The short trip down to Barcelona to the annual Mobile World Congress – the world’s largest exhibition for the mobile technology industry – was an eye-opener in many ways. As the head of a Newcastle digital organisation that offers its clients the chance to revolutionise their digital futures, I went expecting to see the smartphone – the trusty extra limb to all of our lives – dominate.
But it wasn’t the case. Instead, the congress was dominated by devices poised to be introduced into our daily lives that are either built to work with, or in some cases, without a smartphone. It was startling!
Innovations I witnessed in Barcelona suggest that the most exciting advances are bold enough to make us think about temporarily detaching ourselves from our smartphone. In some cases, they want us to move away from the mobile phone altogether.
Are we already in the post smartphone era?
To understand how the future may look, it makes sense to look at our history. In 2010, Steve Jobs announced that the world was entering a ‘post-PC era’. Although this declaration didn’t mean that the PC would no longer be relevant, it did mean that there were new technologies being developed and released that would replace certain aspects of the PC.
In short, each device would now have a much more specialised role. Today, the same may be true of smartphones, which, for so long, have been our go-to device for almost everything: communication, web browsing, listening to music, watching video, shopping, socialising. The list goes on and on.
As smartphones have developed, so has their technology. We’ve gone from numerical keyboards through QWERTY keyboards to touchscreens. We’ve changed from wired headphones to wireless, wired charging to wireless, and from phones that fold, slide, or flip to ones that are solid, thin and waterproof.
But, what has really changed recently? Admittedly, cameras have improved immeasurably, touchscreens have become more responsive and, in some cases, durability has improved too. But has there really been a new smartphone released recently that has completely blown us away?
Upgrades are what most phone producers obsess over to keep the consumer hooked. Small, incremental improvements year on year. At the same time, technology development has moved to other areas. And in the cases we witnessed in Barcelona, smartphones simply aren’t the best hardware for the new software being introduced.
Consider the recent trend in virtual reality (VR) or artificial (AI) intelligence. Yes, many work paired with a smartphone but most work better without them, and if we take just the examples of VR and AI, then might we have to accept that we’ll immerse ourselves in these worlds without the need for our phones at all?
Pioneering devices that aren’t smartphones are set to be on everyone’s list soon.