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The Death of the Smartphone

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AZskibum
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How mobile is mobile?
AZskibum   4/23/2014 10:30:29 AM
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The question of how many devices and exactly which devices comes down to mobility. The tablet is more mobile than the laptop, but still not something most of us want to carry everywhere. "Carrying" a wearable doesn't count, since the user is not burdened with carrying anything. So the question of whether the other devices I will carry includes just a smartphone, just a tablet, or maybe even a laptop depends on my immediate mobility needs and the burden of carrying those devices. The laptop has been relegated to the status of a movable desktop -- only moved from point A to point B so that it can be used as a workstation in either location. The tablet is less cumbersome and finds itself traveling more places -- vacation trips, business trips, perhaps shopping at the local store, etc. But the tablet still cannot be worn on your person or tucked away in your pocket, and there are times when those are the requirements that must be met. I wouldn't write off the future of the smartphone just yet.

junko.yoshida
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Re: How mobile is mobile?
junko.yoshida   4/23/2014 11:37:26 AM
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When I am in the U.S., I am actually one of those who talk on the phone, rather than just text. But when I am on a business trip abroad, I actually find myself NOT talking (I am mindful of roaming charges), and I was often surprised how superflous the smartphone could be. 

However, the last time when I was in China, my heavy usage of WeChat made "wearable" -- in this case, my smartphone -- a must-have. I'd ask my Chinese contact via WeChat to send me their address in Chinese and all I had to do was to show that to my cab driver...

Charlie Cheng
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Re: How mobile is mobile?
Charlie Cheng   4/23/2014 5:44:15 PM
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Junko;

 

WeChat, as I will describe in the next blog is strictly not a phone app, at least not one that carreirs pay handset companies for becuase its economics is barebone for the carriers.  So long term, WeChat will essentially spell the death of the Smartphone because the subsidy will be gone.  In that world, your trip to China will end up being with a tablet or wearable that has WeChat built in.  That'd be my guess :-) 

junko.yoshida
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Re: How mobile is mobile?
junko.yoshida   4/23/2014 5:52:33 PM
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Exactly, Charlie. I agree. And in fact, as you noted, because the economics behind WeChat is barebone for the carriers, it is killing China Mobile.

Can China Mobile Outpace 'Free' Mobile Apps? 

 

http://www.eetimes.com/author.asp?section_id=36&doc_id=1322044&

 

 

TonyTib
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Re: Subsidies
TonyTib   4/23/2014 6:43:24 PM
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My impression is that carrier subsidies are mainly a US phenomen, tied to 2 year contracts -- and even in the US, there is a trend away from subsidiess and towards paying full price for the phone (and less per month for the service) that started with the MVNO carriers and now even a major (T-Mobile) is on-board.

Charlie Cheng
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Re: Subsidies
Charlie Cheng   4/23/2014 6:57:44 PM
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Yes, indeed.  However, the first wave of the adoption for any new & expensive devices have depended on this subsidy.  Without it, I think the marketing craze for the new device will be much more expensive and the viral spread will take longer.  

baybal
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Re: How mobile is mobile?
baybal   4/23/2014 12:09:17 PM
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> still not something most of us want to carry everywhere.
> "Carrying" a wearable doesn't count, since the user is not
> burdened with carrying anything. So the question of whether
> the other devices I will carry includes just a smartphone,
> just a tablet, or maybe even a laptop depends on my immediate
> mobility needs and the burden of carrying those devices.
It does feel to me that everything is boiling down to an idea of a PDA with extended connectivity. After all now, the majority of customers do value computing-profile tasks and apps handling capability more than simple communication services like phone calls.

Sanjib.A
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Are we there yet?
Sanjib.A   4/23/2014 12:13:29 PM
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I was reading your blog from my phone while lying down on my bed lazyly...and now writing this comment from the same. I was not just feeling comfortable switching the laptop on. The phone is much more handy than the tab I have...unfortunately I don't own an iPad, my experience is with a heavier but cheaper tab. So I prefer the phone over tab when I am lazy. Hence I can't think how smartphone would be replaced soon. :)

markwrob
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convergence, yes; smartphone losing out? maybe!
markwrob   4/23/2014 12:17:56 PM
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I take the article's point;  as the power of mobile devices reaches the required levels (some could argue effectively that even mid-range smartphones and tablets are there already), end users will pare down the items they take with them.

