TIME Big Picture

Questions About a 5.5-inch iPhone

There’s already a bit of controversy surrounding the launch of Apple’s new iPhones this fall.

Most informed sources seem to all agree that Apple will introduce an iPhone 6 sporting a 4.7-inch screen, as compared to the 4-inch screen on today’s iPhone 5s and 5c models. But there are several rumors coming from the supply chain that suggest Apple is also preparing to release a 5.5-inch version of its newest iPhone, too.

The possibility that Apple could be making a 5.5-inch iPhone leads to a few important questions.

Why make a giant iPhone?

The first: If Apple really wants the 4.7-inch model to be what we in the industry call the “hero” model — one that would drive the majority of iPhone sales going forward — why even make a 5.5-inch model at all?

While we will sell about a billion smartphones this year, fewer than 70 million will feature screens larger than five inches. However, the answer to this question is actually pretty simple: While demand for smartphones larger than five inches is minimal in the U.S. and Europe, there is great interest in smartphones in the 5.5- to 5.7-inch range in many parts of Asia.

For example, well over 80% of smartphones sold in Korea have screens that are at least five inches and above. They have also become big hits in China and other parts of Asia where larger smartphones double as a small tablets, thus driving demand in these regions of the world for what are called “phablets.”

I suspect that if Apple is making a larger iPhone 6 in the 5.5-inch range, it will most likely be targeted at these Asian markets where demand for large smartphones is relatively strong. This is not to say that Apple wouldn’t offer a 5.5-inch iPhone in the U.S. — I believe there could be some interest in one of this size — but like most of my colleagues in the research world, we believe that the lion’s share of those buying the new iPhone would want the 4.7-inch version if indeed this is the size of it when it comes out.

Would you buy it?

The second question: If Apple does bring a 5.5-inch iPhone 6 to the U.S. market, would you buy one?

For the last month or so, I have been carrying three smartphones with me of various screen sizes all day long, and have learned a lot about my personal preferences. In my front pocket is an iPhone 5 that has a four-inch screen. In my back pockets are a Galaxy Note 3, which has a 5.7-inch screen and the new Amazon Fire, which sports a 4.7 inch screen — the same size that is purported to be on the new iPhone 6 when it comes to market.

Here are my observations. Keep in mind they are personal observations, but I suspect that my preferences are pretty close to what the majority of the market may prefer when it comes to the screen sizes in a larger smartphone.

I like to keep my primary smartphone with me all of the time, so my iPhone 5 is in my front pocket. The screen size is very important in this case and, at four inches, it easily fits in my right-front pants pocket and is easy to access as I need it. The other thing that is important about the four-inch screen is that I can operate it with one hand. From a design point, one-handed operation has been at the heart of all iPhones to date, as Steve Jobs was adamant that people wanted to be able to use their phones with one hand. So the idea of possibly moving up to a new iPhone with a 4.7-inch screen has intrigued me, as I wondered if a smartphone with this size screen would fit in my pocket and still be usable with one hand.

So when I got to test the 4.7-inch Amazon Fire phone, I immediately put it in my front pocket. Thankfully, it fit well and continued to be just as easy to access as the smaller iPhone 5s with its four-inch screen. Also, while I had been skeptical that I could still use it with one hand since I have medium-sized hands, I found that I could still operate the Amazon Fire with one hand easily. The other thing about a 4.7-inch screen is that the text is larger; for my aging eyes, this is a welcome upgrade. However, on these two issues, the Galaxy Note 3, with its 5.7-inch screen, flunked both tests. This phablet-sized smartphone did not fit in a front pocket, nor could I use it for one-handed operation.

That led me to wonder if a Samsung Galaxy S% smartphone, with its five-inch screen, would work in these similar scenarios. So I took a Galaxy S5 that I have, put it into my front pocket and tried to use it with one hand. To my surprise, it also worked well. But I had another smartphone with a 5.2-inch screen and, amazingly, that failed both tests. On the surface, at least for me, a smartphone up to five inches did fit in my pocket and allowed me to use it one-handed, but any screen larger than that was a bust.

I also did this test with some of the women in our office. We have a very casual workplace and most wear jeans to work, so I had them try the 4.7-inch Amazon Fire. They were also surprised that it fit O.K. in their front pockets and could still be used in a one-handed operation mode. However, like me, a screen larger than five inches did not fit in pockets and was impossible to use with one hand for all of them. These women did point out to me though that for most women, it’s less likely that they would carry a smartphone in their pockets as more keep them in a purse or handbag. That being the case, at least for the women in our office, a smartphone with a 5.5-inch screen was acceptable to them, although one person said she would prefer the smaller 4.7-inch smartphone if push came to shove.

Ultimately, it probably comes down to personal preference, yet I suspect that an iPhone with a 4.7-inch screen would take the lion’s share of Apple’s iPhones sales if this is indeed the size of the company’s new iPhone.

What about tablets?

