Saturday, December 4, 2021

Smartphones can be great

by Shira Ovidehandjob The New York Times Company

I’m going to pose a deliberately provocative question: What if smartphones are so successful and useful that they are stifling innovation?

Technologists are now imagining what the next big thing could be. But nothing can ever be the first and perhaps the last mass market and globally transformative computer like a smartphone.

I look like a 19th century futurist who couldn’t have imagined that horses would be replaced by cars. But let me make the case that the smartphone phenomenon can never be replicated.

First, when people in technology envision the future, they implicitly bet that smartphones as the center of our digital lives will be displaced by things that are less obvious – not slabs that keep us from our world. But technologies that are almost indistinguishable from the air we breathe.

Virtual reality goggles are a huge annoyance now, but the bet is that technology like VR or computers that can “learn” like people will eventually blur the line between online and real life and human and computer to the point of erasing. That’s the vision behind the “metaverse,” a broader vision that virtual human interaction will be just as complex as the real thing.

Maybe you’re thinking that more immersive and human-ish technologies sound interesting, or maybe they sound like Cook’s alluring dreams. (Or maybe a little bit of both.) Either way, technologists have to prove to us that the future they envision is more compelling and useful than the digital life we ​​already have in our pockets. Thanks for the supercomputer.

The challenge for any new technology is that smartphones reach the point where alternatives are hard to imagine. In a sales boom that lasted nearly a decade, the device transformed from a novelty to a one-off computer for wealthy nerds owned by billions of people around the world. Smartphones have become successful to such an extent that we do not need to give them much notice. (Yes, that includes the incrementally updated iPhone models that Apple talked about on Tuesday.)

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So powerful is the allure of these devices in our lives and in the imaginations of technologists that any new technology now exists as opposed to a smartphone.

When my New York Times colleague Mike Isaacs tried out Facebook’s new model of glasses that could snap photos with a single tap on the temple, a company executive told him: “Would it be worth taking your phone out and putting it in front? Isn’t better than. On your face every time you want to capture a moment?”

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