But will it be the smartphone that disappears or sticks around in a user's pocket or purse?  Or will it be the tablet?  I feel the answer to this pair of questions won't matter very much, if more wearables emerge to extend the power of a smartphone or tablet the user carries.  For instance, if a good Glass-like display wearable hits the market at a reasonable price, could that answer the need for better portable displays?  Will that include voice and audio?  Seems reasonable to assume so. Could wireless connectivity improvements allow the user to leave their "personal base station" in the car, but still within electronic reach while they shop?  Or will the wearable(s) get all that info from the cloud cheaply enough?  Who knows at this point?

I expect we'll see a fragmentation of the mobile products market for several years as users figure out what works best for each of them (tablet, smartphone, wearbles) but I agree, folks won't carry more than 2 such devices for very much longer.

BobsView
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Not Your Father's Oldsmobile...
BobsView   4/23/2014 1:51:44 PM
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I think the direction of Smartphones, or PDA's which is a much more accurate description of what they do, will be like the robot in the movie "Terminator" where he is looking for a verbal response and his on-board computer gives him 5 choices through his vision sensors.  He selects the one he deems the most appropriate.

So PDA's of the future will anticipate questions before you ask them and give you choices.

For instance, if the PDA detects you are wandering around aimlessly through it's onboard GPS and artificial intelligence, it will ask the question, " Do you need directions?"

Likewise, if you enter a Starbucks, it will know that, and offer you a list of coupons, or special deals based on your past purchases.

Or if you are in Macy's, it will realize that the last time you bought a pair of designer jeans was 3 years ago and you probably need a new pair so here are all the sale items.

They might even be able to anticipate your personal desires and answer email in your behalf, without your involvement!!!

The bottom line is, PDA's will evolve into Digital Mates that will keep track of your life and help you deal with your day-to-day frustrations.

Calling them "Smartphones" is terribly limiting in my opinion.

 

mxdSignal
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Smartphones
mxdSignal   4/23/2014 4:11:40 PM
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Smartphones will dominate the consolidation of all these devices. They will replace laptops as cloud applications and cloud storage advances, tablets as more large screen phones are available (iphone 6), and phones will integrate wearable functions as low power coprocessors proliferate. Also, my phone will also replace the wallet and set of keys that I carry around everyday.

Charlie Cheng
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Re: Smartphones
Charlie Cheng   4/23/2014 5:47:15 PM
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Mixsignal: We are in agreement on the format of the device (larger screen), and in fact, iPhone6/Experia/Note are all virtually the same size as Mini.  However, what I am focusing on is the subsidy economics of the Smartphone, which will be gone because we don't use the "phone app" as we did before.  It has an impact on the hand-set makers and the carriers, and ultimately the semiconductor industry.  

joondan
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Re: Smartphones
joondan   4/24/2014 4:34:00 PM
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Hi Charlie, I don't see how phones can be on their way out anytime soon; not until the cell tower data network infrastructure itself is replaced by something else entirely, which no one seems to be working on in any meaningful way. 

That is to say, what's the difference between having a smartphone with 4G LTE service and having a tablet with the same - just which side of 6 inches its on?

I know that was kind of your point in terms of tablets and phones being interchangeable, but my point is that the carrier still holds the keys to the network, even if it does find itself getting pushed from being a phone company into becoming an ISP.  And holding the keys, they still have plenty of oligopolistic power to charge a king's ransom and then subsidize devices, whether 4-6 inches or 7-10.  - this is true at least in the US; Junko raises an interesting point about the alternative of free wifi voip and chat services in China where telecoms building out 3g/4g infrastructure still face questions about costs and benefits of deployment, but that still doesn't reflect power users like yourself, who need roaming capability beyond the limits of free wifi.