But a 5.5-inch smartphone begs a third question that, at the moment, has stymied many of us researchers: Would a 5.5- or 6-inch smartphone eat into the demand for a small tablet?

I find that in my case, even though I do use the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 often for reading books while out and about or while standing in line, my iPad Mini is still my go-to tablet due to its size. I also have a 9.7-inch iPad Air with a Bluetooth keyboard, but I almost exclusively use that tablet for productivity and less for any form of real data consumption.

Some researchers have suggested that, especially in parts of the world where larger smartphones or “phablets” are taking off, this has really hurt the demand for smaller tablets — and that’s partially why demand for tablets has been soft in the last two quarters. Unfortunately, the data is still inconclusive on this, but my gut says that “phablets” are at least having some impact on demand for tablets in many regions of the world.

With the expected launch of Apple’s new larger-screen iPhones just around the corner, those planning to buy a new iPhone might want to keep my experience in mind. There’s a very big difference between how a person uses smartphones that are less than five inches and smartphones that have larger screens. For those who keep them in their pockets and/or want to use them with one hand, they have only one real choice. For them, a smartphone smaller than five inches is their best bet.

But for those that don’t keep their smartphones in their pockets, the virtue of a larger screen is that it delivers much more viewing real estate. Consequently, it’s much easier to use when reading books, web pages and for other tasks where a large screen can deliver a real benefit. The good news is that if these Apple rumors are true, people will have better options coming from Apple. For the first time in the iPhone’s history, Apple might give users multiple screen sizes to choose from.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

Tablet Growth Hasn’t Peaked

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In its recent quarterly results, Apple surprised people when it reported a dip in iPad sales. This was followed by a lot of hand-wringing by some industry observers and analysts, who suggested that overall tablet growth has slowed or even plateaued.

I don’t dispute that tablet growth has slowed, but I’m not at all as concerned as other analysts about the industry going forward. In fact, I think tablet sales will accelerate again soon.

We are at an inflection point with tablets. In many developed markets, PC penetration is high and smartphone penetration is high. The role of the tablet in between these two screens is not yet clear in the minds of many consumers. For example, today in most U.S. homes, the tablet is a communal device that members of a family access and share.

According to recent data we (Creative Strategies) gathered, over 50% of tablet owners indicate that they share the device with at least one other person. This dynamic has added to the tablet sales slowdown, along with a refresh cycle that’s closer to that of a PC than that of a smartphone. People don’t buy new tablets as often as they buy new phones.

Another interesting observation is that the bulk of tablet purchases in 2013 were in the seven- to eight-inch screen size. When you look at the growing size of smartphone screens, ranging all the way from four to six-and-a-half inches, then it begs the question as to why a small-screen tablet is better than a big-screen phone. My gut tells me that the growing screen sizes of smartphones have also played a role in slowing tablet sales.

But I don’t believe this will be the case for long. In reality, it’s hard to look at a one- or two-quarter slowdown and claim it as the new norm or a long-term trend. There are many dynamics at play with regard to tablets that look to set them up for more prime growth.

Bigger Is Better

One is the trend of larger-screen phones I mentioned above. We believe that larger tablets, meaning those closer to 10 inches or larger, are primed to be a growth area. Since a great deal of smaller-screen tablets represent a large portion of the install base, it seems reasonable that larger screen tablets become more attractive, especially if someone already has a large-screen phone.

Look for this trend to play out on the business and enterprise side as well. From salespeople making both impromptu and formal one-on-one presentations, to managers working with documents and spreadsheets, bigger screens offer more value.

If this happens, we believe more consumers will see the value of the tablet as a legitimate PC replacement. Tablets have been largely supplemental to PCs up to this point, part of the reason being because smaller tablets are not viable PC replacements. However, data point after data point suggests to us that once consumers get their hands on larger tablets, they begin seeing their value as a primary computing devices.

Great Deals

The other dynamic that could bring tablet growth back is connectivity. To date, most tablets purchased are W-Fi-only models. However, we believe this may all be about to change. Carriers are looking to make tablets a growth area for themselves, and we hear that there’s interest to either heavily subsidize tablets or even move to an installment plan model.

What this means is that for very little to no upfront cost, consumers will be able to get a connected tablet from their carrier and just pay a small fee per month for the hardware and the data plan. Carriers looking to do aggressive bundles with hardware tied to their services is a major trend we see coming.

For IT managers, this could mean even more consumers wanting to bring their tablets to work. More importantly, these tablets that would be connected at all times, not just while on Wi-Fi.

If we are right and there is a trend moving toward larger, connected tablets, then a new opportunity for hardware and software companies may be shaping up, along with new use cases for enterprise users.

Tablet sales may be leveling off in the short term, but to say their growth has peaked is way off target.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

TIME Big Picture

Understanding Apple’s ‘Continuity’ Strategy

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Imagine all your screens working together harmoniously.

For years, I have been writing about the many screens in our lives. We have at least three primary screens we use almost on a daily basis: a TV, a PC (laptop or tablet) and a smartphone.

