If you look at the big technological innovations of the past decades, an interesting pattern emerges: their adoption always seems to follow a similar s-curve. They get introduced, get traction and eventually due to new innovations, they fade out. At In The Pocket, we believe we’re at the top of another s-curve, the one containing the invention and evolution of the smartphone. Every end is the beginning of something new, but what will that be? Are we ready to say farewell to the smartphone? And what might replace it?
To answer these questions, it might be a good idea to look at the life cycle of a product. In general, we can divide that cycle into four different stages: Introduction, Growth, Maturity, Decline. You could split up the first stage in a development stage and a market introduction. The last stage could also be divided into saturation and finally a decline of the product offering, but for the sake of keeping it concise, we hold on to these four stages.
We write the year 1994. IBM launches the very first smartphone named Simon Personal Communicator. Two years earlier, the very first prototype appeared with the codename Angler. It was the very first device that combined a touchscreen, phone and PDA functionality like e-mailing. The special thing about this device is that it was mobile. Although the battery only lasted for one hour, it really was the beginning of what we now deem to be a commodity: the smartphone. Other companies soon followed, with Nokia releasing its 9000 communicator, which turned out to become the world’s best-selling PDA. Like we often see in this first introduction stage, the cost of adoption is high. The early adopters paid high prices for a product that was far from ideal. Most people in this early stage bought both a PDA and a mobile phone.
At the end of the 90’s and the beginning of this century, the market grew steadily. Major competitors were Blackberry, Nokia and Windows. Most of these smartphones had a physical keyboard which in some cases could be slid away underneath the screen. Navigation either could be handled by using a stylus or the keyboard itself. It wasn’t until the launch of the LG Prada, and a month later the very first iPhone, that smartphones started to get into - what you could call - a final shape. No longer did you need a stylus or a physical keyboard for navigation or text insertion. Instead, you could interact through a touchscreen and by using gestures you could zoom, pinch, drag and have a truly unique way of interacting with a device.
The third phase of the smartphone product cycle can be marked by continuous hardware upgrades and improvements, but also with the introduction of some very important software updates. Both Apple and Google built a complete ecosystem around their devices with both releasing a mobile operating system, a dedicated store for applications and the tools for developers to built those experiences. During the past decade, these two companies dominated the market. Other companies like Microsoft, Palm and Blackberry didn’t manage to keep up with the annual updates both of the other tech giants provided and were quickly pushed out of the smartphone market.
These days, smartphones are incredibly fast computers that fit into your pocket. They’ve become a commodity in our society and it might be even weird if you don’t have one, but we might see signals that the smartphone reached the market cap. Updates aren’t that spectacular anymore, the cost of a device also seemed to have reached a certain threshold as people don’t want to pay more than a thousand euro every two years for a new phone and real innovation comes to a halt. This might indicate that the smartphone market has reached the top of the s-curve and is now ready to decline. Early figures already indicate that Apple doesn’t sell as many devices as they used to anymore and in general, the smartphone market is losing traction as a whole. All of these things are strong indicators that we are entering the last phase of the product life cycle: decline.
Every end is the beginning of something new. The last couple of years, the developments in the field of AR are promising. Chances are we'll go from flatware - 2D screen based interfaces - to spatialware in which the world itself becomes our interface. In our SHIFT 2020 report, we already talked about the AR Cloud. Combine this with the rumours about AR smart glasses and you know it will play a big part in what lies ahead of us. In any case, the biggest conclusion is, we can start to say farewell to the smartphone, it is only a matter of time.
Stay updated for part 2
In this first part of our article, we talked about how technological adaptation and its s-curves define our lives. We projected the smartphone onto the four stages of the lifecycle of a product and came to the conclusion that the smartphone is entering its final stage. Every end is a new beginning, so as part 1 comes to an end, we are thrilled to guide you through what could be the successor of the smartphone in part 2!