1. Free tech support
The practice still employed by some companies of paying humans to answer phones and solve consumers’ problems with hardware or software will become a thing of the past. PCs, laptops and hardware peripherals, as well as application software will be purchased like airline tickets, with price becoming the sole criteria for many buyers. In order to compete on price, companies that now offer real tech support will replace it with message boards (users helping users), wikis, wizards, software-based troubleshooting tools and other unsatisfying alternatives.
2. Wi-Fi you have to pay for
Everyone is going to share the cost of public Wi-Fi because the penny-pinching public will gravitate to places that offer “free” Wi-Fi. Companies that charge extra for Wi-Fi will see their iPhone, BlackBerry and netbook-toting customers — i.e., everybody — taking their business elsewhere. The only place you’ll pay for Wi-Fi will be on an airplane.
3. Landline phones
Digital phone bundles for homes (where TV service, Internet connections and landline phone service are offered in a total package) will keep the landline idea alive for a while, but as millions of households drop their cable TV service and as consumers look to cut all needless costs, the trend toward dropping landline service in favor of cell phone service only will accelerate until it’s totally mainstream, and only grandma still has a landline phone.
4. Movie rental stores
The idea of retail operations where you drive to a store, pick a movie, stand in line and then drive home with the movie will become a quaint relic of the new fin de siècle (look it up!). The new old way to get movies will be discs by mail, and the new, new way will be downloading.
5. Web 2.0 companies without a business plan
The era when Web-based companies could emerge and grow on venture capital, collecting eyeballs and members at a rapid clip and deferring the business plan until later are dead and gone. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Twitter. Sand Hill Road-style venture capital is shrinking toward nothing, and investors in general will be hard to come by. Those few remaining investors will want to see real, solid business plans before the first dollar is wired to any start-up’s bank.
6. Most companies in Silicon Valley
Tech company failures and mergers will leave the industry with a low two-digit percentage (maybe 25%) of the total number of companies now in existence. Like the automobile industry, which had more than 200 car makers in the 1920s and emerged from the Depression with just a few, Silicon Valley is in for some serious contraction. The difference is that the auto industry ended up with the Big Three, whereas the number of tech companies will grow dramatically again during the next boom.
7. Palm Inc.
Elevation Partners, which has among its principals U2’s Bono, pumped a whopping $100 million into the failing Palm Inc. this week.
The idea is to give the company time to release its forthcoming Nova operating system, which will take the cell-phone world by storm and give Apple a run for its money. It would have been far more efficient, however, to just flush that money down the toilet. With the iPhone setting the handset interface agenda, BlackBerry-maker RIM kicking butt in the businesses market, and Google stirring up trouble with its Android platform, this is no time for a clueless company like Palm to be introducing a new operating system. By this time next year, Palm will be gone. And so might Elevation Partners.
Yahoo Inc. is another company that can’t seem to do anything right. Or, at least, can’t compete with Google. Yahoo will be acquired by someone, and its brand will become an empty shell — used for some inane set of services but appreciated only by armchair historians (joining the ranks of Netscape, Napster and Commodore).
9. Half of all retail stores
Many retail stores are obsolete and will be replaced by online competitors. Entire malls will become ghost towns. By this time next year, most video game stores, book stores and toy stores — as well as brick-and-mortar shops in many other categories — will simply vanish. Amazon.com will grow and grow.
10. Satellite Radio
I’m sorry, Howard Stern. It’s over. The newly merged Sirius XM Radio simply cannot sustain its losses. The company is already deeply in debt and would need to dramatically increase subscribers over the next six months in order to meet its debt obligations. Unfortunately, new car sales, which account for a huge percentage of satellite radio sales, are in the gutter and stand-alone subscriptions are way down.
Change is hard. But efficiency is good. While boom years gives us radical innovation and improve consumer choice, recessions help us focus on what’s really important and accelerate the demise of technologies and companies that are already obsolete.
So say good-bye to these 10 things, and say hello (eventually) to a new economy, a new boom and a new way of doing things.