And lately, more screens have been showing up in our cars, appliances and wearable devices. However, even when it comes to major companies’ operating systems, too often the screens’ user interfaces and data are different on each device.

For example, the Mac’s user interface is different than the user interface on Apple’s iOS devices. And Google’s Android user interface on its tablets and smartphones is different than what’s found on the company’s Chromebooks. Same goes for these companies’ TV products. Also, some of your data is stored locally, so it’s not shared with or available on any other device you own.

At Apple’s recent Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, the company introduced a concept it calls “continuity.” What this basically means is that in the future, the new Mac operating system, called Yosemite, will look and feel much more like an iOS-based device. In fact, if the continuity theme plays out as I expect it will, Apple will eventually make all of its products — including Apple TV and Apple CarPlay and any wearable devices — have the same look and feel, making it very easy to go from one device to another seamlessly. Also, in this continuity idea, everything would be in sync. That means if you change something on one device, it would be changed and updated on any other Apple device you had tied to the company’s ecosystem of apps and services.

Over at Re/code, my good friend Walt Mossberg did a great piece called “How the PC Is Merging With the Smartphone.” In it, he talks about Apple’s continuity approach to make the PC act, look like and work like an iPhone or iPad. He also mentions how Google is doing something similar with Chromebooks and Android.

For many years, I have thought that in an ideal digital world, people would ultimately have many screens as part of their lifestyles. In that vision, I also had this idea that all of these screens would be connected, work together seamlessly and, perhaps more importantly, would always be in sync with one another. The other part of this vision is that the user interface on each of these devices would be the same. I have always felt that people would be more likely to use new devices if each device worked the same as any other device they already had.

In a sense, I think Apple’s continuity strategy pretty much maps to this vision I have written about for two decades. Now, lest you think I am a serious visionary when it comes to these types of connected ecosystems, keep in mind that this vision came out of my own need for something like this. For most of my career, I really only had to deal with one computing screen — that being the one on a personal computer.

However, my digital life became more complicated when I got my first feature phone. It, too, had apps on it, albeit very limited ones. But the operating system and user interface on my feature phone were completely different than the ones on my PC. I had to learn how to use it from scratch. Then, as early as 1990, I started to use tablets. Again, because of the form factors and designs, the operating systems and user interfaces on my first three or four tablets were all different. I had another set of learning curves to contend with before I could use them with any sense of ease. Also, all of the data on these devices was local and none of these devices talked to each other.

What I wanted was for all of my devices to work together seamlessly, talk to each other, have the same operating system and user interface, and to always be in sync. Interestingly, we have had the technology to deliver on this vision for over five years, but only now have the big companies started to really move us in this direction. If Apple’s overall continuity strategy is fully realized, it would mean that every one of my Apple devices will look and act alike, talk to each other and always be in sync. If I get a new device that is part of Apple’s portfolio, I would have no new learning curve.

For consumers, this would is a big deal. First, if you learned the user interface on one device, it would be the same on all of your devices. Second, the apps and data would all be the same or extremely similar, and available on most of the screens you would be using. The exception would be wearables. These screens bring limitations, so any interface and operating system would be highly streamlined. However, even in this case, they would work very much like the other devices and, more importantly, would be connected to these devices either directly or through the cloud. And third, all of the data on all of the devices would be in sync and, at least in theory, would work together seamlessly.

Apple is not the only one driving us in this direction. Microsoft and Google are similar in that all of their respective devices will eventually look, feel and work in similar ways, tying directly into their cloud-driven ecosystems. The goal, of course, is to hook consumers into one particular ecosystem, making it hard to leave once you’re invested in the products that are tied to their respective apps and services. At the moment, it appears to me that Apple has the broader ability to deliver on this “continuity” concept since it owns the devices, processors, interfaces and services layer, making it easier to make all of its devices work together with a look and feel that’s similar across all of the company’s products.

Google would like to do the same, but there is still too much fragmentation in the Android world at the moment. But over time, I suspect it will achieve a similar level of device continuity. Microsoft’s concept would be the most challenging to deliver due to its various operating systems. And with the acquisition of Nokia, Microsoft adds Android to its product line, which has a completely different ecosystem tied to it. However, all three companies are working hard to deliver on this continuity vision, and as they succeed over time, it should make it easier for customers to better fit these companies’ devices into their digital lifestyles.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

The Death of Phones

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I remember my first cell phone. It was a hand-me-down Motorola StarTAC from my father.

As many who had cell phones during this time will remember, there was a liberating feeling in being able to talk to any one, any time, any place.

Smartphones didn’t exist at this point in time, and as the cellular industry grew, it went on a run where the central value of the device was telephony. Those days are gone. The phone as an app is the popular way to think about the role of telephony on a mobile device today.

While telephony still exists via an app on mobile devices, it’s not the central reason for buying a smartphone in today’s world. What are consumers buying? This is where the taxonomy breaks down. They aren’t buying a phone. While we call it a “smart phone,” those words are just labels.

