Is the Smartphone’s Number Up?

From your pocket to implants under your skin – what’s next for your smartphone. . .

If our ancestors were told that one day we would all carry pocket sized devices that could take photos, answer questions, give directions, stay up to date with the news, play music, stream videos, make purchases and act as a personal organiser, they would think it was an imaginative joke. Of course, this is now very much a reality. Ironically, actually ringing people has become a secondary function of our not-so-pocket sized smartphones. As much as we hate to admit it, most of us are glued to our iPhones or Android equivalents. In fact, it’s as difficult for us to imagine life without smartphones as it would be for our ancestors to imagine life with them. But, technological progression is relentless, and one day the smartphone will be another relic of the past. So, what happens after the smartphone era has ended? And, more importantly, how and when will it end?

Hangin’ on the telephone
The very first smartphone was called the i-mode, released in 1990 by Japanese company NTT DoCoMo. The model looked like a standard flip phone, but came with services including web access email, financial services and weather updates. By the late 2000s, smartphone use was widespread. The list of things that our connected personal computers has gradually replaced is endless. Today, you don’t even need a ticket to get into a show as long as you’ve got an email confirmation on your phone. The raison d’etre of technology is to make our lives easier, and that’s exactly what smartphones have done. Nonetheless, their reign will eventually have to end. We can safely assume that this change isn’t going to happen overnight. . . even so, the big names in tech are preparing for change. Microsoft, Google, Facebook and the ever illusive Magic Leap are backing Augmented Reality technology, and the upcoming iPhone 8 is rumoured to be finetuned for AR applications. Others, namely Elon Musk, are taking things a step further. Instead of an external device, Musk’s company Neuralink is developing neural lace technology that connects computers to the human brain. It may be decades before we swap our smartphones for new, more seamless ways to access personal and web based data, but these influential companies are already dialling it in.

Life after smartphones
Large technology firms are already preparing for the post smartphone age. It looks like the most promising initial replacement will be mobile Augmented Reality. It’s not difficult to see why – AR allows the user to exist in both the real and digital world at the same time, with complete awareness of their surroundings. Smartphone manufacturers are well aware of mobile AR’s potential, which is why the latest models have made provisions for mixed reality apps. Equipped with advanced natural language processing, personal assistants like Siri and Cortana will communicate with the user. What comes next is likely to be a natural – or perhaps unnatural – progression towards subdermal implants. Neuralink’s neural lace is a strong contender, but the market is so young that it’s impossible to imagine how subdermal implants will progress. What we can be sure of is that whatever replaces the smartphone will offer the same services, so in that respect there will be little initial change. However, over time, more services and applications will be added that may not even have been developed today. Smartphone manufactures are currently pursuing a policy of innovation to prepare for a phoneless future, but what they’ll do when technology moves inside the body is anyone’s guess. It’s also worth considering the potential socioeconomic impact. The technological gap between developing and developed countries is only recently starting to close due to smartphone adoption. Could the end of the smartphone era accentuate this divide?

One day, the age of the smartphone will inevitably end. When and how it happens, though, is still entirely up for debate. Augmented Reality is already disrupting the mobile industry, but these headsets rely heavily on compatible personal computers. What’s more, the number of smartphone users is increasing – and quickly at that. In 2020, it’s predicted that almost three billion people across the world will use a smartphone. With a global population of around seven and a half billion, that’s a mammoth percentage. So, although it’s important to be aware of the potential for change, tech companies won’t be hanging up on smartphone development any time soon.

How much do you rely on your smartphone? Within what time frame will wearables replace the smartphone? Will smartphone use continue to see a rapid increase over the next three years?  Comment below with your thoughts.