Just 12 years after the first iPhone, almost every conceivable smartphone consumer on the planet currently owns one — some 4 billion people, according to the consensus.
- Which has begotten a surprising new trend: a still-small but growing chorus of forecasts (like this) of the smartphone’s demise.
What’s happening: According to the smartphone naysayers, it might look like we are bionically tethered to our devices, but we are actually poised to shed our reliance on them, one function after another. We will turn to our cars to make phone calls, send and receive texts, and get directions, they say, and to wearables and our home smart assistants to do those tasks, make payments, and stay on schedule.
The big picture: It is always hard to picture a dramatic change in our accustomed lifestyle, and that can be especially so with technology. The horse-riding populace of the late 19th century did not imagine the automobile revolution only shortly to come. And, more recent and pertinent, very few if any people predicted as late as 2006 that, beginning just a year later, they would gladly fork over $750 for a phone.
- In interviews, tech analysts, investors and professors told us that we are at peak smartphone because of market saturation, and that the device as we precisely know and use it may in fact be soon old hat.
- But there is deep skepticism that we are anywhere near giving them up entirely. “While some will call for [the smartphone’s] demise over time, we do not see that even with binoculars on looking ahead,” said Dan Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush.
In a May blog post, Benedict Evans, a partner at Andreesen Horowitz, said that smartphones are at the peak of the tech cycle now. “I’m not updating my smartphone model anymore,” he wrote. In an email, he suggested that we are in a long, technological interregnum — headed toward wearables and augmented reality, but meanwhile without "a replacement [for the smartphone] yet.”
One might rightly ask why massive numbers of people would give up the hub that their smartphone represents — for many, the center of their lives — in exchange for a half dozen or a more devices that do the same thing separately.
- “Even when the world around us will be full of sensors and every device will be connected – which will take considerable time — I still wonder if a single device will have to be a constant,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies.
Whatever happens, smartphones will change:
- They will morph into devices with better connectivity, computing, and display technologies, says Prabal Dutta, a professor at the University of Michigan.
- From there, they will become the dominant AR interface in non-gaming and non-industrial applications, he says.
- “One day we'll have audio interfaces implanted next to our ears and ways to send thoughts through direct brain interfaces," said James Cham, a partner with Bloomberg Beta, the venture capital firm.
Bottom line: We need to be prepared to be technologically blindsided. “But the value of being connected won't become obsolete," said John Villasenor, a professor at UCLA. "That means that, for the near-term future, we will still need to have some sort of device with us, even if it looks different and functions differently from what we have today.”