Deconstructing the mobile phone: new technologies split up all-in-one device

Smartphones have fundamentally changed the way humans live. They have improved the way we organise our lives, stay in touch, entertain ourselves and ultimately communicate with the world.

Originally, phones were built with the sole purpose of making calls. However, as storage, battery and internet technology have improved, we have seen cameras, music, location services and access to the internet all added to the simple handset. A further innovation was the introduction of the touch screen, which defines what we now know as the smartphone.

While the smartphone of today works, it was originally designed as a device to call one another. We blindly accept the smartphone is the perfect device, built for purpose to host all our favourite innovations.

But what if we completely deconstructed the mobile phone? Given all the new innovations in voice technology, wearable devices and smart displays, would we still need the handheld phone we have today?

HUMANS WILL ADAPT

Throughout history there have been times when humans have relied on one specific way of doing something. But then, seemingly overnight, that accepted norm is flipped upside down by innovation and disruption. Suddenly, that longstanding, universally accepted, way of doing things becomes amusingly antiquated.

Take the bank cheque as an example.

Cheques used to be one of the most popular forms of payment authorising a bank to debit money from your account to pay someone. For years it was the most popular method of payment for rent, bills, travel or even your weekly groceries.

Now, cheques are almost completely out of use. The cheque was completely disrupted with the introduction of physical bank and credit cards, allowing for electronic funds transfers. The internet also meant that regular large expenses, such as bills or rent, could now be paid automatically.

At some point, the same path to replacement will happen to the smartphone. Today it is an accepted norm to wake up with our phones, check them throughout the day and then plug them in at night so that we can repeat the process the next day. While this is considered normal today, new technologies could easily usurp the smartphone within the next five years.

PHONES ARE LOSING THEIR TOUCH

Improvements in voice and artificial intelligence (AI) are moving us forward at a dramatic pace. Voice technologies, such as smart speakers or virtual assistants like Siri, are supported by AI and are constantly improving their accuracy and capability to serve personalised predictions based on the user.

Gestures are also becoming a part of the mobile phone experience. Google’s latest handset, the Pixel 4, is the first time a mobile has included a radar to power motion sensors that recognise human gestures. This means users have the ability to change songs, accept calls and swipe away alarm notifications without having to touch the device.

Essentially, the combination of hands-free devices, improved voice control technology and gestures will make our consumption of music, phone calls and messages a touchless experience. So if we have voice-enabled Wi-Fi ear pods, why would we need to hold a phone?

IS THE PHONE THE BEST WAY TO VIEW A MIXED REALITY WORLD?

Mixed reality (MR) is a technology that combines the real world and virtual world. Where augmented reality (AR) simply overlays virtual objects onto the real world, MR merges virtual objects onto the real-world environment.

As MR innovation improves, we will be provided real-time additional information about our surrounding reality. Today this mostly implies holding up your phone to see the augmented reality information layered on top of the world viewed through your phone camera lens.

Wearable technology, such as smart glasses, can be combined with virtual assistants to give the user the power to reply to interact with MR, read messages, see directions, change songs, take a photo and filter emails without having to pull out a separate physical device. The initial experiments in glasses had mixed results, but as the information gets richer and the glasses get better (even shrunk to lens size), would we still want to hold up our phones to see the MR world?

Experts are suggesting the innovation in MR, voice-driven virtual assistants and anticipatory AI will drive the development of a new mobile computing platform, taking much of the mobile experience away our personal screens and becoming integrated into the world around us.

SMARTER SCREENS

We will also begin to see the rise of the smartscreen technology controlled by voice commands and even physical gestures enabled by camera technology and AI. These smartscreens can be optimised depending on the user and whether they are predominantly used for reading the news, controlling music, playing games or watching content.

As smartscreens become more common, we’ll begin to see users have separate and preferred screens. For example, a smartscreen at work to organise schedules and emails and a separate screen at home to control smarthome appliances or for video calling loved ones. There will also be an opportunity to share screens to easily transition from one room to another or from your home to the car.

Ultimately, just like the bank cheque, the smartphone will be disrupted. While it works in its current form, the sole purpose of the mobile phone is to make calls so we can talk with one another. We accept the current state of smartphones as the norm, but in as little as the next few years, we could see the introduction of technology that will unbundle the smartphone and fundamentally change the way humans organise their lives, stay in touch, entertain themselves and communicate with the world.

Simon Akeroyd is the vice-president of corporate strategy and business development for IT consultancy Amadeus Asia Pacific.

Do you think the smartphone will evolve into specialist devices and wearables? Let us know what you think will be the future of tech in the comments below.

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