Think back to the first days of the smartphone. The Simon Personal Communicator unveiled by IBM in 1992? No, not that far back.
Instead, think about its modern-day successor. Blackberry scratched the surface of potential in the early 2000s, but everything changed with the iPhone, followed by Android and a host of manufacturers. And for more than a decade, smartphone makers have tried to one-up each other with every new release, every single year.
But just because new phones are released on almost a fixed schedule doesn't mean there's always a groundbreaking, must-have feature. And now a new report says the end could be near for the traditional smartphone to make way for other devices. But is it just a temporary phase of flattening sales, or is it the first real sign of a flat-lining product?
The evolution of smartphones and groundbreaking features
After Apple released the wildly successful iPod in 2001, years of speculation ended in 2007 when Steve Jobs announced the original iPhone; a device that ushered in a new era for mobile communication. Although antiquated by today's standards, the original iPhone had features leaps and bounds ahead of other offerings at the time.
Sure, Blackberry spawned a '90s-era pager into a 21st century phone that could also handle your emails and surf the web to some degree. But the iPhone's unveiling would transform the smartphone from a business tool to the mainstream, and spell the eventual end for tiny screens, trackballs and physical keyboards.
When Android entered the scene in 2008 with the HTC Dream, the addition of new features would become commonplace. The internet, email, texting, cameras and GPS were not new mobile technologies, but the modern smartphone made them better, and so much easier to use. Then came voice control with digital assistants. New ways to interact with the screen would follow, wireless charging, along with countless apps and security enhancements like fingerprint readers and iris scanners.
But many would say the updates of the last few years have been incremental. Every year, smartphones with faster processors and more storage hit the market. And let's not forget that they keep adding camera lenses. However, a large part of the population already has a phone that's fast, still has room to spare and takes awesome pictures. And they keep getting more expensive, so why upgrade to something that's only slightly better?
A new report says something new might be on the horizon
The smartphone market is saturated and innovation has slowed. That means sales have flattened. So in her annual report on technology trends, Future Today Institute found Amy Webb says 2018 "marks the beginning of the end of traditional smartphones."
Move over, smartwatches. Could the next spin-off become smart bracelets or rings? How about another go at smart glasses? (R.I.P. Google Glass.) Webb says in her report that there will be a transition of devices based solely on voice, gesture and touch.
"The transition from smartphones to smart wearables and invisible interfaces - earbuds that have biometric sensors and speakers; rings and bracelets that sense motion; smart glasses that record and display information - will forever change how we experience the physical world," she wrote.
But not so fast, according to another analyst.
"The smartphone is not going away, but it might change its shape and form factor," said David McQueen, an analyst at ABI Research. "The smartphone market still has legs for many years to come."
Artificial intelligence, mixed reality and gesture controls are the next steps, according to a recent report authored by McQueen.
What's the next big jump for the traditional smartphone?
Smarter smartphones are already on their way. 5G is coming soon. There continues to be more integration of augmented and virtual reality, even holographic displays. How about a foldable smartphone? It's been in the works for years but is finally coming early next year.
But what does the future hold? Will smartphones stand the test of time, or fade away to newer platforms like smart bracelets or smart speakers? No one knows for sure, but as fast as new technologies emerge, it shouldn't take too long to find out.
Tap or click below to listen to more about the expensive new foldable phone in a Consumer Tech Update.
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