Forecasting the Eventual End of the Smartphone

    This week, Huawei held a general analyst event where the company highlighted what it was doing across various well-funded programs. These programs included helping to protect the rainforests, discussion of a global security program that would treat all vendors equally, advancements with its Harmony OS, and conjecture on what will replace the smartphone. 

    Given that the smartphone has become the universal hub for most of our electronics and is evolving to encompass other things like car keys and physical health, I thought the smartphone’s eventual replacement would make for a good topic. 

    Also read: The Impact of 5G on Cloud Computing

    Why the Smartphone Will be Obsolete

    As noted, the smartphone has become our hub to the connected world. We have apps for travel, apps to control our IoT devices, apps to control our new cars, apps for games, apps for work, apps to communicate, and apps to manage our schedules. The number of apps we have continues to increase and, for many, have already become too numerous to manage.

    Huawei argued that this app proliferation and the pain of reinstalling these apps and remembering all the passwords are core to why smartphone sales have hit a wall. The same thing happened to PCs around the turn of the century. Employees would refuse new PCs because they didn’t want to take the time to get the new machine to work the way they wanted.  

    Ironically, it appears that the likely place for this hub capability is to move it into the cloud; the irony is that this was where Steve Jobs initially wanted to put it. Once the apps are installed in the cloud, the user will never have to reinstall them, updates are handled behind the scenes, and the concerns about replacing either the IoT devices or your communications device are significantly reduced. You have to authenticate the device to the hub service, and you are up and running. 

    Access to the cloud hub could then be from anything securely connected to it like your smart devices (by voice or screen), car, or digital assistant. This decentralization of control points means the need for a higher level of user authentication will be needed. If many IoT devices can gain control access, this presents an equally large number of opportunities for a breach. 

    Also read: Best Mobile Application Management Tools for Enterprise

    The Need for an IoT Cloud Service

    This cloud hub concept suggests a growing need for an IoT cloud service that can encompass all your devices and host most of your apps that don’t need to run locally. To my knowledge, no such service yet exists, but it is likely to emerge. 

    The issue to address is common control interfaces because, right now, most of the systems we need to control come with dedicated apps and don’t work with third-party services. However, this is changing. Apple, Google, and Amazon are all trying to aggregate IoT controls within their various digital assistant solutions. Still, there isn’t a lot of sharing between them. Indeed, Apple will likely fight this trend given it may make the iPhone redundant and the company’s web competency leave much to be desired. 

    However, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and even IBM (for high-security customers) will likely embrace this along with the overseas cloud providers. These services could emerge at any time, but I’d expect them to mature in the 2025 to 2030 timeframe. Given China can dictate standards, that country likely has a considerable advantage in this pivot. Still, the U.S. Government Endless Frontier Bill, now under initial review, may help close that gap.

    Also read: Gauging the IoT Fear Factor

    History Repeating 

    The smartphone is approaching the end of life. It isn’t clear what will replace it, but Huawei’s argument that it will be a centralized cloud-based service is likely. As noted, the timing is still years off, and Apple is likely to resist this change because they are out of position. But Apple isn’t the bellwether they once were, and given they don’t license their product and technologies,  their resistance may be seen as an opportunity by those seeking to displace them. 

    The emerging Cloud IoT services provide IoT, peripheral, and computer companies an opportunity to generate revenue on the pivot and move around competitors who aren’t prepared for change. Recall a similar pivot to the large screen smartphone caught Nokia, Blackberry, Microsoft, Motorola, and Palm unprepared and dramatically changed the cellphone market. 

    This coming pivot is likely to impact more than just smartphones, and we are still only at the beginning of what many call the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

    Read next: Changing Application Landscape Raises New Cybersecurity Challenges

    Rob Enderle
    Rob Enderle
    As President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, Rob provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market, target customer needs, create new business opportunities, anticipate technology changes, select vendors and products, and practice zero dollar marketing. For over 20 years Rob has worked for and with companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, USAA, Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel, Credit Suisse First Boston, ROLM, and Siemens.

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