It’s become fashionable lately to whine about how “boring” smartphones have become, especially among Wall Street analysts who insist on telling us that Apple/Samsung/Microsoft/Everyone is “doomed” if they don’t come out with the “Next Big Thing” soon. This sort of absurdity reached amazing new heights recently when Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdry said that Apple only had 60 days left to release an “iWatch” before the company disappeared forever.
What most of these analysts don’t understand is this: Major disruptions in the computing market are very rare and typically only happen once in a decade at most. In the late ’70s and early ’80s you had the Apple II and the first IBM PC duking it out for supremacy. In the 1990s you had the triumph of Windows. In the late part of the 2000s, you had the rise of the iPhone and Android.
Really, those are the three major epochs in personal computing history: The first personal computers, the rise of Windows as the world’s dominant computing platform and then the rise of smartphones led by iOS and followed shortly after by Android. Every other innovation over this time period has done little to alter the basic landscape of personal computing in the same way that these three once-in-a-decade game-changers did.
Even tablets, which have certainly become very popular computing devices and have eaten into traditional PC sales, are basically just the aftershocks of the original smartphone earthquake. And simply put, there’s no way that tablets would have been as successful as they were if smartphones hadn’t already laid the groundwork for them by fostering huge mobile app ecosystems.
What does all this mean? It means we’re probably stuck with smartphones as the most exciting and compelling computing devices for at least another few years. I can say this with some confidence in part because I write about new kinds of technology every single day and I know that nothing still generates more interest and enthusiasm among gadget fans than details about new smartphones, whether it’s the iPhone 5s, the Galaxy S5, the HTC One (M8), or new Nokia Lumia and BlackBerry models.
Tablets, meanwhile, do generate interest but only for the major brands: The iPad, Google’s Nexus series and, to a lesser extent, Amazon’s Kindle series. As for smartwatches, nothing I’ve seen so far makes me think that there’s any significant enthusiasm for them even among gadget geeks. The basic sentiment I’ve picked up is that smartwatches are seen as cool but not an essential part of personal computing like smartphones are, and unless something changes they’ll strictly be niche products.
Just because there won’t be another major game-changer over the next few years doesn’t mean that we should see smartphones as boring, however. The market for smartphones is still incredibly competitive and Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft will all be trying their best to one-up each other to create the coolest smartphones the world has ever seen.
“There won’t be another iPhone, not even if Steve Jobs were still running Apple, not for many years to come,” Rene Ritchie smartly writes. “But there will be many, many things that, taken together, make the iPhone much more valuable. There won’t be anything as big as the iPhone but there will be things that, taken together, make the iPhone bigger.”