When you sit down and really watch people use their smartphones, what are they doing? They take pictures, watch movies, check in on Facebook or Twitter, read the news, play games and more. So what if instead of buying a smartphone, consumers are buying cameras, mobile gaming consoles, portable TVs, newspapers, and whatever else the smartphone can turn into thanks to software?

While this may seem obvious, I’m not sure it’s obvious to consumers: Rather, it’s very subconscious. They may not realize cognitively they are shopping for a pocketable camera, game console, or TV, but they know they want those features and they want them to be great.

I think Benedict Evans summed up my thinking on this in this very poignant tweet:

Mobile is eating consumer electronics. The most personal device paired with diverse software allows it to eat as many use cases as the hardware and the software will allow. The death of the phone as the primary use case is the rise of the mobile camera plus connected sharing apps like Facebook, or the rise of the mass market mobile gaming console, or the rise of the portable TV.

This same thinking applies to tablets. What tasks the tablet absorbs are still being fleshed out, but we are seeing it absorb the load from the PC, the TV, magazines, books and more. The use cases the tablet can take on are only limited by its hardware and software evolution.

What makes all this interesting is that prior to smartphones, we bought a telephony device and that was it. Now consumers are buying this AND that, AND that, AND that, AND that all wrapped up into one product. As we look to how the landscape may evolve, we simply need to figure out what the next AND will be.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

TIME Big Picture

Where Wearable Health Gadgets Are Headed

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A person wearing a Fitbit fitness band types on a laptop Getty Images

Every once in a while, I’m shown a tech product and I can’t figure out why it was created. One great example of this was a two-handed mouse I was shown at large R&D-based company many years ago.

I was asked to review it to see if they should bring it to market. After trying to use it and viewing the complicated things you had to do to make it work, I told them it would never succeed. However, the engineer behind it was convinced he had created the next great mouse and was determined to try and get it to market. Thankfully, the management at this company killed it, as it would have been a complete failure and provided no real value to any customer. However, the technology was available to create it and this engineer did it because he could.

In the world of tech, most successful products address serious needs that people have. This is very much the case behind the current movement to create all types of wearable devices designed to make people healthier.

Folks behind products like the Jawbone Up, Nike Fuel, Fitbit and others have solid backgrounds in exercise and exercise science. They wanted to create stylish wearable products that could be used to monitor steps, count calories and track various other fitness metrics. Other products such as ones from iHealth, which has created a digital blood pressure device and a blood glucose testing kit that are tied to smartphones, were designed by people close to the health industry who saw a need to create products that could utilize digital technology to power new health monitoring tools.

At a personal level, I’m pleased that these folks are utilizing key technologies like accelerometers, sensors, Bluetooth low-energy radios and new types of semiconductors to create products that aim to impact people’s health. Readers of this column may remember that two years ago I suffered a heart attack and had a triple bypass. As you can imagine, this provided a serious wake up call to me about taking better care of myself. Since then, my Nike Fuelband has been my 24-hour wearable companion: I check its step-monitoring readout religiously to make sure I get the 10,000 steps in each day that my doctor has required of me as part of my recovery regimen.

While I would like to think that these tech folks are doing it for the altruistic reasons, the bottom line is that there is a lot of money to be made in health-related wearables. The folks from IHS published a good report last year on the market for wearables, which are mostly driven by health-related apps.

Most researchers that track this market believe that the wearable health market will represent at least $2 billion in revenue worldwide by 2018. In many developed countries around the world, people are becoming much more health conscious. Reports seem to come out daily, talking about the good or bad effects some foods have on our lives. And more and more, we hear that we need to exercise to either maintain our health or to improve it.

So a combination of the right technology becoming available and an increased awareness for better health has created this groundswell of health-related wearable devices and digital monitoring tools designed to help people have healthier lives. But there is another major reason that we are seeing more and more health-related wearables and digital monitoring products come to market now. This is driven by most healthcare providers and is one of their major initiatives: In simple terms, it’s cheaper to keep a person healthy than to cover their costs in the hospital when they’re sick.

Almost all the major health care providers have created web sites with all types of information about managing one’s health. These sites have information and programs for cancer patients, diabetics, and many other health issues that help people better manage these diseases. Health insurers are also really getting behind the various digital monitoring tools and health wearables, too, viewing them as vital tools that can help their customers stay healthier and keep them out of the hospital as much as possible.

Interestingly, as I talk to many of the executives of these health-related wearable companies, many of them claim to be on a mission. Yes, they admit there is money to be made, but most I speak with are serious about giving people the technology to help them keep themselves healthy. In fact, in at least two cases, the executives I have talked to have special funds they personally set aside to donate to major health causes as part of their personal commitment to using technology to make people healthier.

While there is some chatter about the market for wearable technology not being a sustainable one, I suspect that it will stay on track to eventually become integrated into everyday objects such as watches, hats and even clothes, becoming part of a broader trend called “self-health monitoring.” This trend basically says that people will want to have more and more information about calories the number of calories they’ve burned, the number of steps they’ve steps taken, their pulse and other metrics. Thanks to these new technologies, this data would be available to them in a variety of ways.

