Ever since people embraced the idea of smartphones circa 2008, the consumer electronics industry has never been the same. These days, our phones play music, TV shows, and movies, browse the Internet, make payments, organize our schedule, control our TVs, run beautiful games, and perform a bunch of other activities which all sounded like science fiction ten or so years ago. Smartphones created the app economy worth tens of billions of dollars while the phone market itself is already a trillion-dollar industry. Most analysts agree that six billion people will have access to smartphones by 2020, so the market itself still has a lot of room for growth. Regardless of that, a significant portion of the tech industry is already on the lookout for the next big thing. In fact, some notable individuals in the business are predicting smartphones will become obsolete in the not-too-distant future.
With the rising popularity of the Internet of Things (IoT) industry that produces devices like smartwatches and smart glasses and is already close to commercializing Internet-enabled clothing, it's not unreasonable to presume that something will replace smartphones at some point in the future. However, it's quite likely that many consumer electronics manufacturers are jumping the gun when it comes to delivering an alternative to modern phones. A lot of players in the industry ranging from smartwatch makers and smart glasses startups to headphone companies and even phone manufacturers themselves are already investing significant resources in hopes of replacing smartphones. In all likelihood, that approach is misguided.
The Tizen-powered Gear S3 Frontier is a perfect example of this impatient strategy. While Samsung is the largest phone maker in the world, the Seoul-based tech giant is advertising its latest smartwatch with a motto "leave your phone behind." Now, who actually wants to do that? A recent study conducted by the venture capital company Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers found that people check their phones approximately 150 times every day. In fact, the fear of being without a mobile phone even has a name; it's called "nomophobia" and has been coined over half a decade ago. Sure, you could argue that people shouldn't be as addicted to smartphones as much as they currently are, but that's not the point here. The point is that the average consumer is so heavily dependent on their phone that asking them to leave it behind for the next big thing is misguided at best and ridiculous at worst. Simply speaking, it's unrealistic to expect that smartphones are going away anytime soon and even if they do, that change certainly won't happen overnight like some manufacturers are hoping it will.
Instead of trying to replace smartphones, the tech industry would probably be better off directing its resources in trying to complement them. The wearable startup Bragi realized this and dropped the idea of trying to replace a smartphone with something else. In this case, the company abandoned the idea of creating a follow-up to its pair of smart headphones capable of standalone functionality. Instead, Bragi came up with The Headphone, a pair of Bluetooth headphones designed to act as a regular audio accessory and complement any smartphone. The Headphone facilitates simple tasks like switching songs and answering calls and allows for some unique features like overlaying sounds from your surroundings with digital audio. However, this pair of smart headphones makes no attempt to replace your smartphone, just make you use it a bit less not because Bragi told you so, but because it's actually more convenient to answer a call by tapping on your headphone. In other words, this startup made a smartphone accessory instead of a smartphone replacement, and consumers rewarded it for the effort. Creating a device that complements a phone is not only cheaper but also easier to advertise, both of which equals better commercial prospects.
On the other side of things, this influx of half-baked phone replacements can also be explained by the abundance of cheap smartphone components on the market. As Benedict Evans, a San Francisco-based tech investor recently mentioned to Wired, a lot of parties in the industry are attempting to force a revolutionary device simply because it became incredibly inexpensive to make one. Of course, none of them have yet managed to design something that not only serves as a smartphone alternative but is also more useful than a smartphone. As things stand right now, none of them will, either.
With that in mind, modern phones likely aren't going away anytime soon, especially not with recent advancements in virtual reality and other industries, most of which are reliant on smartphones to operate. The point is, they aren't reliant because they can't operate on their own, they're reliant because consumers aren't willing to replace their pocket companions. Looking at the current situation on the market, the popularity of smartphones could only be challenged in some distant future when someone comes up with something that's significantly more advanced and convenient than a pair of expensive and cumbersome headphones running some awful reskin of Android.