Mitch Joel: What Comes After Smartphones?

December 11th, 2012

What Comes After Smartphones?

Posted: 12/11/2012 12:11 am


What is the timeframe for smartphone and tablet devices to decimate desktop and laptop computers?

By all accounts, it is already happening. When Tim Cook (CEO at Apple) took the stage in the company’s first post-Steve Jobs product launch to announce the iPad 2 in 2011, Cook’s staggering statistic was that the iPad had already outsold all of the desktop and laptops sold by their competitors in the previous quarter. That piece of data still holds true as Apple currently has the fourth generation iPad in-market.

Beyond the tablet, smartphones have also been steadily outselling desktop and laptop computers as well. While no media pundit is quite sure when (or if) the “year of mobile” happened, we are in the era of the smartphone. Beyond patent debates and legacy OEM manufacturers struggling to keep up, Apple and Android have set a furious pace as brands like Amazon, RIM, Microsoft and others continue to evolve from a personal computer business into a smartphone/tablet offering. It seems like we’re moments away from the computer becoming an appliance as the smartphones and tablets become the remote controls for our lives.

The question is this: how long will this last?

Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, can often be found about town wearing his Google Glasses (aka Project Glass). While still in the prototype phase, the promise of Project Glass is a wearable (and highly portable) pair of glasses that gives the user a heads-up display to help connect them to their digital content while blending the information that they’re seeing live and in-the-moment with Internet knowledge. Imagine things like taking pictures or seeing directions not by looking at a screen, but by simply seeing it in front of your face without distraction. Imagine being at a holiday party and being able to connect the face of someone whose name you should know to not only their contact information, but their entire social feed.

Sounds creepy? Most new technology does.

What will Apple do next? What is the technology that will disrupt the iPhone and iPad business? If you have read Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography (and I strongly recommend that you do), there was a very telling (and compelling) line from Jobs: “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.” Do you believe that Apple will now let Google take the lead in the future of connectivity? Do you think they’re going to let Samsung, Nokia or even Microsoft leap ahead? You can be certain that deep within the industrial design studios of Jonathan Ive on Apple’s corporate campus lies advanced prototypes of technology that either resembles or trumps Project Glass.

Things are about to get weirder as science fiction becomes reality.

You may be moaning that you would never wear a stupid looking pair of glasses that has you blinking, twitching and speaking to activate commands and information. Odds are that you never thought you would need email on the go, a fax machine or any other form of technology until everybody else started using it. Can we clearly point to something like Google’s Project Glass and proclaim the end of the smartphone? Not yet, but it may not be as long off into the future as you suspect.

On December 3rd, 2012 Business Insider ran a blog post titled, “Apple Is Quietly Working To Destroy The iPhone,” that points to Apple’s penchant for wearable technology mixed with some patent fillings from the summer that Apple calls a, “head-mounted display” or “HMD.” From the article: “…computers have been getting smaller and closer to our faces since their very beginning. First they were in big rooms, then they sat on desktops, then they sat on our laps, and now they’re in our palms. Next they’ll be on our faces.”

The end of touch?

We went from controlling technology with keyboards, a mouse and buttons to touch in a flash of the eye. As touch continues to be the focus of smartphones and tablets, perhaps the introductions of technologies like Siri and Xbox’s Kinect are really where we should spending more of our attention.

The problem, of course, is that should wearable technology that is enabled and enhanced by Siri and Kinect-like technologies become the norm, marketers are (pardon the expression) screwed. As smartphones and tablets take hold with more of the population, marketing professionals are struggling to figure out how to transpose advertising and marketing messages in a succinct and successful way.

To date, there are no clear winners in the realm of mobile marketing. Everything is still up for grabs. Just imagine what that could look like once wearable technology over-takes the smartphone and tablet. Many won’t even begin to think about this because they believe the event horizon is too far off in the distance. If history (and technology) has taught us anything, it could happen tomorrow. Welcome to the era of exponential growth in business, technology and marketing.


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