Of course, not everyone may want to know these health-related data points, but the research shows that at least one-fourth of U.S. adults have these types of health-related wearable monitoring devices on their personal radars. The fact that this market is growing around 20% or more each year suggests that we could continue to see growth for at least another three years. As these devices become part of our wardrobes, they could eventually fade into the background while still providing health-related info that many people may need to stay motivated. This is the goal that the tech world has embraced wholeheartedly, providing more and better tools for this purpose.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

For Smartwatches to Hit It Big, Context Is Key

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A Galaxy Gear 2 smartwatch sits on display at the Samsung Electronics Co. pavilion on day two of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Simon Dawson--Bloomberg / Getty Images

A while back, I talked about health and fitness wearables and my failure to see how they appeal to a broader market. This week, I want to talk about the potentially lucrative category of smartwatches.

If we count Microsoft’s Smart Personal Object Technology (or SPOT) watches as smartwatches, then I have been using these kinds of devices for many years. However, even the current (or soon to be shipping) crop of smartwatches leaves me puzzled. I still question how big of a market the smartwatch category could be. Honestly, I’m on the fence.

To dive deeper, I think it would be helpful to look at a few current and future value propositions related to smartwatches. We have to start with this question: What is the value of a smart, easily viewed, small screen on my person? Answer this and we’re getting somewhere.

The key is that the smartwatch screen is always in view. Unlike other screens – my smartphone, tablet, PC, TV and others – this smart object on my wrist is easily viewable throughout the day as long as I’m wearing it. To answer my question, we have to look at some things I may personally care to be notified of, regardless of whether I’m looking at any other screen. The key to this is context.

When am I not looking at my smartphone, PC, tablet or TV? When I am driving, at a lunch or dinner meeting, or walking around the mall, for instance. These are the times a smartwatch must deliver value beyond keeping time.

Currently, the proposed value is in notifications. The smartwatch will notify me of an email, text or Facebook message, Twitter mention, incoming call, and more. Any app that pushes a notification to my phone can and does push a notification to my wrist.

More often than not, I find this more distracting than helpful. I get a lot of email, text messages, Twitter mentions, and calls throughout the day. My wrist buzzes quite a bit, mostly with notifications that aren’t useful to me. The reason? The watch (and even my phone, for that matter) doesn’t understand context.

I may not want to see all my emails, but if I’m waiting for an important response from a client, it would be useful to see certain messages. I don’t want to be notified of all phone calls; only ones that are urgent – say, from my wife.

This goes beyond a filter. It is all about context. The device needs to know more about me and my situation to be useful. Smartwatches and notifications need to get a lot smarter if they are to be useful on the wrist.

For example, when I’m in a meeting, I don’t want to look rude as I check my watch 15 times over the course of an hour every time it buzzes. But what if my phone or watch knew where my next meeting was and would alert me of any traffic issues I should be aware of that may change the time I need to leave in order to not be late for my next appointment?

This is what makes some of the proposed use cases of Android Wear somewhat interesting. Google Now does a decent job of focusing on contextual data that’s useful at a glance. This could be location data, traffic data, and a host of other things that can equip us to take action and make decisions. Ultimately, this type of contextual data that’s useful in helping us make choices is where the value of a wrist-worn smart screen may lie.

My biggest misgiving is that we will experience notification overload. Even though I test some smartwatches that have useful filters for which apps notify the watch and which don’t, I still suffer from notification overload. My concern is that if we open the wrist screen to notification from solicitors – trying to get our attention with deals, discounts, and coupons – we again suffer from notification overload. There will have to be an intelligent way for much smarter notifications to reveal themselves if the smartwatch category is to go mainstream.

Part of me feels that the smartwatch is still a solution in search of a problem. But another part of me feels that there’s value to be found on a screen that’s more easily viewed than a screen in a pocket or a purse. Many seem to believe that smartwatches may be the next hot category. I still have my doubts. Mass market appeal and convenience is what the smartwatch needs to find. Until then, it will be a niche market.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

TIME Big Picture

Why Basic Coding Should Be a Mandatory Class in Junior High

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One of the roles our education system is supposed to play is to prepare kids to be responsible citizens, with the skills needed to be successful in adulthood. All of the various classes — starting in kindergarten, where they lay out the fundamentals of reading,writing, sharing and even early math — are designed to be a set of building blocks of knowledge. Each consecutive year introduces new blocks in kids’ education, designed to get them ready for life so that they’re capable of earning a living.

For some reason, all of the classes I took from about third grade forward are still burned into my mind. Even today, I can go back in time and remember how my fifth-grade teacher got me interested in math or how my seventh-grade teacher’s method of teaching Spanish crippled my ability to learn that language due to his “repetitive” teaching methods.

