Will SmartWatches Replace the SmartPhone?

2017 has been a year of some debate in technological circles. With the market for smartwatches steadily growing in recent months and more models scheduled for release over the next few, the questioning being asked right now is, will the smartphone eventually succumb to it’s smaller, more portable prodigy?

Some say yes, smartwatches will eclipse the smartphone, whilst some insist that the phone is too classic an invention to ever be replaced.

The Inevitable Death of the Smartphone Is Upon Us.

Midway through 2016, Mike Elgan wrote an article for ComputerWorld hypothesising the (in his opinion) radical changes that were about to occur in the world of smartphones. He was writing around the time Apple released their iPhone model lacking an audio jack. This, he argued, would pave the way for more development in ‘wearables’ – wireless headphones, predominantly, but he also discussed smartwatches and reality augmenters, like virtual reality glasses. If wearables became more advanced, they would reduce the need for a user to reach into their pocket throughout the day to access their phone. Phones would become more compact, getting smaller and smaller whilst wearables became more and more advanced, until…. smartphones no longer existed, replaced instead by a collection of wearables that, individually may not be superior to the phone (after all, headphones can only tackle the audio features) but, when worn together, offered the user a far greater experience. “Ultimately,” he writes.

“We’ll opt for smaller smartphones that we almost never remove from our pockets, purses and backpacks. And then one day all the electronics normally built into a smartphone will fit into a smartwatch and we’ll be done with smartphones forever.”

The future he paints is a futuristic dystopia, where people have become, in effect, the computers- and like it. “Wearables will work together to give us an invisible user interface.” he continues. “…[and] This vision of mobile ‘personal computing’ will be intensely personal.”

However. That was 2016.

A year on, and the people of 2017 do still talk to one another- sometimes. We haven’t got to the stage where we’re all wearing virtual reality glasses and chatting about the weather with our virtual PA. And, arguably, wireless headphones haven’t kicked off as much as Elgan thought they would- despite Apple’s newest iPhone 8 also lacking an audio jack, not every phone on the market has followed suit.

In an article for MoorInsightStrategy.com, Brian Pitstick quite aptly points out that those who insist smartwatches will render the smartphone obsolete probably also insisted tablets and phones would replace the PC. But this wasn’t the case- whilst PC sales have certainly declined, they still remain the superior choice for heavy-duty work, such as content creation and computing.

“Just like tablets did with PCs,” he writes.

“Wearables will steal cycles from your phone as they are more optimised for certain situations. However, they will not replace everything your phone can do (nor should they).”

The reason he gives for this is that wearables should not be swiss army knives that attempt to do everything, and be everything. They should be extensions of the products that currently, successfully exist (that’s smartphones) and find a solution to that particular saturated market, without destroying it. Brian believes that companies looking to create a device aimed at replacing the smartphone will fail – it needs to be an expert in it’s specified field, not a Jack of All Trades.

Like Mike Elgan believes, the beauty of the wearable for Pitstick is that it is “sleek, easy to interact with, more socially acceptable in certain situations, and less cumbersome to carry.” But, he warns, “As soon as you try to build in capabilities to replace your smartphone, it severely impacts these benefits.”

He gives running as an example- and it’s a fitting one. A Nike Fuelband, Basis smartwatch, or Adidas smart running watch are much more beneficial in this particular circumstance than a standard smartphone. Nobody wants to carry a heavy phone whilst running, or fiddle with getting it out of their pockets to change songs, look at the screen or generally interact with it. Smartwatches, on the flip side, fit comfortably on your wrist, are easy to glance at, and provide the info you want- nowadays they can track your heart rate, and provide GPS and a whole host of other useful things that do, arguably, make them more appealing than phones.

But. If Smartwatches go too far, they’ll risk jeopardising themselves with their own success. “Build in too many capabilities into a wearable”, Brian warns, “and no one will want to use it.”

The point he is making is that, for the example of running, at least, people don’t want a phone. Often people run to get away from their hectic daily lives. They don’t need or want a smartwatch that can link to their emails or make voice calls.

Mike seems to think that developing smart wearables that cover all the bases of a smartphone will eclipse the older model as people flock to the smaller, lighter, possibly cheaper choice. Brian, however, thinks the opposite will happen – that to break through the saturated smartphone market can only occur if companies view wearables as “digital ecosystem devices that are not full replacements for other devices” but, are, instead, a product in their own right.

Undoubtedly, the future of the infant smartwatch is still unclear- there are so many unanswerable questions. Will companies seek to replace the smartphone, or establish their own market, and will they be successful in their choice? Is there room for the two products to co-exist?

What we do know, however, is that with the right approach, smartwatches can become game-changers in the dynamic mobile ecosystem, and will have a place- even if it’s only fleeting – in the history of telecommunications.

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