How Long Does it Take for Technologies to Develop?

Many people believe new technologies develop fast. History, however, offers a different story. In reality, it often takes a long time for new tech to reach mass adoption.

People believe that technology adoption is fast because of the speed at which some new technologies become popular. For example, the mass adoption of streaming video and Zoom (ZOOM) during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, most new technologies take a long time to achieve mass adoption.

One problem is that new technologies are often around for a long time before they achieve mass adoption. For example, television appeared in the 1920s, yet it was not available in some countries until the 1970s.

Another is that the media and pundits exaggerate the effect of new technologies and the speed at which they spread. For instance, all the recent hype about self-driving vehicles, a technology that’s in the early stages of development.

How Long Does it Take for Technologies to Achieve Mass Adoption?

The historical record contradicts such hype and hysteria, however. To demonstrate this point, we’ll look at the adoption of some popular technologies.

The Telephone

Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray both patented telephones on 14 February 1876. Conversely, Statista estimates that only 36.9% of American homes had a telephone in 1940.

Notably, 38.2% of American homes lacked a telephone in 1950, and 21.7% of American homes had no phone as late as 1960. Phones had been around for 64 years in 1940, yet almost two-thirds of American homes lacked them.

Television

Historians think John Baird first demonstrated television in London in 1927. 22 years later, in 1949, there were only one million TV sets in the United States.

Notably, television broadcasting did not begin in India until 1959. Hence, television arrived in India 23 years after the world’s first TV broadcasts. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) began the first regular television broadcasts in 1936.

Similarly, television broadcasts did not begin in New Zealand until 1960. Ironically, Robert Jack, a professor of physics was experimenting with television in New Zealand as early as 1924.

However, television did spread fast in the United States in the 1950s. By 1955, half of all US homes had a television set.

Radio

Guglielmo Marconi patented radio in Britain in 1896 and established the first radio station on the Isle of Wight in 1897.

Commercial radio broadcasting begin in the United States in 1920. By 1930, 12 million American homes had radios. That number grew to 28 million by 1939.

Mobile Phones

The Bell System launched the first Mobile Telephone Service in St. Louis, Missouri, on 17 June 1946. The Mobile Telephone Service connected users to the phone system via a radiotelephone.

They used most Mobile Telephone Services phones in vehicles because of the size. The original Mobile Telephone Service unit weighed 80 pounds (36 kilograms).

Motorola engineer Martin Cooper made the first cell phone call on the DynaTAC 8000X on 3 April 1973. The DynaTAC 8000X weighed 2.4 pounds (1.1 kilograms) and was 9.1 inches long, 5.1 inches wide, and 1.8 inches deep. The DynaTAC 8000X cost $3,995 in 1973, the equivalent of $10,000 in 2020.

In 1987, Nokia sold one of first true Mobile phones, the Mobria Cityman 900. The Mobria Cityman 900 weighed 28 ounces. The first non-brick mobile phone, Motorola’s MicroTAC flip phone, went on sale in 1989. Nokia introduced the first 2G phone the Nokia 1011 in 1992. They sent the first text message via a cell phone on 1992.

The first smartphone with a touchscreen, the IBM Simon, appeared in 1994. The first smartphones with GPS and cameras appeared in 1999. They released the first Bluetooth phone in 2001.

The first popular smartphone, the Apple (AAPL) iPhone, appeared in 2007. They released the first Android phone, the HTC Dream in 2008. The first 4G Network went live in Norway and Sweden in 2009.

Statista estimated there were 14.91 billion mobile devices worldwide in April 2021. They project the number of mobile devices worldwide could grow to 18.22 billion in 2025, Statista projects.

If Statista’s estimate is correct, there almost twice as many mobile devices as people in the world. WorldoMeter estimated the global population at 7.903 billion on 28 October 2021.

Automobiles

Most historians credit Karl Friedrich Benz with building the first workable automobile in 1885 or 1886. However, there are claims inventors built three motor vehicles before Benz.

However, the first mass-produced car, the Model T Ford, did not appear until 1908. Additionally, vehicles we would consider true automobiles did not become available to the public until the 1930s. The Model T lacked a roof, a battery powered ignition system, windshield wipers, and other basic features of automobiles.

In particular, vehicles capable of providing reliable transportation that ordinary people could afford were not available until just before World War II. To explain, if you took a trip in the Model T you brought a tool kit because you would need to work on the vehicle at some point.

Moreover, reliable mass-produced vehicles for ordinary people were not available in some nations until the 1950s or 1960s or later. In 1952, automobiles comprised less than 30% of the long-distance travel in the United Kingdom, for example.

Electric Vehicles

The Library of Congress claims Robert Anderson built the first electric carriage in Scotland in the 1830s. However, mass adoption of electric vehicles is only beginning in the 2020s with the rise of Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA), 190 years later.

The Internet

The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), (today’s DARPA) built the first computer network in 1969. By the mid-1970s ARPA’s internet, around 70 users.

In 1976, a group of researchers connected the ARPANET to a computer at Rossotti’s Beer Garden in Silicon Valley. The computer used radio equipment in a van to connect to an ARPA node in Boston, over 3,000 away.

However, historians think the internet began on 1 January 1983, when the ARPANET adopted the Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP.That internet was available to large institutional and commercial users.

Conversely, the internet we know began in 1993 when Tim Berners-Lee released the first web server to the public. Berners-Lee’s invention allowed anybody with a computer and connection to search the web. Berners-Lee also coined the term World Wide Web and the acronym WWW. Berners-Lee built the first webpage in August 1991.

In January 2021, Statista estimated 4.66 billion people, or 59.5% of the world’s population, were online.

Airplanes

The Wright Brothers made the first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on 17 December 1903.

The world’s first airline, the Dutch KLM, began service in 1919. Modern air travel did not begin until 1958 when Pan American Airlines began flying Boeing 707 jets between London and New York, however. Hence, it took 55 years for modern air travel to begin.

History shows it takes a long time to adopt new technologies. Therefore, we need to ignore the hype artists who claim we will adopt fusion, self-driving cars, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Hyperloop, or some other complex new technology next week. The reality is we will have to wait for new technologies.