The design outlines a lightweight client that does not need the full block chain. In the design PDF it's called Simplified Payment Verification. The lightweight client can send and receive transactions, it just can't generate blocks. It does not need to trust a node to verify payments, it can still verify them itself. The lightweight client is not implemented yet, but the plan is to implement it when it's needed. For now, everyone just runs a full network node.
I anticipate there will never be more than 100K nodes, probably less. It will reach an equilibrium where it's not worth it for more nodes to join in. The rest will be lightweight clients, which could be millions.
The threshold can easily be changed in the future. We can decide to increase it when the time comes. It's a good idea to keep it lower as a circuit breaker and increase it as needed. If we hit the threshold now, it would almost certainly be some kind of flood and not actual use. Keeping the threshold lower would help limit the amount of wasted disk space in that event.