Everyone’s busy talking about what the next smartphone will do… when will we have “wireless” charging (that isn’t actually wireless) or an end-to-end buttonless touchscreen with curved glass. Everyone’s hyper-focused on this indispensable phone that they could never imagine a world without, but they’re all missing the point. Ten years ago, the technology world was unraveled when Apple released the iPhone. Many predicted its failure because they couldn’t foresee the convenience of having a computer and an internet connection (even if inferior to a laptop) in their pocket at every moment. Similarly, we’re all so blinded by being tethered to our smartphones that no one is planning for the future.
In the future, data connectivity will be ubiquitous and processing power will be off the charts (literally). You won’t have a super-powerful smartphone or laptop that can do everything because your watch will be powerful, your glasses will be powerful, your fridge will be powerful and who knows, maybe even your kitchen drawers will be fully automated. In a world truly surrounded by smart devices, including roads, automobiles, buildings and restaurants (not just smart registers or smart elevators), we won’t care about buying the latest iPhone the day it comes out because it won’t be our most important technology.
Time and time again, consumers have told us that power and specs aren’t everything. They prefer learning and consuming content from a mobile device that is dwarfed by their desktop because it’s right there. Similarly, as other devices become more intelligent and more connected, their convenience will diminish the utility of your smartwatch. In the same way that it’s easier to ask Alexa when the bus is coming than to pull out your phone, launch an app and wait, it’s easier to open your smart fridge and have it suggest you make broccoli beef because your broccoli is wilting and you bought some meat at the butcher yesterday.
Today, it’s hard to imagine a future where you won’t need your smartphone because most connected IoT devices aren’t really connected. Yes, they have a data connection, but it’s dependent on your Wi-Fi or smartphone. And yes, they collect information, do things “automatically,” and are generally better than their “dumb” unconnected counterpart, but they don’t talk to each other. When you build a connected home today, you’ll probably set it up with Ring, Nest, Hue, Alexa, Sonos or HomePods, a Withings scale. Individually, they all make your life a little better, but when they clash, it can be pretty annoying. This is definitely a first-world problem, but it’s pretty annoying when you’re blasting music on your Sonos, you can’t hear the caller on Ring and it takes you 30 seconds to mute your music.
In the future, your connected home will actually be connected. When your Ring sees someone approaching your door, even before they ring the doorbell, it’ll fade your music so you can hear your phone ring and see who’s there. Your fridge will know what’s in it and when your food is expiring, and your oven will be able to warn you before you burn your dinner. In fact, it’ll be connected to all the other sensors in your home, so it’ll know you’re in your bedroom and give you a verbal reminder only in that room, without disrupting your guests who are throughout the rest of your home. That’s what a connected experience should be.
We’re living in a world with smart sensors and smart devices that are all individually smart, but don’t yet know how to communicate with one another. Yes, you can import your data from Fitbit and Withings and combine it, but it isn’t automated, and it definitely isn’t easy for most people. To create a world with a ubiquity of unique smart devices that actually work cohesively, we need to first empower these devices to communicate with one another more easily. Connected platforms like HomeKit will enable these integrations through single sign-on, just like Apple did with its new TV platform.
As IoT devices and platforms continue to improve, soon everyone will be adopting these smarter devices at home and elsewhere. Each of these IoT devices will individually become more useful than pulling out your smartphone. In the same way many users report their Apple Watch reduces how often they check their phone, each new smart device will reduce the user’s dependency on their phone. In 10 years, this inflection point will begin when users start relying less and less on their smartphones, just as 10 years ago the iPhone brought this on the PC. In 20 years, we’ll think of the smartphone like an iPod today… a legacy piece of hardware that’s forgotten in the back of some drawer.