The groundwork for the eventual demise of the smartphone is being laid piece by piece by Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and a countless number of startups that still have a part to play.
One day, maybe sooner than you think – the smartphone will vanish, like Typewriters and fax machines before it. But we’re still probably at least a decade away from any kind of meaningful shift away from the smartphones.
If and when the smartphone dies, that’s when things are going to get really weird for everybody. Not just in terms of individual products, but in terms of how we actually live our everyday lives and maybe our humanity itself.
Here’s a brief look at the slow, ceaseless march towards the death of the smartphone – and what the post-smartphone world is shaping up to look like.
The short term
People thinks smartphones as revolutionary devices. They are small enough to carry everywhere, capable enough to handle an increasingly large number of our daily tasks, and packed full of the right mix cameras and GPS sensors to make apps like Snapchat and Uber uniquely possible.
But consider the smartphone from another perspective. The desktop PC and the laptops are made up of some combination of a mouse, keyboard, and monitor. The smartphone just took that model, shrunk it down, and made the input virtual and touch-based.
For example, the new Samsung Galaxy S8 ships with Bixby, a new virtual assistant that Samsung promises will one day let you control every single feature and app with just your voice. It will also ship with a new version of the Gear VR virtual reality headset, developed in conjunction with Facebook.
Devices like the Amazon Echo , Sony PlayStation VR , and the Apple Watch continue to enjoy limited but substantial success, expect to see a lot more tech companies large and small taking more gambles and making more experiments on the next big wave in computing interfaces.
The medium term
In the medium-term, all of these various experimental and first-stage technologies are going to start to turn into something familiar, but bizarre.
Microsoft, Facebook, Google are working to build reality headsets, which project detailed 3D images straight into your eyes. Even Apple is rumored to be working on this, too.
Meanwhile, gadget like the Amazon Echo or Apple AirPods has become more and more important in this world. As artificial intelligence systems like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Samsung’s Bixby, and Microsoft’s Cortana get smarter, there’s going to be a rise not just in talking to computers, but having them talk back.
In other words, artificial intelligence are going to hijack your senses, more so than they already do, with your sight and your hearing intermediated by technology.
The promise, though, is a world where real life and technology blend more seamlessly. The major tech companies promise that this future means a world of fewer technological distractions and more balance, as the physical and digital world become the same thing. You decide how you feel about that.
The really crazy future
All those decade-plus investments in the future will rely on gadgetry that you have to wear on you, even if it’s only a pair of glasses.
Assuming the science works – this is the logical endpoint of the road that smartphones started us on. If smartphones gave us access to information and augmented reality puts that information in front of us when we need it, then putting neural lace in our brains just closes the gap.
Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri and Cortana are the new face of AI
The rise of artificial intelligence means that humans are going to have to augment themselves just to keep up with the machines. Artificial intelligence which underpins a lot of the other technologies, including voice assistants and virtual reality.
The idea of man/machine fusion is a terrifying one, but at the same time, the idea is so new that nobody really knows what this world would look like in practice.
So if and when the smartphone dies, it’ll actually be the end of an era. It’ll be the end of machines that we carry with us passively. Also it will be the beginning of something that bridges our bodies straight into the flow of digital information.
Lots of technologists says that smartphones give us superpowers with access to knowledge, wisdom, and abilities beyond anything nature gave us. In some ways, augmenting the human mind would be the ultimate superpower.
Or maybe I’m just an optimist.