Today's newest and best technologies will go obsolete someday. That's the nature of progress, and long-term investors have to account for this inconvenient fact. Some of them just head over the hill quicker than others. So what once-amazing gadgetry is starting to show its age right now?
We asked a panel of Motley Fool contributors that very question, looking for items that are sure to be nothing more than quaintly nostalgic memories by 2025. They came up with two reasons consumer-electronics veteran Sony (NYSE:SNE) should worry about the march of progress, an inevitable shocker for navigation-systems expert Garmin (NASDAQ:GRMN), and some bad news for Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) is poised to win some and lose some; Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) looks like a big winner.
But wait -- there's more! Dive in below for the full rundown on three industries heading straight for massive makeovers in the next 10 years.
Dan Kline, gaming consoles: While the current top-tier game consoles -- Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 -- are outselling their predecessors at this point in their sales cycle, these two could be the last of the line. It's not that people won't want to play games at home. That could actually increase. It's that a dedicated device will no longer be necessary.
Gaming has been possible on computers, tablets, and other devices for a long time. The problem is, aside from a top-of-the-line gaming PC hooked up to a huge monitor (which costs a lot more than a console), none of those delivered an experience that rivals the top-tier dedicated gaming boxes. In recent years, however, that has been changing, and it's possible to game on your TV using set-top streaming boxes such as Amazon's Fire TV.
Priced at $99, this video player offers a pretty good gaming experience, with older high-end titles such as various Grand Theft Auto games, as well as a number of titles that first made their mark on tablets. Amazon even sells a console-like game controller as an add-on for the device, which enhances the gaming experience. This will not yet rope in the hardcore game-players, but it's a viable, cheaper option for families.
This is a subtle shift in the console/set-top-box market. In the past, consoles played games first. Other services, such as the ability to use apps, were a secondary function. That has changed with the current generation, where Xbox One and PS4 are meant to control your living room. As time moves on, the lines will blur and games will just be another thing your streaming box offers.
There might be some form of a console aimed only at high-end gamers, but they won't be mass products such as PS4 and Xbox One. Games were the original draw that sold everything from the Atari 2600 to Sega Genesis and every other hit console. Now, apps and other video services are the stars along with games, and people will want devices (probably relatively inexpensive ones) that can offer both.
Anders Bylund, Blu-ray players: The Blu-ray disc is having a good run, replacing the DVD for all intents and purposes. Higher picture quality, better sound, more interactive extra features, and larger storage for today's increasingly complex video games -- what's not to love?
But the Blu-ray was always a dead device walking. Today's high-def storage format isn't good enough for the coming 4K video makeover (and 4K itself looks like a short-lived stopgap -- 8K video is already knocking on your living room door).
Sure, there will be another hardware format, but the real replacement is not a next-generation optical disc or holocube. Instead, media storage is moving into the cloud, and you'll access tomorrow's 8K video (and 16K, 32K, and so on) via online streaming services.
Netflix is leading the way and will remain a front-runner for years to come. Consumers enjoy the company's clean interfaces and single-minded business focus on streaming services.
Amazon isn't far behind, though the company's online retailing focus is distracting Amazon from going all-in on streaming video today. Amazon's streaming services are peppered with attempts to make you buy Blu-ray, DVD, and downloadable file versions of the stuff you just want to watch once.
These are today's biggest streaming-video leaders, running just ahead of a pack of hungry wolves. And of course, I can't talk about whatever upstart businesses that inventors, venture capitalists, and media geniuses are cooking up right now or next year. But it's clear that the streaming model is taking over the jobs of both Blu-ray discs and traditional cable TV subscriptions.
None of this was possible 10 years ago, when sluggish dial-up connections still outnumbered broadband customers in the U.S. and 3 megabits per second counted as a high-speed service. But today, fast and reliable broadband connections are everywhere, including in your pocket if you want to catch the latest Game of Thrones or Walking Dead on the go.
Specialized hardware just can't compete with that. Online streaming services offer more flexibility, faster content delivery, and quicker access to next-generation video quality upgrades. Blu-ray poster boy Sony and the other nine royalty-grabbing members of that consortium will soon lose this temporary cash cow.
Your living room is ready to go all digital, all the time. The Blu-ray player just isn't invited to that party.
Sam Mattera, GPS units: Demand for dedicated GPS units is slowly dwindling. Smartphones, equipped with a variety of robust mapping services, rendered them obsolete years ago. The market has been slow to react, but it seems unlikely that these devices will exist for too much longer.
In 2008, Apple introduced built-in turn-by-turn navigation with its second-generation iPhone. Around the same time, the first Android-powered handsets launched and included full support for Google Maps. Today, virtually every smartphone available is equipped with GPS and comes with some sort of mapping service pre-installed.
Not every adult has a smartphone, but we're slowly nearing the point of total saturation -- almost two-thirds of American adults currently own smartphones, up from just over one-third in 2011. The mapping capabilities of these devices should only increase in the months ahead. Android Auto and Apple's Car Play allow iPhone and Android handset owners to access apps -- including mapping apps -- directly from their dashboard. Dozens of automotive manufacturers have agreed to install both systems on their new cars.
In terms of individual companies, Garmin is notably exposed. Garmin's personal navigators generated about 37% of its revenue last quarter. Management admits that its GPS business is challenged and projects annual declines of around 10% to 15% for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, Garmin has other business segments to rely on, including activity trackers, aviation systems, and action cameras.
But the traditional GPS business is going away.
Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple and Microsoft.
Sam Mattera has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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