In short: While smartphones are currently an integral part of our everyday lives, their usage is set to drop in the long term due to advancements in many other fields of electronics and technologies, industry watchers at Gartner predict. The analytics firm claims that trend already started and is pointing to the rising popularity of voice-enabled assistants powered by artificial intelligence as one early sign of the thereof. Likewise, smartwatches and other types of wearables have also been gaining momentum in recent times and will play a role in reducing the average time consumers spend with their smartphones on a daily basis, as per the same source.
While Gartner doesn't think a future wherein smartphones become entirely obsolete will arrive anytime soon, it's confident the manner in which people use them will change drastically, causing them to be left in one's pockets much more often than what's the case today. E.g. while certain retailers already offer augmented reality apps consumers can use in their stores, such solutions are likely to eventually transition to smart glasses and connected contact lenses, making smartphone-based services unnecessary, Gartner's analysts suggest. A combination of personal assistants responding to voice input and a variety of wearables will be the future of computing in general, the company predicts, asserting that evolution will provide consumers with more convenience and freedom as their eyes won't be "glued to a smartphone screen."
Gartner is calling manufacturers and other employers to start planning for that shift accordingly by investing in worker education and new technologies so as to ultimately improve the effectiveness of their operations and provide their customers with a better overall experience. The company's smartphone forecast was delivered as part of a larger report on the future of technologies which included a broad range of other predictions. Among other things, the company expects software distribution to change through an elimination of intermediaries, while also forecasting a bright future for human-machine interfaces. Swarm intelligence and nanotechnologies are another two factors likely to impact electronics moving forward, according to the company. Gartner's final prediction is that real-time language translation will get much better and eventually eliminate the roles of translators and interpreters in the global economy.
Background: Whereas the mobile industry may soon be facing a decline in daily smartphone usage, handsets are already stagnating in terms of both shipments and sales as the global market appears to have largely peaked, with consumers now holding on to their devices for longer and being less inclined to upgrade them seeing how even many entry-level offerings are deemed good enough for everyday use. Technological advancements allowed even the most frugal manufacturers to deliver versatile smartphones at aggressive prices, whereas contemporary flagships have much longer expected lifespans today.
On the other hand, the wearable segment that's now projected to be at least partially responsible for a decline in smartphone usage is still in its infancy and isn't anywhere close to contemporary handsets in terms of raw computing power. Still, following the first several iterations of the technology that mostly found success with the fitness-tracker form factor, manufacturers are now witnessing a rising demand for more full-featured smartwatches which should prompt them to commit more resources to wearable R&D, bringing such gadgets closer to the capabilities of today's smartphones.
Some modern smartwatches are already advertised as standalone products, with their ability to enable calls and messaging over 3G or 4G LTE being one of their main selling points. Many consumers still find them unintuitive to use as manufacturers continue to explore various navigation methods suitable for smaller screens. While Apple tried turning smartwatches into the next big thing in the electronics industry several years back and many companies followed suit, the overall adoption of such devices remains relatively low and nowhere near the economic boom prompted by the first iOS and Android devices a decade ago.
While new types of gadgets may eventually replace many smartphone use cases, some companies are currently also trying to reduce handset usage via other means, with the most high-profile example of such endeavors being Google. The company's Digital Wellbeing initiative seeks to improve one's balance between screen time and real life through AI-powered app and action suggestions, as well as other forms of aggressive automation. The effort is still in its early stages and currently only truly available on the firm's Pixel-series handsets but promises to eventually expand to all Android devices, making them more intuitive to use and consequently allowing consumers to spend less time staring at their mobile screens.
Impact: Given the current commercial stagnation of the global smartphone market, Gartner's prediction of decreased handset usage may signal mobile device manufacturing may never be as lucrative as it is today. Should that scenario come true, many handset makers may eventually turn their focus to wearables and other types of consumer electronics expected to partially replace smartphones. While a lot of handset vendors such as Apple, Samsung, and Huawei are already producing smartwatches and similar gadgets, they only started doing so as part of their diversification efforts and not because there was no more money to be made from handsets.
Still, combined with a significant decrease of consumer interest in handsets and the fact that everything from watches and earbuds to glasses and speakers is now becoming smarter on a daily basis, conventional cellphones may stop being our primary method of communicating with the Internet and online services sooner than anticipated. That scenario is looking all the more likely in light of initiatives like Google's Digital Wellbeing program which saw the company consciously redesign parts of the world's most popular operating system with the goal of reducing smartphone usage. Ultimately, as technology gets crazier and more impressive, the role of something as mundane as a handset will start being phased out in favor of more readily accessible and convenient means of computing, allowing consumers to become even more connected to the World Wide Web while simultaneously spending less time hunched over a mobile screen, which is something that many should find highly beneficial to their quality of life.