Another thing about your history of laptops (1 device) to phones (2 devices) to tablets (3) and now wearables (4) is that it skips over the whole phase of cassette/cd/mp3 players, digital cameras, and ebook readers(which have been integrated into tablets) - that is to say, this period of consolidation of multiple devices already happened before

Charlie Cheng
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Re: Smartphones
Charlie Cheng   4/24/2014 4:40:45 PM
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Yes, sorry about the walkman, iPod, Newton, camera, etc. They did get sucked in, and for a while most of those were discrete.  I guess I was thinking more about computing-centric devices.  

You've stolen my punch line in the 2nd blog to follow a bit.  As you said, the format is only difference between a ... smartphone & tablet if they are both on 4G/LTE.  EXCEPT the business model, at least in the US.  One is heavily subsidized and the other isn't; and one uses carrier's voice app while the one is on ad-hoc apps.  The latter is obviously the biggest problem.  The price difference between a carrier call & a Skype call is 10X - 100X.  

joondan
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Re: Smartphones
joondan   4/24/2014 5:15:53 PM
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ah, didn't mean to steal your thunder, my apologies..

I just don't understand why it's a problem that carriers lose the phone monopoly when it translates directly into an ISP monopoly.  Customers are still a captive audience and more or less powerless if the carriers indirectly collude to raise prices to make up for their losses on billable phone time.

And if that can be prevented and everybody can pay a more reasonable fee to keep in touch with loved ones, well, everyone wins except the carriers, but they're not exactly losing either.  The device subsidies only exist because they're able to gouge customers on a fairly essential utility; device manufacturers should still be able to stand on the merits of their products without them, by offering their own payment plans if that's even an actual roadblock.

Charlie Cheng
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Re: Smartphones
Charlie Cheng   4/24/2014 5:22:12 PM
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When long distance call became competitive, AT&T got bought by baby-bell, and then the baby bells got bought by smaller firms (Worldcom started out as prison phone booth operator), etc.  So mobile carriers have a LOT to lose when their profits are taken out.  You are right, I don't care about them; I care about my love ones much more.  HOWEVER, if they don't subsidize the smartphones, I am not sure people buy as often, and if people don't buy as often, I am not sure if handset makers can afford to be as aggressive on innovation (if you call it that).  Being in the semiconductor business, yes, I do care a LOT about making sure someone pays for the innovation upfront, so the consumers don't have to sweat too much about enjoying it :-)  

joondan
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Re: Smartphones
joondan   4/24/2014 6:29:52 PM
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The level of innovation on the smartphone itself is definitely yielding less and less fundamentally important changes.. my 'ancient' galaxy s2 with an oversized battery attached still does more or less everything i want it to do, with the exception of the terrible battery life clumsily resolved.  The cpu, chipset, antenna, software, and display industries have all been 'innovating' around the same stagnant battery technology to use less power while doing more.  But apart from battery life, only the higher res display and maybe the cameras on current models really seem like a tangible step up.

Actually, I came across a video recently making the broader claim that 'mobile is dead':

http://www.theverge.com/2014/4/15/5619182/android-design-head-matias-duarte-says-mobile-is-dead

His point comes from the software side of engineering, focusing not on how multiple devices will be consolidated into fewer machines, but rather that software will eventually cease to be siloed from one device to the next, allowing for effortless transitioning between different form factors for different situations, from home to car to work and beyond.

Seems logical

TonyTib
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Re: Smartphones
TonyTib   4/24/2014 7:17:14 PM
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I suspect one difference between China & US is the density.  Even here is Silicon Valley, if I go drive along, I might continuously sniff out WiFi signals, but can't connect to most of them - because they're not publically available signals.  Publically available WiFi signals have nowhere near the coverage of 3G/4G, unless you spend your entire life at home, work, and Starbucks.


I doubt it'll catch on, but another model is a compact MiFi box that provides WiFi (and maybe Bluetooth/BLE) connectivity that everything else (dialer, tablet, wwearables, laptop) can connect too.  After all, why duplicate connectivity?

Going to the ISP model will hurt the MNO, of course, since the actual cost of voice and SMS is much, much less than the price charged.  To get an idea, think of what SIP telephony costs.  There are some MVNOs (such as Republic Wireless) that are already moving to VoIP (using data for all communications) -- Republic charges $10/month for "unlimited" voice (but I suspect if too many of your minutes are on 3G/4G instead of WiFi, you might be limted....)

JanineLove
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Re: Smartphones
JanineLove   4/25/2014 8:52:24 AM
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If the smartphone is absorbed by the tablet, then at least the roads may be safer. Much harder to hold a tablet/phablet up to your ear and drive...

chanj0
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Carrier Grade Telephone Service
chanj0   4/24/2014 3:10:47 AM
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Carrier grade telephone service is pretty much defined as five 9 service availability in telecom world. Five 9 means 99.999% availability. It effectively means no down time. As the telecom industry progress and change of people habbit, the standard maintains but the tolerance is higher. Callers expect dialtone when a phone is picked up. Callers expect a ringback tone that indicates an attempt to reach the desired party. However, callers accept a little poorer voice quality and sometimes the call reaches voice mail box instead. No doubt telephone calls are getting less popular and text messaging are getting more popular. That's why Whatsapp, WeChat and LINE become quite successful in the market. In addition, people are actually using voice service from these orignally text messaging apps if voice service is available. People do tolerant.

The beauty of smartphone is its flexibility. It's like a general purpose computer. The downside of smartphone is touch screen. It sometimes just doesn't work well with aging person with a shaky hand.

sw guy
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Variability
sw guy   4/24/2014 5:17:46 AM
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IMO, risky to draw a conclusion from local observation for a global market with strong variations in habits between different world regions (even in Europa, two neighboring countries may see very different mobility markets)

Austin Tech Watcher
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India
Austin Tech Watcher   4/24/2014 1:25:02 PM
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I've never been there, but an Indian engineer told me yesterday that the Samsung Note is very popular in his home country. When he first saw a person holding such a large device to his ear, it seemed strange, as he was visiting from the States. But now it is a commonplace view. For myself, if I have work to do, I bring a Dell notebook and an iPhone. If I am relaxing, just a Kindle.

JanineLove
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Glass
JanineLove   4/25/2014 9:45:42 AM
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Where, if anywhere, does Google Glass fit into this scenario?

Charlie Cheng
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Re: Glass
Charlie Cheng   4/26/2014 11:08:49 PM
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Yes, the road will be safer because we won't be using smartphone quite the same in the future and wearables (glass being one method) plays an important role in replacing Smartphone, IMHO.  It's much more accessible than Smartphone, and w/ voice recognition it will do much of what Smartphone does today.  I COMPLETELY AGREE with another post that people better not be doing crazy things w/ tablet while driving ... it's NOT SAFE! 

Charles.Desassure
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The Death of hte Smartphone...Driving
Charles.Desassure   4/26/2014 11:00:57 AM
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I hope we are not serious about the statement "the road will be safer" with these future devices.  Please do not drive and use your tablet devices.  Remember, all of EETimes readers are not adults.  For example, students (who are 18 years old) do visit this site.  For example, my students are required to visit this site, select a technical article, and write about the content of that article as future engineers and computer professionals.  I do not think we want readers to believe that driving with any tablet device is safe.  It is recommended that we use these tablet devices when we are not driving, please.

David Ashton
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Re: The Death of tte Smartphone USER...WHILE Driving
David Ashton   5/3/2014 4:26:05 AM
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@Charles Desassure - Amen to that.  There are enough accidents caused by people using phones now, imagine how much more there would be if people start making video calls while driving.  I have a car kit in my car and I still pull over or ring my caller back if I am in traffic and it's anything more than the wife telling me to get some milk on the way home.  I just don't trust myself to think about 2 things at once.  Here in Australia there are penalties for using phones hand-held while driving, but they are not large enough and certainly are not enforced enough, though that might be changing.  And don't get me started on texting while driving......

pmcw
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I see it differently
pmcw   4/27/2014 11:43:33 AM
 As recently as the late 1990s, we needed an "ammo belt" to carry our basic cell phone, PDA and pager (still used because cell phone minutes were expensive).  And if you were a road warrior, you also lugged your laptop, and maybe a discrete GPS. 

Today, I know many business travelers who carry only a Samsung Note on trips where they won't need to do any heavy compute work.  In short, advances in semiconductor technology fueled the law of integration, and the one thing we needed to carry most (the cell phone) sucked in the surrounding functions.

Going forward, there are two reasons why the role of the smartphone is likely to gain importance rather than lose relevance.

The "communications" device remains the most important function.  True, we use non-voice communications more frequently, and a tablet with a wireless headset can clearly duplicate the cell phone function.  However, it won't fit in your pocket.

The smartphone represents the highest capacity battery, the largest display and highest power processor we will carry.  These facts will become more meaningful going forward.

With the highest capacity battery, largest display and highest power processor, the smartphone is the natural hub for always-on / context aware connectivity.  This connectivity will span the scope of "wearable" (inclusive of implantable) and "environment" connectivity.

While there are a number of smartphones in the market today that have expanded the scope of sensor fusion with sensor hub technology, the hubs that have been deployed so far either have limited functionality / flexibility or take too much power to deliver the real benefits of always-on / context aware computing.  That will likely begin changing late this year or early next year as new hubs are deployed that operate with ~200uW (not standby) power like the QuickLogic ArcticLink 3 S1, and what I think we can reasonably anticipate as future generations that deliver higher utility at lower power.

That said, I think "glass" displays along with more robust text to voice and voice to text technology will also be fairly widely embraced.  These technologies solve the display size and keyboard size problems inherent to smartphones, but since the size of glass solutions don't lend themselves to a large enough battery to deliver all we need, I think they will at best be high-value accessories versus the core personal device.

As you consider my musing, consider the fact that Apple reported a 27% sequential decline in iPad sell-through (37% decline before adjusting for inventory changes), and DigiTimes reported a 30% sequential decline in tablet unit volume for Q1.  Apple even reported a year-over-year decline.  These data do not suggest the tablet is taking over.

What I think we're discovering is there are most certainly very compelling use cases for tablets, but the fact is they don't replace a PC for those of us who need that level of compute power or full support of Microsoft productivity software. 

 

A tablet without a keyboard also has limited utility as a communications device - I certainly wouldn't type a message this long on my tablet (okay - I get it, some readers wish I was using a tablet now).  Therefore, even if you are going to have to write a lot, you'll carry a keyboard with your tablet, and if you do that, you might as well carry a convertible laptop.

The point here is it is all use case driven - if you can get by with a smartphone when you are mobile, you likely will, and when paired with wearables like glasses, its utility will increase (absorb more use cases). 

Denis.Giri
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how big are your pockets?
Denis.Giri   5/12/2014 4:12:00 AM
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I keep my smartphone in my pocket all the time. And I'm pretty sure a tablet wouldn't fit in there.

If I need to bring a more powerful device (or larger screen), I need a bag. And in that case I'll take a device with a different OS in order to have more apps-options available to me: I'll take my laptop.

 

Do I need a tablet? no, I have a smartphone that can run all the same apps, and I keep it on me all the time.

Will wearing a smartwatch (if I ever buy one) change my device loadout? no, a tablet still doesn't fit in my pocket, and I'll keep a smartphone in my pocket for the foreseeable future.

I might add a replacement battery or charger in order to charge my watch & smartphone on the go, but that's it.

 

Does that mean that tablets will die? no, some other people use their portable device more than me and appreciate the larger screen (and are OK carrying a small bag or whatever)

Does that mean that laptops will die? no, not as long as you can't run all the same apps on tablets & laptops (and that will never happen)

 

So, what will die? nothing and everything.

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