However, one class in seventh grade has become very important to me, as I use the skills I learned in that class every day of my life: That class was my typing class. I can still envision that class as if it were yesterday, with my seat in the middle of the first row, learning to touch-type on an IBM Selectric typewriter. I even remember the line I had to type over and over again as part of a test to determine how fast I typed: “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.” I can still touch-type that sentence today in about five seconds. Back then, the goal was to touch type at about 90 words per minute.

While the typewriter is now a thing of the past, typing and keyboards remain highly relevant today. In most cases, they’re the main way most of us enter data into our computers. And understanding the QWERTY layout is important when using a touch keyboard or even when programming our set-top boxes or other devices that use a keyboard for input.

Now, one could argue that kids these days seem to intuitively know how to use technology. Even at an early age, they start touching screens and keyboards, quickly learning how to navigate around all types of digital devices. The need for kids to learn how to code isn’t important, right? While that’s true to some extent, fundamentally understanding how these technologies work and how they can ultimately be customized for even greater functionality would enhance kids’ experiences with digital devices and could become much more important to them later in life.

Anyone that has taken an introductory programming class will tell you that at the very least, it helped them understand basic programming logic, structure and design. Even those who did not go on to become software engineers say that the fundamentals of programming a computer at the coding level has helped them shape how they think logically, has sharpened their common sense and, in a lot of cases, has helped them apply what they have learned to getting more out of their smartphones, tablets, computers and other devices that now populate their lives.

We live in a digital age in which technology plays a role in much of what we do every day. We use technology at the office, at school and at home. Digital devices are all around us. However, in many cases, we barely scratch the surface of what technology can do for us. We pretty much accept the fundamental role technology plays in our lives and mostly use the basic functionality of each of our digital devices.

Yet, when hardware and software designers create devices, they usually add a great deal of features and functions that most people barely use. That’s O.K. in a broad sense, since we “hire” our devices to handle things like phone calls, messaging, music and entertainment. But as technology has evolved, especially mobile technology, we are now holding in our hands real personal computers that can do much more than these fundamental functions. Even our TVs and appliances are becoming multipurpose devices designed to be more than meets the eye.

While most people will never get under the hood to try and change the code of an appliance or device they use, by learning the fundamentals of creating the software code that runs our devices, a person will gain a greater understanding of how their devices work, and would be more inclined to go beyond their devices’ basic functionality.

A coding class would also help them gain a greater understanding of how technology is designed and how software serves as the medium for triggering all of a device’s capabilities. This type of knowledge could be important in a future working environment where they’re called upon to use technology as part of their overall job.

It goes without saying, but understanding how technology works makes it much easier for a person to get the most out of it.

In an important article on GreaterSchools.org, author Hank Pellissier includes a comment from a recognized authority on programming. Douglas Rushkoff, author of Program or Be Programmed and evangelist for Codeacademy, is one of the nation’s leading digital crusaders. He argues that our schools need to incorporate computer programming into the core curriculum or get left behind. “It’s time Americans begin treating computer code the way we do the alphabet or arithmetic,” he writes.

Mr. Rushkoff sees the need to teach coding in order to create more hardware and software engineers to meet the rising demands for skilled tech workers. I agree wholeheartedly with this, since the U.S. is far behind in having a robust technical workforce created within our own borders. We rely heavily on coders in China, India and other parts of the world to meet the high demand for programming skills. I also agree that coding is just as important as other basic learning skills, since technology is now an important part of all of our lives. Understanding coding would give our kids a foundation in understanding how technology works, serving them well even if they do not become professional programmers.

One of my passions has been to help bring technology into the education system: I have worked on the sidelines with the State of Hawaii to champion the role of personal computers in education for decades. It has been rewarding to see how computers have impacted the educational process throughout the U.S., with every school system in America now having some type of computer aided learning programs in use today.

But it’s time for schools to realize that technology is now a part of our lifestyle. Helping our kids understand how technology works at the ground level and how it can be used to its fullest potential needs to be a building block that’s added to the educational curriculum. At best, it could get kids interested in tech as a career. At the least, it could equip them to handle more and more technology-related devices that are now part of our lives.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

How Mobile Changed the Game — and Questions About Its Future

Mobile Future
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Mobile ended Microsoft's dominance, saved Apple, made Facebook and could upend Google. So what's next?

When I first started doing industry analysis in 2000, my focus was heavily on mobile computing. Our firm has a legacy of PC industry analysis, and at the time I joined, we were embarking on the major shift from desktop computing to mobile computing.

Mobile computing in those days referred to notebooks and laptops, which were really nothing more than portable desktops. That era set us up for the massive global mobile computing era we are now entering into, where the shift is from notebook computing to truly mobile computing with tablets and smartphones. Reflecting on these paradigm shifts helps me appreciate not just how much has changed over the past 10 years, but also how much will again change in the next 10 years. Mobile changes everything.

What’s Changed?

