We’ve been living with smartphones for about ten years now -- a bit more if you count the earliest Windows models and those made by BlackBerry and Nokia. (Note: I don’t.) The first iPhone came out in 2007, and the first Android model shipped in 2008. If you didn’t notice, it might have something to do with the economic crisis at the time. The smartphone became a major trend in society around 2010, and it wasn’t until around 2013 or 2014 -- around the launch of the iPhone 6 -- that you would see people hunched over their phones at airports.
Are we really better off? That’s debatable. I’ve been in meetings where people who would normally be engaged with the discussion checked their phones as many as 20 times in one meeting, often as a reaction to a notification and nothing more.
Life after the smartphone will be wondrous. We’ll be amazingly productive. Our faces won’t be filled with light, our fingers won’t be a chaotic symphony. We won’t be strangled by USB charging cables. We'll never have nomophobia.
As you could probably guess if you’ve read this column lately, you know that smartphones will be replaced by artificially intelligent bots. They already live among us. Soon, they won’t run on our phones or laptops. They will just run. They will exist in the cloud, at your office, in your car, and everywhere you happen to need help and stay productive.
First, they need to get a lot smarter.
A companion bot will follow you constantly -- sometimes literally. You’ll talk to the bot, but simple tasks like asking about the weather or the Golden State Warriors playoff schedule will seem trite. This will all happen around the year 2020 or 2022. We’ll dictate emails, but much more. We’ll ask the bot to summarize important emails. The bot will respond to emails it reads on our behalf. We might retreat to an office workstation for long-form typing and to deal with the most important emails (and to edit photos and videos, or write code) but almost every task you can imagine doing on your smartphone today -- such as posting on social media, checking for directions, playing music, checking for news summaries, and snapping a photo -- will be something you do by voice instead, or even better -- something the bot predicts and does for you.
When you walk into your office in the morning, a headless AI will identify you and change the lights to the dim level you prefer. You’ll hear the new album by Future Islands (if they still exist), not because you know it just came out, but because the bot knows what you might like it. There’s thunder outside and the bot knows it (and so do you), so it will tell you about any imminent dangers. (The bot might even decide to put your car in a covered parking lot to avoid hail damage.)
That eliminates any need for Spotify, the HomeKit app to control lighting on an iPhone, and a weather app. You won’t need to dictate a social media post using Alexa or the Google Assistant -- those bots will evolve to the point where it knows what you normally like to post (and when). It will read your email, track the news, and note your online searches by voice. Here's an example:
“John, I’ve prepared a social media post with photos. It has a tinge of sarcasm as usual. Do you want me to read it to you or go ahead and post?”
For photos, we won’t go back to a digital camera. Instead, there will be something brand new (and possibly a little familiar). It won’t be Google Glass, but it could be something more subtle that sits next to your eye and can snap any photo at any time (in high-res). In fact, the bot will know when to snap a photo, where to post it, and what to say. We won't say: I don't need Google Glass because I can do everything on my phone. We'll say: I don't need a phone because my bot does everything.
The point is -- we’re fumbling around with phones way too often. We charge them constantly. We have too many apps. That’s going to change in the next few years or at least by 2025. All of our apps will go away, replaced by a personal bot in the cloud. We won’t carry phones, because the technology we need to access will be embedded in mirrors, speakers, desks, and other sensors in the office and at home. The bot will “just work” like the original iPhone.
By 2028, we won’t even remember why we were so addicted to smartphones.