Smartphones will become obsolete, replaced by a new generation of wearable communication devices that will change the way we interact with the world. Kelvin Murray/Getty Images
Today, nearly eight in 10 Americans own a smartphone, and we’ve grown accustomed to using it for everything from listening to music, taking photos, reading the news, and posting on social media to shopping and financial transactions. For many people, smartphones have replaced once-common everyday implements like tape measures, flashlights, and wrist watches.
Smartphones have transformed everyday life so much that it’s easy to forget that they became popular just over 10 years ago. That’s when Apple released the iPhone, which combined mobile Internet access and computing power with a multi-touch screen interface, making it possible to do just about anything by tapping, swiping, and pinching with your thumb and forefinger.
A recent survey found that smartphone users now spend around five hours a day using their devices, making it hard to walk down a crowded sidewalk in any major city without bumping into someone obsessing over their smartphone screen. .
But with technological progress advancing at the speed of broadband these days, it’s strange to think that the smartphone as we know it has a limited life expectancy.
A 2015 survey of smartphone users worldwide by Swedish communications technology and services company Ericsson found that one in two expected the smartphone to become obsolete by 2020.
Which leads to the big question: What will replace the smartphone? Forecasters predict that advances in technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and wearable electronics will spawn a new generation of devices that could change our everyday existence even more than the smartphone ever did.
“The transition that we are about to experience is that we are going to go from accessing the Internet to living on the Internet,” explains Jack Uldrich, a futurist, author, and speaker who helps entrepreneurs figure out how to understand and benefit from trends.
We still don’t have a proper zeitgeist-y name for those devices, but it’s a pretty safe bet they won’t be palm-sized rectangles with glass screens — or any screens, for that matter. And they may not even be a single device.
Brad Berens, director of strategy at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, predicts that the smartphone will give way to personal area networks – clusters of small devices hidden in online accounts. a necklace, or integrated into glasses or contact lenses.
Such devices will use VR and AR to project information in our field of vision, eliminating the need for a screen. And just as we control apps on today’s smartphones by moving our fingers, we’ll be able to manipulate our next-generation personal area networks through voice commands or by gesturing in the air, perhaps with the help of haptic technology that simulates sensory feedback. to touch real objects. Writing may never become a completely extinct skill, but one day it may become as rare as, say, someone writing in elegant handwriting with a fountain pen.
“Just as I can’t type as fast as my kids, they won’t be able to do the haptic gestures of the future as fast as today’s kindergartners will eventually be able to,” says Uldrich.
Next generation smart assistants
But increasingly, we won’t have to enter as much information as we once did, because next-generation smart assistants — imagine a much more intuitive version of Siri, Alexa, or Cortana — will learn to figure out what we want to know or do. , sometimes before we realize it ourselves.
Uldrich predicts that in the near future, our personal devices will study our eye movements to make predictions. “If we look at something for two seconds, it will tell us that we need more information about it,” he says.
Berens envisions that the smart assistants of the future will continually whisper in our ears and project messages that only we can see.
That could help us in many ways: if we meet a person and we can’t remember their name, for example, “I’m John Smith” can appear before our eyes to remind us.
It’s also conceivable that the smart assistants in our future devices could eventually interact with other smart assistants, possibly replacing some of our interaction with real people. That’s a perspective that Berens finds both interesting and unsettling.
“We’ve already seen people using digital technologies to avoid interacting directly with some people while interacting more with others,” he says. “On the bus or subway, people play on their phones or deal with distant people through social networks instead of chatting with the person next to them. Teenagers prefer texting to talking on the phone.
Dating apps like Tinder make it easy to meet people without the uncomfortable need to work up the courage to approach a stranger.”
“Some of this is good, but it also means that people can increasingly live in their own little worlds, within what author Eli Pariser has called ‘filter bubbles,’ where there is no need to recognize that there are other points of view. view on things,” says Berens.
But next-generation personal communication devices can also change us in other ways we haven’t yet imagined. As with the smartphone, we’ll have to start using them to find out.
Berens says the personal area networks of the future may include camera-equipped selfie drones. “Add a drone to that mix and the computing zone extends to things you can’t see with your eyes, including the back of your head,” he explains.