The folly of long-term predictions

September 2nd, 2013 by · Leave a Comment

This article was authored by Joseph Waring, and was originally posted on

Five-year forecasts are standard fare for research firms and analysts, which send me a steady stream of ambitious predictions that I mostly ignore. An accurate estimate 12 months ahead is challenging enough, particularly for new industry segments. And it’s no secret that three-year outlooks are at best guesstimates, which no one ever bothers to check on after the designated period is up (more on that later).

So it was extremely entertaining to see ABI Research yesterday go out on a limb and forecast that “Half of New Vehicles Shipping in North America to Have Driverless, Robotic Capabilities by 2032.” Yes, two-thousand thirty-two!

I had to do the math on that one – that’s 19 years. So in just under 20 years 50% of new vehicles sold, or 10 million units, will have driverless capabilities – that indeed would be quite a revolution. This year sales of cars and light trucks in the US alone are estimated to hit 16 million.

Ten million is certainly a very safe number. That’s the same number IMS Research forecasts for smart glasses to hit between 2012-2016. IMS also expects worldwide electric car charging station sales to reach 10 million in 2020.

That two-decade projection spurred me to take a quick look back at my archives, where I found these nuggets:

— Dell’Oro Group in 2007 forecast the “mobile Wimax market to grow by a compounded annual growth rate exceeding of 50% through 2011.” We know what happened there!

— In the same year Berg Insight wrote that “smartphone shipments can grow at a compound annual growth rate exceeding 28% to 365 million units in 2012.” IDC reported sales of 713 million that year, up 44% from 2011.

— Also from 2007, “Berg Insight believes that the core Symbian OS will maintain its leading market share in 2012, with almost 44% of the worldwide smartphone market.” That year Symbian had just about a 4% share, and soon after discontinued the OS.

— Juniper Research said in 2007 “mobile payments set to grow to $22 billion by 2011.” Gartner reported in 2012 that worldwide mobile payment transaction values reached $105.9 billion in 2011.

Don’t think I’ll be around to check on the ABI forecast!

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