Some technology goes obsolete for a good reason. Will there ever be the need to listen to music on an 8-track player? For that matter, what purpose did the 8-track serve considering that portability was handled just as well with cassette players?
Just take a look at the evolution of cell phones. In the last 20 to 25 years, advances in miniaturization has led to the innovations making the bulky handsets of the late 80s and early 90s totally obsolete; but it didn’t stop there. Today’s smartphones combine the feature sets of a variety of portable devices — cameras, music players, GPS units, computers, and the cellular phone.
Let’s take a look what current technologies might be on their way out of the commercial mainstream.
The Component-Based Home Stereo
As more and more listeners store their music collection in a compressed format on a smartphone, hard drive, or streamed from the Cloud, the old-fashioned component home stereo containing a receiver, turntable, cassette deck, and a pair of speakers is gradually fading away. Sure, the boutique fan of vinyl records or the audiophile listener who enjoys 24-bit DVD-Audio recordings in surround sound are still out there, but they are a small minority.
Most listeners today are happy with a pair of earbuds, their car stereo, and maybe a pair of computer speakers, and that is what is driving the market. The home stereo sections in large brick and mortar department stores have largely been replaced by a smaller area devoted to home theater units. At the same time, the square footage dedicated to smartphones — able to store and play a full music collection — continues to grow.
Is the Compact Disc the Last Physical Medium for Music?
Related to the slow death of the home stereo is the waning era of the compact disc, now about to enter its fourth decade of existence. While compact discs will continue to be sold to hardcore music fans who need a physical item, the venerable CD is quickly leaving the commercial mainstream on its way to obsolescence. Sure, some music listeners argue back and forth about what sounds better — vinyl or CD — but the vast majority of consumers are perfectly happy with the inferior, compressed sound of MP3 and other digital music formats.
Once again, note the shrinking amount of square footage in stores dedicated to selling CDs. A future where over 95 percent of all music is sold in a digital format is rapidly approaching.
Who Needs a GPS Unit?
The combination of smartphone map apps and newer cars with built-in navigation functionality means the certain death of the portable GPS unit. Now travelers depend on the dulcet tones of Siri or some other equivalent to find their way around when on the go. The GPS, like the low-end portable camera, is another victim of the multi-function smartphone — with the exception of those cars with fancy navigation.
As technology continues in its endless innovation-driven march, what was once start of the art gets relegated to the scrap heap of time. While the compact disc will survive for a while as a niche product, don’t expect to ever find an 8-track in Best Buy or Walmart.