Mobile ended Microsoft’s dominance. The once near-monopoly on desktop and laptop computing was completely broken by mobile computing. Along with Microsoft’s monopoly ending, so too has the old guard of PC computing been challenged by mobile. Intel, for example, is still struggling to be dominant in the mobile computing era, while Qualcomm has taken its place. Once dominant PC vendors like Dell and HP now only serve a small market, while Apple, Samsung, Lenovo, Xiaomi, Huawei and ZTE are the hardware darlings of the mobile era.

Mobile saved Apple. One could argue the iPod was a key player in ushering in the mobile computing era, as it paved the way for key technologies to be miniaturized and commoditized. That served as a catalyst for smartphones to become possible. The iPod led to the iPhone, which is the business that drove Apple’s recovery.

Mobile could upend Google. Think about some recent data from Flurry that shows how apps have overtaken the mobile web in terms of engagement. Who does this impact the most? Google. Google’s business is heavily built on the web and a web browser. Declining usage of mobile web browsers and web browsing in general is not good for Google’s core and largest business. I’m fond of the observation that Google de-emphasizes apps, because time spent in an app is not time being spent using Google’s search engine. In fact, this observation explains quite clearly why Google is not pushing tablet apps the way many believe the company should be. Tablets still drive significant web browsing time as the usage of tablets more closely resembles that of PCs than smartphones. If Google was to emphasize tablet apps, which could possibly cause web searches from the platform to go down in favor of app usage over web usage, then again, Google’s biggest business is hurt.

Mobile made Facebook. Facebook in the desktop era was nothing compared to Facebook in the mobile era. Facebook will be a key part of bringing the next billlion consumers into the online conversation. These customers will be mobile-first and mobile-only. It’s conceivable by the end of 2015 — and almost certainly in 2016 — that Facebook could have over 2 billion mobile users. Facebook’s present and future hinges on mobility.

What’s Next?

These are just a few of the dramatic changes mobile has enabled. Many more are to come over the next two years. Will the current dominant players in mobile survive the shift from one primary mobile connected device to multiple devices per person? Apps took over the mobile web but what will overtake apps in the near future? What is the role of an operating system or a platform in the future? Or is there one? Do apps move to the cloud or stay native? Do operating systems move to the cloud or stay native? How many modems driving connected experiences will we have per person? How many touch-based interactive glass screens we will have on our person, in our homes and in our cities? All these and more are questions I like to think about.

I’ve been working in this industry since 1997. I’m also related to one of the foremost technology industry historians. I’ve been taught to view this industry as a journey. On a journey, the scenery changes. Mobile has been a driving force of disruption, causing sweeping changes in the dominant players from yesteryear. “Post mobile” will bring about many new changes. Crystal balls are not necessary. The only sure way to survive is to recognize paradigm shifts and embrace them when they happen. Innovation brings about change. Both are constant.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

TIME Big Picture

The Challenges of a Dick Tracy-like Watch-Phone

Samsung Gear 2
A Galaxy Gear 2 smartwatch sits on display at the Samsung Electronics Co. pavilion on day two of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Simon Dawson--Bloomberg / Getty Images

I have been testing the Samsung Gear smartwatch for some time now and have actually become a fan of these types of watches. My first smartwatch was the Pebble, but its limited functionality drove me to try out the Samsung Gear since it gives me something that I really wanted in a smartwatch: email alerts and the ability to read my email on the smartwatch itself.

Like many people in the workplace I get hundreds of emails a day, although very few demand immediate action. But given my type of business, if a client emails me, I like to respond to them as fast as possible. So these smartwatch alerts allow me to be highly responsive to client requests. Yes, sometimes they come during a meeting or while I am doing something where I can’t respond to messages immediately, but being aware of these requests as they come in is important to me and plays heavily into how I manage my workday.

Recently, word leaked that Samsung was working on adding a phone feature to a smartwatch, and it got me wondering whether this is a good idea or not. I grew up in the era of Dick Tracy and I have to admit that I thought his watch-phone was really cool — as a kid, I really wanted one. But as I look at this idea now, I really wonder if a watch-phone would work for me in the real world. More importantly, would consumers even want it? The idea of always lifting up my arm to speak into a watch and having everyone around me being able to hear what’s being said to me is just not appealing, even if it seems cool.

Most likely, such a smartwatch could be tied to a Bluetooth headset so a person could handle voice calls more discreetly, but a lot of people are uncomfortable having a headset in their ear all of the time and for many, it makes them look too much like a geek. I also suspect the user interface would be pretty clumsy, even if it was voice controlled.

The idea of adding a phone feature to a smartwatch comes under the heading that many in the industry call feature-creep. Simply put, engineers keep trying to add a bunch of features into small packages, and while sometimes it works, most of the time it does not. One good example is some of the features Samsung threw into its Galaxy S4 smartphone, especially the hover feature that the majority of people never used. Thankfully, the company took that out in the Galaxy S5 and seemed to learn the lesson that in some devices, less is more.

