There’s an article that has been making the rounds the past couple of days or so stating that the smartphone will be a dead product category within five years. The premise of the article seems to be based on a consumer “study” that consists of interviewing a bunch of consumers and what is on their personal technological wish lists.
The smartphone as we know it isn’t going away any time soon. As an ultimate and matured convergence device, the vital functions smartphones are now being used for cannot and will not be replaced by some vague “machine learning” unspecified magic technology that will somehow suddenly appear and take over. At risk of being a stick in the mud, the real world doesn’t work that way. Forms can change, but basic needs that those forms fulfill remain stable.
For one small personal example, I frequently have to send business documents to my company. Back in the old days, this involved putting paperwork into pre-addressed, pre-paid postage company envelopes and dropping them into a mailbox, ultimately hoping they did not get lost in the mail. Later on, it evolved into companies that would overnight the paperwork back to the office. The next step in the evolution involved scanners hooked to computers with data connections. The final step in this evolution involves smartphones. I simply use a special dedicated smartphone app that takes a picture of each document, automatically corrects for the inevitable skewed image distortions, and turns the document photo into a black and white image that you would swear was scanned in a traditional scanner hooked to a computer. It packages these documents together, asks for a bit of additional identifying numbers, and then instantly sends the documents off to the company. I get an instant email receipt notification on the same smartphone letting me know the documents were successfully delivered to my company. This sort of functionality cannot and will not be replaced by some sort of pie-in-the-sky neural interface or voice-activated clothing. Let’s get real.
I recently purchased a new kitchen range that cost about the same amount as a high-end smartphone. Kitchen ranges have been around forever. They have had multiple doses of technology applied to their functions in an attempt to reinvent and reinvigorate the product category. Even with this injection of microprocessor technology, kitchen ranges are still appliances. Millions of people have to buy them, and they come in a wide variety of forms, from the low end to the high end, as fashionable and as expensive as you want. But they are still appliances. When was the last time you got excited by your microwave oven? Thought so.
Smartphones are rapidly in the process of turning into pocket appliances. They are extremely useful, and almost everyone you see has one and is constantly interacting with it. Nonetheless, it is turning into just an appliance.
Home appliances have varying lifespans that can kick out to 20 or 30 years depending on the quality of the item. As a pocket appliance, smartphones are under a lot more physical stress and need to be replaced much more frequently than refrigerators, cook stoves and washing machines.
It turns out that always having a high-quality internet-connected camera/computer in one’s pocket is incredibly useful. “Machine learning” isn’t going to replace that camera, nor will it replace the constant necessity to look up people, places and things and interact directly with them in real time during the day.
Five years from now, smartphones will still be around in very much the same forms they are today. It is likely we will be on average be keeping them longer. No longer a novelty, they are just a necessary appliance that will require periodic replacement.
Time to get those clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer.