By David Wood
Where will the underlying wave of technological and commercial innovation strike next in smartphones? Three answers deserve attention.
1. More smartphones
The first answer is that the smartphone market is poised to become much larger. The current growth spurt is going to continue. More and more people are going to be using smartphones and downloading and using more and more applications. This growth will be driven by:
• Decreasing costs of smartphone devices
• Improved network connectivity
• An ever-wider range of different applications tailored to individual needs of individual mobile consumers
• Improved quality of applications, networks, and devices – driven by fierce competition
• Burgeoning word-of-mouth recommendations as people tell each other about compelling mobile services that they come across.
Perhaps one day soon, more than 50 percent of all mobile phones will be built using smartphone technology.
The second answer is that smartphones are going to become smarter and more capable. The improvements will be so striking that the phrase "smartphone" won't do them justice. Google used a new term, "superphone," when it introduced the NexusOne device. The company wrote:
Nexus One is an exemplar of what's possible on mobile devices through Android — when cool apps meet a fast, bright and connected computer that fits in your pocket. The Nexus One belongs in the emerging class of devices which we call "superphones". It's the first in what we expect to be a series of products which we will bring to market with our operator and hardware partners and sell through our online store.
Newer smartphones – whatever we call them – typically manifest a lot more of the capabilities of the computing technology that's embedded into them. The result is:
• More powerful applications
• Delivering more useful functionality.
The first answer, above, is that smartphones are going to become significantly more numerous. The second answer is that smartphones are going to become significantly more powerful. I believe both these answers. These answers are both easy to understand. But there's a third answer, which is just as true as the first two – and perhaps even more significant.
Smartphone technology is going to become more and more widely used inside numerous types of devices that don't look like smartphones. These devices aren't just larger than smartphones (like superphones). They are different from smartphones, in all kinds of ways.
If the motto "smartphones for all" drove a great deal of the development of the mobile industry during the decade 2000-2010, a new motto will become increasingly important in the coming decade: "Smartphone technology everywhere." This describes a new wave of embedded software:
• Traditional embedded software is when computing technology is used inside devices that do not look like computers;
• The new wave of embedded software is when smartphone technology is used inside devices that do not look like smartphones.
For want of a better term, we can call these devices "subphones;" the underlying phone functionality is submerged (or embedded).