When computers were a thing of the future

Thomas J Watson once famously said “I think there is a worldwide market for maybe 5 computers”.


At the time, 1943, he was Chairman of IBM. Now before scoffing at him, let’s take a quick look at what the world was like in 1943:

  • Microwaves had not yet been invented (1946)
  • The idea of throwing a Frisbee had yet to be discovered (1948)
  • No one had credit cards (1950)
  • Transistor radios were not around (1953)
  • Video tape recorders were wishful thinking (1956)

1943 was like a completely different planet! Computers solved simple numerical problems, although it became clear by the end of the year that they might be capable of doing more.

The ‘Colosus’ computer,
Bletchley Park, 1943.


So it wasn’t an unreasonable assumption for our friend Mr. Watson to make, given the technological advancements that had yet to be made at the time. Who could have predicted that computers would become part of everybody’s lives in some way, shape or form only mere decades later?

Remember when the movie Minority Report came out in 2002? I don’t know about you, but I thought it was so cool to be able to control things on a screen like Tom Cruise’s character with special gloves – touchless technology…how futuresque! But it’s no longer a thing of the future – the technology is readily available to navigate computers by just pointing at them (think of the Microsoft Kinect).

Computers are, in fact, everywhere. In a 2008 CBC report, the number of personal computers in use worldwide at that time was reported at one billion, with a prediction of two billion by 2015.Garter reported earlier in 2014 that they expected the amount of PCs, Tablets, Ultramobiles and mobiles to be shipped in 2014 to hit 2.5 billion units – because “computers” today are not simply PCs. In the same Gartner report, they state that mobile phones are expected to dominate overall device shipments, with 1.9 billion mobile phones shipped in 2014.

So with computers at our fingertips now, what are we mainly using them for? Not solving simple numerical problems, that’s for sure! According to Online Publishers Association/Frank N. Magid Associates:

  • 99.5% access content/information
  • 63.1% access the Internet
  • 62.1%  check email
  • 49.2% listen to music
  • 46% percent play games
  • 41.7% download and use apps
  • 15% make purchases
  • 15% read a book

And with the advances in technology, advertisers are also becoming more active on mobile devices. With the GPS capabilities of mobiles, advertisers can get access to data showing exactly where the mobile user is, and when. They can pull in environmental data to also know what the weather is like at that time and place – and then show the mobile user ads related to each of these three factors, increasing the likelihood of the mobile user to see the ads and take action.

So, in hindsight, I think it’s safe to say that poor old Thomas J Watson, with his prediction of a worldwide market for 5 computers, was wrong.  So very, very wrong.

Rebecca Maynes
Rebecca Maynes is Mediative’s Manager, Content Marketing and Research. Her expertise lies in the creation of engaging thought leadership for Mediative. From compiling eBooks and case studies, to conducting research, analyzing data and writing white papers and reports, Rebecca is an integral part of Mediative’s Marketing and Research team. Rebecca began her career with Yell.com in England, and, after emigrating to Canada in 2005, she has gone full circle, joining Mediative, a Yellow Pages Group Company, in 2009. Prior positions include Marketing for a B2B Software company. Rebecca graduated from Cardiff University in Wales, UK, with a First Class Honours BSc in Business Administration.