The technology breakthrough that enabled the modern computer occurred shortly after the end of World War II, when researchers at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey created the first working transistor on December 16, 1947. William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain later received a well-deserved Nobel Prize in Physics for their groundbreaking work in transistors.
What started with one transistor has grown at an astonishing rate. The Semiconductor Industry Association estimated that in 2008, a total of 6 quintillion transistors were manufactured (that’s a six followed by 18 zeros). In 2011, Intel predicted that the number of transistors in the world would top 1,200 quintillion by 2015. To see this growth in transistors in action, consider the steady evolution of Intel’s semiconductors. In 1978, its wildly popular 8086 processor contained 29,000 transistors. The first Pentium processor was introduced by Intel in 1993, with 3.1 million transistors. In 2007, each of Intel’s Zeon Quad-Core processors contained 820 million transistors. In February 2010, the company launched an Itanium chip with 2 billion transistors.
The worldwide market for information and communications technologies and services (ICT, which is the broadest view of InfoTech activities of all types) totaled about $4 trillion in 2012. The boom years in IT spending are far from over, as many investments that were deferred by IT managers during the Great Recession are now moving forward, boosting computer and software industry revenues. Investments in equipment and services will continue to follow evolving technological trends, with more emphasis on mobile computing, cloud-based systems, better network storage and servers, along with better security.
Emerging markets are of extreme importance to the IT sector. The number of wireless subscribers worldwide is soaring, standing at more than 6 billion in 2012. The number of PC and tablet owners is also growing at a rapid rate in emerging nations. Low prices for equipment and services are fueling this boom in the Third World. China has grown to be one of the top markets worldwide for IT expenditures. Nonetheless, the Americas region will remain the largest ICT market, with about one-third of the global market in 2013. Worldwide sales of semiconductors hit $302 billion in 2011, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association, but were down slightly to $289.9 billion during 2012.
The InfoTech industry is a truly globalized sector. Computer technology research, the development and manufacture of components and the assembly of completed systems have grown quickly in the labs and manufacturing plants of China, Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia, among other lands. Computer services continue to move offshore quickly, particularly to the tech centers of India. Asian PC brands are very powerful, including Asus, Samsung and Lenovo. Meanwhile, the leading U.S. brands, including Apple, HP and Dell, have most of their equipment manufactured in state of the art factories in Asia.
Global personal computer (PC) shipments were flat in 2012, at 352.4 million units, virtually unchanged from the previous year, according to analysts at IDC. Growth in PCs is being slowed by a booming market in tablets and other mobile computing devices. In fact, when analyzing the direction of the IT market today, it’s important to think one word: mobile.
More smartphones are now sold each year than PCs on a worldwide basis. When you add in platforms such as iPads and notebooks connected wirelessly to the Internet, the shift to mobile computing is even more pronounced. It isn’t that the PC is dead, but the PC is being relegated to a lessened status.
Analysts at Gartner predicted that a combined 1.2 billion smartphones and tablets will be sold worldwide during 2013. The Pew Center’s surveys show that 59% of Americans accessed the Internet via their cellphones in 2010. This pattern is being repeated around the world. Boring, desktop-bound PCs and laptop computers are losing out to tablets and the latest cellphones. This has had a dramatic, negative impact on companies, such as Dell, that had previously enjoyed tremendous profits from PCs.
The 1970s and 1980s were often called the “Information Age,” and the 1990s can be singled out in history as the beginning of the “Internet Age.” The first few years of the 21st Century might be called the “Broadband Age” or, even better said, the “Convergence Age,” as entertainment, news, telephony, data and video converged onto Internet-connected devices. By 2010, however, the world had clearly entered the “Mobile Age.”
Today, broadband sources such as Fiber-to-the-premises and cable modems provide high-speed access to information and media, creating an “always-on” environment for computer users at home and in the office. The current move towards mobile computing is accelerating this environment of constant access to data and communications. In the near future, the next step will be an era of “pervasive computing.” That is, computing devices that surround you at all times in all places, largely interconnected and communicating with both the user and the environment around the user. A combination of Wi-Fi, cloud computing, remote wireless sensors, cellular networks and incredibly advanced mobile devices is accelerating this trend.
Broadband access has been installed in enough U.S. households and businesses (more than 96 million by 2012) to create a vast mass market, fueling demand for new Internet-delivered services, information and entertainment. Growth in broadband subscriptions worldwide is very strong. There were more than 2.4 billion Internet users worldwide by June 2012, and we have passed the level of 1.7 billion subscribers with access to fast or even ultra-fast broadband access to the Internet, including wireless connections. Continuous technological progress is moving in-step with this rapidly expanding user base, leading to a steady evolution in the way we access and utilize software applications, including the recent soaring growth of cloud computing.
Consumers are swarming to new and enhanced products and services, such as the iPad, the iPhone and Samsung’s latest smartphones. Over the next five to ten years, significant groundbreaking products will be introduced in areas such as high-density storage, artificial intelligence, optical switches and networking technologies, and advances will be made in quantum computing.
The InfoTech revolution continues in the office as well as in the home. The U.S. workforce totals about 150 million people. A vast segment of the workforce uses a computer of some type on the job daily, in every conceivable application—from factory workers managing computer-driven machinery, to receptionists answering computerized telephone systems, to cashiers ringing up sales at Wal-Mart on registers that are tied into vast computerized databases. This is the InfoTech revolution at work, moving voice, video and data through the air and over fiber optic lines, driving productivity ahead at rates that we do not yet know how to calculate. Our ability to utilize technology effectively is finally catching up to our ability to create the technologies themselves. We’re finding more and more uses for computers with increased processing speed, increased memory capacity, interfaces that are friendly and easy-to-use and software created to speed up virtually every task known to man. Cheaper, faster chips, bigger storage capability and more powerful software will continue to enter the market at blinding speed.
InfoTech continues to create new efficiency-creating possibilities on a continual basis. RFID (radio frequency ID tagging, a method of digitally identifying and tracking individual items of merchandise) promises to revolutionize logistics and drive InfoTech industry revenues even higher. M2M (machine-to-machine) communications via remote wireless sensors, Internet-connected appliances and digitally-controlled machinery and equipment will eventually mean that much of the world’s industrial activity, transportation, supply chain, environmental controls and infrastructure will be interconnected digitally. One of the biggest opportunities facing the IT industry for the mid-term is the harvesting and analysis of “big data” from this increasingly complex network of machines and sensors.
The health care industry is undergoing a technology revolution of its own. Patient records are finally going digital in standardized formats, and RFID is starting to make hospital inventories more manageable.
For businesses, the stark realities of global competition are fueling investments in InfoTech. Demands from customers for better service, lower prices, higher quality and more depth of inventory are mercilessly pushing companies to achieve efficient re-stocking, higher productivity and faster, more thorough information management. These demands will continue to intensify, partly because of globalization.
The solutions are rising from InfoTech channels: vast computer networks that speed information around the globe; e-mail, instant messaging, collaboration software and improved systems for real-time communication between branches, customers and headquarters; software with the power to call up answers to complex questions by delving deep into databases; clear fiber-optic cables that carry tens of thousands of streams of data across minuscule beams of light; vast wireless networks; and seemingly endless capacity on servers based in the cloud. Businesses are paving the paths to their futures with dollars invested in InfoTech because: 1) substantial productivity gains are possible; 2) the relative cost of the technology itself has plummeted while its power has multiplied; and 3) competitive pressures leave them no choice.