There is a really interesting trend happening with the electronics and the devices we buy and use. For the past decade we have seen the smartphone kill off numerous other industries by turning their products into apps. Consider the implosion of industries like photography and music and the waning of other devices like PCs. As the chipsets in smartphones have become more powerful they have let our little handheld computers take on more and more tasks that were once performed by other devices.
But it looks like the smartphone is starting to lose some of its zing. People are not fired up to run out and buy the latest phones because the new ones are not dramatically better than the old ones. People are holding on to phones longer and it’s been reported that people are even exploring the potential on their phones less and are using fewer apps. Sales of iPhones are down for the first time along with the price of Apple stock.
Along with this downward trend in smartphones is the resurgence of some of the industries that the smartphone helped to decimate. I travel a lot and for a number of years it has been rare to see anybody but a few obvious foreigners carrying a camera through airports. But all of a sudden they are noticeable again. And this is happening at a time when the cameras in smartphones are getting much better. I know the camera in my new galaxy S7 takes pretty amazing pictures. But there seems to be a desire by people to go back to the past when taking a picture was more complicated, but was also, somehow, more satisfying.
To an old audiophile like me, I am even more blown away by the resurgence of turntables and stereo systems. It’s been reported that the sales of vinyl albums last year was the largest since 1990. In today’s digital music world, a return to analog turntables and vinyl albums is almost like stepping into a time machine.
It seems that the smartphone is transitioning from being exciting new technology and is now just considered as an everyday tool. I can’t imagine buying a new phone now unless I am having noticeable problems with my current phone. It’s hard to imagine a smartphone improvement amazing enough to lure me to upgrade otherwise.
There are a number of technologists who predict that within a decade or so that smartphones will become a thing of the past. Let’s face it, it can be a hassle to always remember to carry your phone everywhere and to always protect it against getting wet or breaking. Sometimes carrying a smartphone feels like more of a burden than a benefit.
Futurists differ in what they predict will replace the smartphone. Some think it will be wearables, some think it will be some sort of virtual reality device such as glasses, and some even think that we’ll transition to implants of some sort. All of these possible futures have one thing in common – the computer will be automatically with us and we’ll barely notice it as a separate device. Many predict that connectivity and technology will become naturally integrated into our daily lives.
I’m now of an age when I’ve seen a lot of technology come and go. There are so many technologies that have grown huge and within a decade or less disappeared to be replaced by something else. I owned a lot of it – reel-to-reel tape records, scientific calculators, 8-track tape players, VCRs, digital cameras, and iPods. And along with many of these devices, the companies that made them often faded along with the devices.
It’s a bit hard to think that we could be a decade away from a time when the smartphone as we know it has been replaced by something better. The smartphone has probably been the most disruptive technology in my lifetime, except perhaps for the PC. But its days are most likely numbered like every other technology we’ve seen come and go over the past fifty years.
I have always been intrigued by new technology as it has come along. But I now regret having finally given away my hundreds of albums when I decided that analog music was dead. Why didn’t somebody tell me that turntables would be back?