A Goldstuck glimpse

Now you see them, now they’re toast.

In a corner of my home office, I have a pile of devices that were cutting-edge in their day, but now baffle the kids, or at least their friends. They include an Apple ipod, an Hp iPAQ personal digital assistant, highcapacity external hard drives, an external CD drive, piles of blank CDs, and a TomTom car navigation device.

And we’re only talking about devices from the 21st century. In the last decades of the 20th, you could barely move in an electronics store for the piles of laser printers, fax-scanner combos, cordless phones, and compact digital cameras in very uncompact boxes.

As categories, all of these were going to change the world, and some brands did briefly catch alight in the channel.

The fact that many of these were core products in consumers’ lives not so long ago should give the channel pause to consider a crucial strategic question: which technologies that consumers take for granted today will have vanished in the next 10 years?

One of them is already on the chopping block. when ITWeb reported at the beginning of August that Altron was selling its Altech UEC division, it was ostensibly because the holding company was moving away from manufacturing to become ‘a fully-fledged ICT services provider’. However, CEO Mteto Nyati also revealed the Achilles’ heel of the business: “Our set-top box business was largely only selling to MultiChoice, just one customer.”

Now that sole customer is suddenly under pressure as the top-end of MultiChoice’s DStv subscriber base begins migrating to streaming video-on-demand services.More specifically, the first few hundred thousand subscribers to netflix in South Africa have largely been at the expense of DStv’s premium customer base.

The pay-TV giant still has a massive user base, with more than five million set-top boxes deployed in South Africa. The question is, though, how many of these boxes will move from the TV cabinet to the dusty corner where obsolete technologies go.

MultiChoice has already started reinventing itself with the creation of the Showmax streaming service that viewers can get as part of DStv or subscribe to as a stand-alone service. The next step will be for the organisation to migrate from the cumbersome set-top boxes of the kind made by Altech UEC.

Competitors like Kwesé Play and Cell C Black have demonstrated that it’s not too difficult to make devices equivalent to Apple TV, that take up almost zero space alongside the TV set. All of these boxes, in turn, will also eventually vanish into an app on the TV.

The other cumbersome piece of equipment that still tends to baffle its users a few decades later, the remote control that looks like a mini computer, will also join the dusty doodah dump. Apple TV and Amazon’s Fire Stick in particular show that, if one has the right interface built into the device, the control unit can be stripped down to the most minimalist design imaginable. Both now have voice control, which also points to a future where one will simply talk to the TV.

When 5g arrives with speeds that now sound insanely high, and connectivity becomes faster, more cost-effective and more pervasive, we can expect storage devices to become less important. USB flash drives may well be toast. ethernet cables will vanish from the home and small business.

Talking of which, cables themselves will be seen as a form of over-packaging. Just as excessive plastic wrapping is today seen as environmentally damaging, excessive cabling will be regarded by many as a symbol of supplier cluelessness.

But don’t unplug yet. first wait for the big manufacturers to stop making those cables.