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Observing tipping points in technology

By Jean-Claude Elias - Mar 21,2019 - Last updated at Mar 21,2019

Tipping points in technology are fascinating to observe for they constitute a great indicator of industry trends and of social habits too. There have been quite a few of them in the past, there is one of them that has just been reached this year, and there is probably a certain number to come in the near future.

One of the most remarkable such tipping points took place circa 2003-2004, when sales of digital cameras exceeded sales of film cameras. The impact of the change on our photo shooting habits is immeasurable. Perhaps equally important is the time when elegant and beautiful flat screens overtook bulky, unsightly CRT screens, circa 2000.

Digital cameras and flat screens are a direct consequence of the dominance of digital over analogue, a perfectly logical evolution of high-tech.

The tipping point that we are currently living is not exactly an effect of all that is digital but rather of all that goes through the Internet. Market indicators, as well as stories conveyed by reuters.com and by theguardian.com, confirm that towards the end of last year and the beginning of the current one, income from online music streaming services has exceeded sales of physical CDs.

This is not a minor point, considering that CDs already were a sign of how the times shifted from analogue to digital circa 1984-1985, when the first CDs hit the market. Again, music streaming winning is clear sign that the world is not only going fully digital but “fully-Internet”.

So music streaming is the way to go today, with great services such as the Swedish Spotify in the lead, followed by Apple Music, Amazon Music, the French Deezer and the Norwegian Tidal, to name only the main ones.

Music streaming is winning for a number of good reasons. It is convenient, gives access to millions of titles online, and all things considered is inexpensive, with the average monthly subscription price being $7 to $8. The most convincing argument in favour, however, is and by far convenience. Especially with wireless mobile devices everywhere.

The way things are going, the way we are living today, nobody wants to go looking for a CD and insert it in a player anymore. This is so passé, so twentieth-century. This is true not only for the young generation but whatever your age may be.

At the same time, and despite fast Internet almost everywhere, music streaming does have a couple of limitations, though minor ones. Overall, the quality of the music is good but not always good enough to satisfy the ears of demanding audiophiles. Some services, like Deezer for example, do provide high-definition sound, for a little more money per month.

On the other hand, and when you play your streaming music through a mobile device like a smartphone or a tablet, as opposed to playing it through a laptop or desktop computer, most services would automatically bring the quality of their stream from good (or very good) down to average. This is unfortunate, but it is reasonable to hope that it will not be the case anymore in the near future, when this limitation is lifted. The fact remains that 99 per cent of the population is satisfied with good to average sound quality. Convenience, again.

The dramatic decrease in CDs sales worldwide is not only caused by paid music streaming services, but also by another, a free, non-negligible form of web-based music listening channel: YouTube. Indeed, the famous service is watched and listened to by billions of people every day, greatly affecting sales of physical CDs. According to brandwatch.com, “We watch over 1 billion hours of YouTube videos a day, more than Netflix and Facebook video combined.”

Next technology tipping points to watch? There may be a few of them, but the most significant, the most dramatic of them all will certainly be when electric cars on the road outnumber gasoline and hybrid cars. Or perhaps, and still in the automotive world, when driverless cars overtake (no pun intended) manned vehicles.

With physical CDs clearly overtaken by music streaming, I will have now to keep my own CDs in a closet, next to the analogue vinyl LP records I also decided to keep for old times’ sake. Memories…

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