Predict the future of mobile technology: Follow the use

In a way, there’s no surprise about the subdued impact of smart watches, the failure of Google Glass, and the continued dominance of smartphones.

And, by the same measure, you can predict the general trends of these technologies several years into the future.

How? You simply look at how technology is used. Look at the physical characteristics that we require from devices everyday.

And everything makes sense.

Consider two types of interaction we have every day with technology:

  • We read (a lot)
  • We watch video content (and are watched, with built-in cameras).

These form an incredible percentage of our time, and are not changing any time soon. Whether you’re reading emails, scanning through Facebook posts, watching YouTube, reviewing your big presentation, browsing your Instagram feed, analyzing the spreadsheet totals… all these uses fall into these two categories. Let’s call these the ‘thousands of uses’, things most of us do every day.

And to do most of these well, you need a visual surface that’s big enough for us to:

  • Read or watch content with visual ease
  • Scan around a large enough amount of content that we don’t spend our entire time scrolling to find what we want or are interested in.

So you need a visual area that you can look at, because audio could only handles a small percentage of those thousands of uses without becoming cumbersome and overwhelming. (Users with visual accessibility needs understand this fully.)

And that visual area needs to be a certain size to meet those two criteria. And we need to look at it in an incredibly diverse range of places, from sitting at the bar, to the middle of a long meeting, to the bus ride home. And it needs to be safe, and socially acceptable, to use it in all those places.

The only visual device that fits that need right now is a screen.

‘Smart glasses’ are not (yet) socially acceptable everywhere, and the displays aren’t (yet) good enough, and you can’t quickly interact with them because there’s no keyboard, and you can’t use voice control in every physical environment, and you can’t use voice to easily indicate where you want to interact on a visual surface, and, and, and.

Smart watches just don’t have a big enough screen, until a watch can unfold, project, unroll, or something similar. And that’s socially and practically laughable anyway, even if it was technically feasible—only projection may make sense, and that’s years away. So, for the near future, smart watches will ‘only’ complement our life. Apple figured that out with Series 2, which is why all the ads now target health and fitness. It’s found a good niche for now. Message updates, sure. Video chat, sure. But spreadsheet reviews, Facebook perusing, feature length movies? No.

The big ‘virtual assistant / AI’ push makes sense, but those technologies are intrinsically tied to speaking and listening. I can’t ask Siri to read an entire presentation to me. Google Assistant won’t talk me through my favorite movie on the bus. Cortana would take 100 times longer to speak through spreadsheet totals than if I could visually see them all. And let alone all the situations where you simply can’t speak or have sound: meetings, bedtime, movie theatres, noisy environments. So yes, assistants are important, and can help us do amazing things. But they’re not going to replace screens any time soon.

So, we need a screen that’s big enough. No mobile technology comes close other than a smartphone. And because (for all the reasons I’ve stated) other technologies are not close to replacing it, you can confidently predict that smartphones will be heavily in our lives for many years to come.

Now, what we call a ‘smartphone’ may change and evolve. But until they can unfold, unroll, or project, they’re going to be a certain physical size—much as they are now—and they will therefore be in our pockets.

With this in mind, you can look at the Google Pixel, the iPhone range, Samsung’s range, and more, and see how valuable this market continues to be.

And you can look at smart watches and wearables, and see all the physical uses and situations where they make sense. Voice-controlled virtual assistants, video chats, message alerts, augmented reality (not to be underestimated), and more—lots of potential as complementary devices. Incredibly important market to be in.

So raise a glass to the smartphone, it’s still got a good life ahead.