Will Smartphones Ever Be Obsolete?

4 minute read

Will the smartphone, one of the most omnipresent gadgets ever made, one day cease to exist? That’s what technology reporter Matt Weinberger argues in a recent piece for Business Insider. Weinberger reasons that new technologies, like augmented and virtual reality, voice-activated assistants, and physical gestures, will eliminate the need for a smartphone.

Here’s Weinberger:

This week, we got our first look at Neuralink, a new company cofounded by Musk with a goal of building computers into our brains by way of “neural lace,” a very early-stage technology that lays on your brain and bridges it to a computer. It’s the next step beyond even that blending of the digital and physical worlds, as human and machine become one.

Assuming the science works — and lots of smart people believe that it will— 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.

I don’t know if putting a computer in your brain scares you like it scares me, but having listened to futurist Ray Kurzweil for many years, I’m convinced the idea is much more plausible then you might think.

But I don’t think the smartphone will completely die off. Instead, I believe it’s more likely to morph into a mobile computing device that provides the smarts of whatever interface device is feeding you information, whether it’s a pair of smart glasses, a digital voice, or even something connected directly to your brain. (Some might argue that mobile technology is getting small enough to pack the necessary smarts into the interface devices themselves, but that will be challenging given the new functions we’ll expect these new devices to perform.)

In fact, I believe smartphones, or the core technology powering them, will become even more essential to our daily lives in the future. Whether that tech stays in the rectangular-slate shape we know today or it morphs into some kind of wearable “brain,” the technical wizardry that powers today’s smartphones will evolve and make it possible to walk around and access information without ever needing to look at a screen.

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This evolution may sound exciting or even scary, but it won’t happen quickly. Evolution doesn’t happen overnight, after all. We’ll see the first steps in this direction over the next year or two, as smartphone makers like Apple and Samsung embrace augmented reality (AR) technology, which blends the digital world with users’ physical environment. We don’t believe Apple or Samsung will aggressively pursue wearable AR hardware like goggles or glasses any time soon, but those kinds of devices will eventually become an everyday part of our mobile experience — with smartphones, or something like a smartphone, powering them. (Samsung does have a virtual reality headset, the Gear VR, but that’s more of an entertainment device.)

Ultimately, the writing is on the walls when it comes to the changing role that smartphones will play in our future. As they shift into devices that simply provide processing power for new user interfaces, they’ll probably change in appearance, too. But I’m confident that smartphones’ core technology will still drive the mobile computing experiences of tomorrow.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc and has been with the company since 1981 where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

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