Have We Already Entered a "Post-Smartphone" Era?
There are three reasons why I believe we may be entering a post smartphone era:
- The focus of innovation is shifting away from smartphones.
- The smartphone market is maturing.
- Smartphone marketing has become boring and mainstream.
1. The locus of innovation is shifting away from smartphones.
Once upon a time the iPhone caused a sea change in consumer electronics, photography, and mobile web access that we’re still adjusting to. Android as a semi-open platform has extended that to the point where even low-end phones have sophisticated Internet-based multimedia capabilities. All over the world people are accustomed to video chatting, pinch-to-zoom, and real-time web access along with advertising that’s filtered through personal communication details and social connections.
But the smartphone is no longer the only focus for communication technology and innovation. Tablet computers such as the iPad and the Nexus 7 provide effective portability for interactive media consumption. Experimental technologies such as Google Glass tantalize with near hands-free web interaction via a heads-up display and bone conduction earphones. The promise of other wearable devices continues to blur the lines separating self, computers, and the web.
While the smartphone is a key component in all these scenarios, even Google executives have commented on how smartphone reliance “emasculates” users. The smartphone is rapidly becoming one more node in a complex network of events, media, social interactions, and an emerging “internet of things.” Smartphones may be key elements in data collection and data delivery, but often the “heavy lifting” involved in network-based services such as Google Now takes place in the cloud, not necessarily on a handheld device.
2. The smartphone market is maturing.
“Familiarity breeds contempt” is an old saying that demonstrates how success of the smartphone has spoiled us. An example is the tepid — even disappointed — response to the new Moto X phone. Many were hoping for a world-changing and innovative product from Google and Motorola but were disappointed at a phone that seemed aimed not at uber-geeks but — horrors! — ordinary people.
Now, the Moto X looks like a perfectly decent phone to me with good battery life and interesting features. But technological “sophisticates” — thosewilling to lay out funds to gain access to the “latest and greatest” even if it means having to “root” a phone crippled by bloatware, or those willing to pay a penalty for early withdrawal from a contract —
In the world I live in there are still a lot of people who are satisfied with having “just a phone,” keeping in mind the what passes for “just a phone” these days is more powerful than the combined computing power devoted to the Manhattan Project, the Air Force/NASA X-15 program, and the early Space Shuttle Orbiter’s primitive onboard computers.
3. Smartphone marketing is becoming boring and mainstream.
Samsung’s stage show introducing the Galaxy S4 was one indication to me that the marketing and PR surrounding smartphones has simultaneously become mainstream and increasingly irrelevant. Commercial messaging about smartphone products is taking on a life of its own, a trend that many will blame on Apple’s traditional insistence on advertising user experience with technology, not the technology itself.
For me, what I see happening is a product environment that has matured sufficiently so that engineering, development, marketing can become become separated if they are not as tightly integrated as has usually been the case with Apple. The Galaxy S4 stage show with its industry-conference-quality product hoopla, coming as it did from one of this planet’s top technology manufacturers, was embarrassing.
One of the things that happens in crowded markets where so many products share so many of the same features is that unusual features can be overlooked while unique but irrelevant features become overemphasized. That’s happening now in the smartphone market.
That marketing for smartphones has gone mainstream and is being managed along traditional marketing lines should not be a surprise. We may be seeing an environment where expectations about what individual handheld devices can do is beginning to peek, especially when the opinions of vocal technological sophisticates — those who sneer at the concept of “just a phone” — are being courted so aggressively early in the product adoption cycle.
Perhaps now the geeks and pundits need to look elsewhere for what’s new and what’s cool. Despite my own longtime interest in gadgets, I’m not at all offended that some companies focus on “giving people what they want.” If you’re ever run a business you understand the wisdom of that perspective and how much sense it makes in terms of having paying customers.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Dennis D. McDonald