Are voicemail, DVDs and laptops about to reach their sell-by date?

Click to follow
The Independent Tech

It wan't long ago that the "must-have" gadget was a photo printer, but the rise of social networking put a stop to that. Now, you can share photos on Facebook or Flickr , and rid yourself of messy ink cartridges forever. The same goes for mobile phones. Once you would have been proud of a brick-sized car-phone, these days you look behind the times using anything more than 18 months old.

It's time-consuming and expensive to update every piece of technology rendered obsolete by a newer model. But according to a poll commissioned last month by communications company SpinVox, 73 per cent of adults believe the gadgets that were common during the 1990s will be things our children only see in museums. The invention of the cloud the online data cache set to replace computer hard disks means that advances in technology are accelerating.

"Technology life cycles have shortened," says SpinVox co-founder Daniel Doulton. "The use of the cloud means that software developers can upgrade their technology and we don't even notice. We just go online and it is simply there.."

With that in mind, what technologies might be heading for the scrap heap in the near future?


New telephone-answering technologies are threatening voicemail's dominance over the mobile telephone answering service market. In the US, spending patterns often give a preview of things to come in the UK. Last month the a survey was released in the States conducted by uReach , the company providing voicemail services to telephone network Verizon. It indicated that 20 per cent of its customers never checked their voicemail. The poll suggested that people found the technology time consuming and clunky.

Now, a host of new products which convert voice to text, such as Google Voice, are set to revolutionise the market. The service, which is currently being trialled in the US, uses sophisticated voice recognition software to transcribe voice messages. It joins SpinVox, which has gathered 30 million users worldwide since launching in 2004. Doulton believes that voicemail is on the wane. "It was a child of the 1980s and it's now served its purpose. Text messaging or email is taking over. In Europe, only between 40 and 50 per cent of users have voicemail turned on at all."


In the last year, netbooks have become 7 per cent of the global laptop market; next year this will be 12 per cent. Traditionally, your laptop might have had one gigabyte of memory, an 80 gigabyte hard drive, a 15-inch screen and hefty processor. Now, netbooks strip away everything you might not need the memory, the hard drive, the huge screen and deliver it at a fifth of the price, with much greater portability. Most netbook users find that for their day-to-day computing needs browsing the internet, social networking, basic word processing netbooks more than suffice. Last October, Vodafone offered its customers the opportunity to get a Dell Mini 9 notebook for free if they signed a two-year contract for high speed wireless data. "What these deals signal is that computers are developing the same economics as mobile phones," writes Clive Thompson in Wired magazine. "Hardware is becoming difficult to charge for. What's really valuable, what people will pay through the nose for, is the ability to communicate."

Fax machines

"Faxes are useful if you want to scribble something down and send it to someone in a remote location," says Simon Edwards, features editor at Computer Shopper magazine. "People do use them." Even if fax machines have burned out, their computerised equivalents, Edwards insists, live on. "I think that people will always use faxes through their laptops or desktops. Even though in-built fax machines aren't as easy to use as the separate gadgets, Microsoft Windows 7, due out later this year, still has a fax programme built in."

Online fax services, such as which allow you to upload documents and convert them to faxes support this shift. "Most people use email as their preferred means of contacting people," says Edwards. "It simply became the most cost effective means of doing business. We now have something better for everyone."


Statistics published last month by Ofcom predict that calls from mobiles will overtake those from landlines by the end of 2010. Bundles in which the price of a mobile and broadband are offered cheaply mean that many people don't bother with landlines at all. Google Voice will offer many functions previously unique to landlines for mobile customers; users have one phone number and can choose which and when calls are answered. "The reason for the decline in landlines is that we are becoming more mobile as a society," says Doulton. "There has been a technological slide towards mobiles over landlines in Europe for some time. It started with call forwarding, where you could send calls to your mobile. Now, Google Voice will essentially mean that you choose where a phone rings rather than the caller simply picking a different number."


While DVD sales outstrip Blu-ray at present, by 2012, around 50 per cent of consumer expenditure on video discs will be through Blu-ray, according to a recent report published by market analysts Futuresource. The rise will be helped, in part, by Blu-ray players being incorporated into other technology, like Sony's PlayStation 3. "Blu-ray is still for early adopters, but it will take off," says Michael Brook, editor of T3 magazine. "Prices will dictate whether you buy one. That's what happened with DVDs. No one will remember DVDs Blu-ray will eventually prove to be a better deal for consumers." Edwards is sceptical about the current, as opposed to the the future importance of Blu-ray. "It's still very expensive," he says. "All it really gives you is more data on your disk, and I don't think movies are going to get much longer. It'll be more relevant when everyone switches to high definition TVs."

Photo printers

The jury is out over the importance of photo printers, expensive, high resolution devices. While younger consumers might use social networking sites, older people often prefer the feeling of holding pictures in their hands. Photo printers also have increased competition from supermarkets, which offer to print snaps at reasonable prices, along with specialist websites (like which send photos through the post. "A lot of older people don't trust computers," says Edwards. "And even younger people feel anxiety over what happens if Facebook goes bust will they lose all of their photos?" Edwards believes that there will be a shift towards easier-to-use technology, as opposed to higher resolution. "It's all about making technologically difficult gadgets easy for the layman to use," he concludes.