I have now used about seven smartwatches and each one I have used has tried to cram a lot into a very small package. These watch screens are 1.5” in most cases, and while the screens are sharp and easy to read, putting more features and more text into this small space most often does not work well at all. The good news is that with the Pebble watch, the Samsung Gear watch and others, most developers are creating simple apps that can work on a small screen and deliver what we call “snacking data” such as news alerts, message alerts and, in some cases, email headlines. Also, most of these watches so far are tied to smartphones, serving as extensions of the smartphones themselves.

However, I am starting to see a lot of work being done behind the scenes where some companies are trying to make the smartwatch a standalone device. Not being connected to a smartphone would essentially make it a PDA of sorts in its own right, with all of the data and info and apps delivered to the watch. These watches wouldn’t be extensions of smartphones as they are today.

Although Samsung has not actually shared any details about its supposed smartwatch-phone, it would not surprise me if that’s the direction the company might take with this device. While Samsung would still want to sell a lot of standalone smartphones — and a smartwatch-phone would never supplant these — from an engineering standpoint, Samsung and others may want to give consumers the option of having their smartphones on their wrists instead of in their pockets.

But would Samsung and others be doing this simply because they can? Or because consumers really want it? Think of the role your smartphone plays in your life today. Could you dump a great 4” or 5” screen that delivers tons of apps and services and instead use only a smartwatch-phone? I know I could not. That’s why I’m quite happy with my smartwatches being extensions of my smartphones, working together harmoniously.

Sure, there will be some early adopters who take the plunge should a smartphone-watch hit the market. But I am very doubtful that these would ever catch on and be a hit with consumers. Rather, they would likely end up being just an engineering showcase for the companies who make them and, at least in my opinion, will never catch on with the broad consumer market.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

Don’t Give Up On Tablet Innovation

As I survey the tablet market and its trends, I am continually reminded that tablets are still in the early stages of development. We talk with consumers and enterprise customers alike, and there still seems to be some perceptual nuance surrounding tablets. People are just starting to get their heads around what a piece of glass that’s bigger than their phone yet smaller and more portable than their PC means to them.

Laying all my cards on the table, I use the iPad Air with the Zagg iPad Air Folio case. I take this setup out into the world to meetings, or to pop into a Starbucks to get some work done in between meetings, and I constantly get the exact same question: What kind of computer is that? People see this device and realize that it is, in fact, a computer. This fundamental point is where the paradigm shift to tablet computing is about to happen.

The amazing thing about a tablet that sets it apart from every device I use is that it has more computing capabilities than my phone and is more portable than my PC. I can sit reclined on my couch or in bed and learn, work or play. I can take it to the office and work. I can use it as portable TV or DVD player. I can use it to make music. I can take it to the lake and capture video of my family water skiing, editing and creating the video right there on the lake. I can keep going with these scenarios, but you get the picture. The tablet is more capable than my smartphone and more portable than my PC. This is why I believe it has the most potential of any form factor out there with regard to the future of computing.

A point that often gets made is that most people just need their smartphone — and once bigger-screen phones are more popular, people will simply choose to use a bigger phone and a traditional PC over a tablet. I don’t doubt that there will be a certain percentage of the market that chooses this solution. However, I feel more people will choose a phone (of any size) and a larger tablet solution. If there is any device that I feel may be threatened when five-inch-and-larger phones become the norm, it’s smaller tablets, not bigger ones. The best way to think about this is that bigger smartphones will challenge small tablets the same way tablets challenge PCs. Larger tablets, however, are poised to become the dominant computing form factor. All of this is because of both its unique form factor and the developer ecosystem behind it.

In 1978, something important happened. In those days, personal computers were in their infancy. Most viewed the desktop personal computer as a hobbyist toy. But in 1978, a piece of software called VisiCalc was being developed, and overnight, its business and productivity value was grasped. The rest was history. Where we are with tablets feels very much like 1978 for personal computers. We have a few showcase apps, mostly from Apple with iWork and the iLife suite of applications for iPad. We also have a number of great apps from third-party developers for music creation, art and any number of genres. But the list of showcase apps to drive home the value of the tablet as a personal computer are still in the minority.

Whenever people ask my how I get away with using my iPad as my main PC, I always show them the above types of applications. I show them how I can capture video and make a movie right on the spot. I show them how I can write my columns and even post to my blog. I show them how I can use it to create spreadsheets and presentations, all with as much ease as if I was on my notebook. Every time after I give these demonstrations to someone, they always respond with a kind of profound tone in their voice: “I didn’t know you could do all that with an iPad.”

This is the point. As consumers catch on that these devices are more capable than their smartphones and more portable that their PCs, the floodgates will open. Developers will similarly begin re-imagining entire categories of new applications and new software to drive this unique form factor forward as a computing platform. Hardware manufacturers will continue to enhance the tablets features, from its optics, biometrics, sensors, chipsets, and displays. We really are just getting started with tablets. And more importantly, the tablet is going to help many consumers — both existing tablet owners and new ones just getting started with computing.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

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