m sale to ITV Michael Murphy, CEO of Friendsreunited.com, explores some of the new devices we’ll be using

Convergence may have resurfaced as the latest buzzword, but it will be quite some time before everything gels together with uniform standards for devices. The end vision, for example, is for you to download a video to your phone, which will then be automatically available through your home entertainment system.

Convenience for the consumer will be at the heart of the growth and fl exibility in how they send and receive information. The much talked about paperthin digital device small enough to fold up and place in your pocket will make its debut and we can expect them to become as prevalent as the mobile phone today; you could even watch your favourite fi lm from it on the train on the way home.

Multichannel TV and video search are currently among the fastest growing media markets. In the age of user-generated content, we can expect to see thousands of channel options.

However, while there will be more choice, ultra personalisation of content will pass: the irony is that we have less time to choose. And no-one actually knows what they want to watch, listen to or read a lot of the time.

That will not stop websites trying to anticipate your needs though; finding ways to recommend relevant content without personalisation will be the key.

Investment

Christopher Spray, senior partner and technology expert at Atlas Venture discusses where the money will be directed

Its first boom and bust taught us that the internet effects more radical change than we ever envisaged, but also that mass market adoption takes longer than we expect. Only now are innovations of the 1990s disrupting the industries they challenged.

At Atlas Venture we believe the next profound changes will be driven by the convergence – perhaps collision – of the second generation of internet techologies (Web 2.0) with digital media and ubiquitous high bandwidth wireless devices. Whenever big technology waves collide investment opportunities abound: we are exploring and exploiting them at the hardware, enabling software, and application levels; new chip-sets from companies like Picochip and Icera, long-life batteries from Lilliputian, or better colour displays from Pixtronix and new enabling software from the likes of realEyes3D, Cognima are just starting to give rise to new applications pioneered by, for example, Gotuit.

Every day brings us fresh examples of companies playing in these new markets: GPS-enabled 3G handsets to deliver navigation and local search, wireless broadband TV allows us to re-imagine e-commerce applications. The wireless device is always on, always with us: feeding the internet’s scope for personalisation and instant gratification.

Add to this powerful mix at least a billion techhungry, tech-savvy handset-owning new consumers in Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America that venture-backed companies have never been able to reach before.

New technologies

David Wright, VP and general manager of Hewlett Packard’s Personal Systems Group, UK and Ireland tells us about the technologies we can expect

Expect the internet to become ever more pervasive but less visible as a proliferation of devices from mobile phones to in-car DVD players increase in sophistication but drop in price.

The way people connect with these devices will become more complex, incorporating gestures and speech as well as keypad input, and users will be able to ask for what they want rather than just follow commands.

Interactions will also eventually become device-independent. The user could, for example, start a transaction on a phone or PDA in the car then switch to a computer at home. Technology companies including HP are working on standards that will make the experience consistent whatever the hardware. The functions these devices perform will become increasingly specialised as manufacturers discover what the market wants from each product.

The internet will no longer be primarily a landscape for the user to explore, but a means to a particular end. For example, HP Labs in Bristol has been working on Active Posters, where an advertising poster comes with a barcode that can be scanned by a mobile phone to give access to particular online information.

Looking further ahead, molecular electronics is still at an early stage and its feasibility is still in question, but it has the potential to revolutionise storage capacity and computing power. At that point our idea of what the internet is and what it can do will change completely.

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