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June 27, 2016

Next generation of IT vowels

Dr Mick Molloy

With the decades of ‘e’, ‘i’ and ‘u’ already behind us, Dr Mick Molloy wonders which vowel will be chosen to sum up the next great leap forward in technology.

The ‘retrospectoscope’ is an amazing tool much used by time travellers and maligned by the rest of us ordinary mortals. But if such a device was actually real, it would be an interesting exercise to ask one’s friends what use they would put it to.

What change would they make in the paths they have chosen, if any, or what event would they like to see and influence? (That is, of course, if they are not too afraid of the potential time-paradox consequences!)

I am sure that if such a device was available to our Government, we may not have chosen the economic path that has been trodden of late, and we would not have developed a revenue structure based so heavily on receipts from the construction industry and stamp duty.

I have a friend who many decades ago was travelling the roads of the information superhighway (‘the internet’ to you and me) long before any of us had ever heard of such things as ‘http’ or ‘www’. His one major regret is that he never registered three- and four-letter dot com domain names when this was cheap and long before many companies even realised they would invest in developing a website. He rues the day he did not make use of his IT awareness and foresight and buy up the non-company based domain names which would become so popular in future, and which would not have been trademarked at the time.

The decade of the ‘e’
He has seen the transition from the decade of ‘e’ to the decade of ‘i’. Most of us wont realise what this is about, but the 1990s were the decade of ‘e’: e-commerce, e-trade, e-voting, e-government and e-mail, among others — ‘e’ being the abbreviation for all things electronic.

Not all e-ventures were a major success. E-voting had been a success in many countries, but not, unfortunately, in Ireland. E-government has been more successful as a myriad of activities are now facilitated electronically.

The decade of ‘i’ — the 2000s — have been a far greater success, with wider penetration of the internet and its involvement in education, entertainment and the widescale update of broadband allowing far more information to be delivered in real time.

Apple for the teacher: new technology is child’s play for the younger generation

Leaning on my inherent biases, Apple has been to the forefront of the ‘i’ decade, with the advent of the iPod and its evolution over the generations into an entertainment tool whose form is unparalleled in its simplicity.

To complement the iPod, a software application called iTunes was developed to act as a library and store, initially for music but now for applications, movies and TV shows. Other applications then followed, such as the iLife suite, to challenge the Microsoft Office suite of applications.

One of the more successful products for Apple has been the one which started the whole i-development and which turned around the fortunes of Apple in the late 1990s. This is the iMac: an all-in-one computer doing away with the box and screen format favoured by other manufacturers until the iMac’s runaway success.

In recent years, Apple has developed the iPhone, merging three of its technologies into one device: a sophisticated computer, an iPod and a phone, as well as many other applications and uses.

Recent rumours have suggested that Apple is purportedly branching out with ‘iCloud’ — a cloud-based support service offering space, application storage, movie rentals etc, to take advantage of new generations of internet-capable televisions, which will not have large hard-drives or speedy processors, but which could benefit from hosted application services. Central to this has been the i-theme, marketed as ‘i’ for internet, but which realistically is meant to draw you into a relationship with your devices and develop a familial-like bond between you and your various ‘i’s.

To return to the decades of vowels, we have had the ‘e’ and the ‘i’, and to a limited degree the ‘u’ with YouTube, and various other iterations of that. What needs to be considered now for the investment-savvy is: which of the remaining vowels will be the dominant force in the 10s and 20s?

We have only ‘a’ and ‘o’ left, if one is looking for new developments. But if money is plentiful, investment in i-companies could still yield dividends.

I am reminded of a conversation I had over dinner in 2003 when asked if I would invest in shares and what shares I would invest in for Christmas.

At the time I explained my interests to the host and how Apple shares were currently US$14 and a very good buy, both for short and long term. I am unsure if he took a plunge, but after a stock split those same shares are now selling for just under $400 (effectively $800, taking the split into account). So it would appear as if the 2000s were definitely the decade of ‘i’ and Apple.