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.
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). That was only a minor down payment on the future. Consider the steady evolution of chips from Apple and Intel: In 1978, Intel’s wildly popular 8086 processor contained 29,000 transistors, an immense leap forward in desktop computing. The first Pentium processor was introduced by Intel in 1993, with 3.1 million transistors. In February 2010, Intel launched an Itanium chip with 2 billion transistors. By 2015, the Apple iPhone 6 contained an Apple “A8” microprocessor with 2 billion transistors, in a piece of equipment small enough to carry around in your pocket. By one estimate, Apple’s product sales alone were launching about 100 quintillion transistors into the market on a yearly basis as of early 2015. Worldwide sales of semiconductors hit $333.0 billion in 2014, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association, projected to rise to $344.5 billion in 2015.
Analysts at Gartner estimated global spending for InfoTech (including hardware, software, services and telecommunications) at $3.828 trillion for 2015, up from $3.737 trillion the previous year. Emerging markets are of extreme importance to the IT sector. The number of wireless subscriptions worldwide is soaring, standing at 7 billion by early 2015. The number of laptop and tablet owners is also growing at a rapid rate in emerging nations. Low prices for equipment and services are fueling this boom. China has grown to be one of the top spots worldwide for IT expenditures. Nonetheless, the Americas region remains the largest IT market, with about one-third of the global market in 2014.
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, Singapore, 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 303.5 million units in 2014, according to IDC. Growth in PCs is being slowed by a booming market in smartphones, and to a lesser extent, tablets. In fact, when analyzing the direction of the IT market today, it’s important to think one word: mobile.
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.”
Vastly more smartphones are 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.
Approximately 2 billion cellphones were sold worldwide during 2014, nearly two-thirds of them being smartphones. While Apple's iPhone remains extremely popular, the Android cellphone operating system made by Google has about an 80% market share, not only because Google distributes it free of charge, but also because it is a fine piece of software.
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 shift to mobile computing is accelerating this environment of constant access to data and communications. 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, fast cellular networks and incredibly advanced mobile devices is accelerating this trend. Wearable sensors and computers will be an obvious manifestation of this trend, with Nike’s FuelBand (along with other personal fitness monitors) and the growing list of smart watches being pioneers in this regard.
Broadband access has been installed in enough U.S. households and businesses (more than 100 million fixed subscriptions by early 2015, plus 230 million wireless Internet subscriptions) 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 3 billion fast Internet users worldwide (including wireless) by the beginning of 2015. 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 soaring growth of cloud computing. Over the next 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 office workers using computerized telephone systems, to cashiers ringing up sales at Wal-Mart on registers that are tied into vast computerized databases that track sales and inventory. 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 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.
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.