Smartphones can be too good

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns . I’m going to ask a deliberately provocative que...


This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns.

I’m going to ask a deliberately provocative question: what if smartphones were so efficient and useful that they stunt innovation?

Technologists are now imagining what could be the next big thing. But there may never be anything other than the smartphone, the first and perhaps the last mainstream and transformative computer on a global scale.

I might end up looking like a 19th century futurist who couldn’t imagine that horses would be replaced by cars. But let me make the point that the smartphone phenomenon may never happen again.

First, when tech scientists imagine the future, they implicitly bet that smartphones will be displaced as the center of our digital life by less obvious things – not slabs that take us away from our world but technologies that are almost indistinguishable from the air we breathe.

Virtual reality glasses are now a bulky annoyance, but the gamble is that technology like VR or computers that can “learn” like people will eventually blur the line between online and real life, and between human and computer, to the point of blurring it. This is the vision behind the “metaverse” a broad view that virtual human interactions will be as complex as reality.

Maybe you think more immersive, more human tech sounds intriguing, or maybe they look like crazy woo-woo dreams. (Or maybe a bit of both.) Either way, technologists need to prove to us that the future they imagine is more compelling and useful than the digital life we ​​already have thanks to the magical supercomputers in our lives. pockets.

The challenge for any new technology is that smartphones have become so successful that it’s hard to imagine any alternatives. In a sales boom that lasted for about a decade, devices went from being new to wealthy nerds to being the only computer billions of people around the world have ever owned. Smartphones have succeeded to the point that we no need to pay them a lot of notice. (Yes, this includes the gradually updated iPhone models which Apple spoke about on Tuesday.)

The attraction of these devices in our lives and in the imaginations of technologists is so powerful that any new technology must now exist almost in opposition to the smartphone.

When my colleague Mike Isaac tried The new model of glasses from Facebook who can take pictures by tapping on the temple, a company executive told him, “Isn’t that better than having to pull out your phone and hold it in front of your face every time you want to capture it?” one moment ?

I understand the point of the executive. It’s true that devices like the Apple Watch, Facebook glasses, and Snap glasses are smart at making smartphone functionality less intrusive. Companies including Facebook, Break and Apple are also working on glasses which, like the failed Google Glass, aim to combine digital information such as maps with what we see around us.

The comment also shows that any new consumer tech will have to answer the inevitable questions: why should I buy another gadget to take photos, ride the bike routes, or play music when I can do most of that with the smartphone. which is already in my pocket? Do I live in the Metaverse when I have a similar experience on my phone’s rectangular screen?

Smartphones are unlikely to be the apotheosis of technology, and I’m curious to see the development of technologies that want to move away from it. But at least for now, and maybe forever, most of the tech for our day to day lives are additions to our phones rather than replacements. These little computers are perhaps so practical that there will never be a post-smartphone revolution.


  • Should you buy a new phone now? In a recent column, my colleague Brian X. Chen went through the questions to ask if you are thinking of exchange your smartphone for a new model: Can you fix what makes your phone boring rather than replacing it? Can you still get software updates with the existing model? How would a new phone change your life?

  • We wanted flying cars and got an $ 850 robot vacuum that moves around dog doo: To build the latest Roomba, the company “built over 100 physical models of animal dung, and algorithms trained on over a hundred thousand images to make the device avoid shit, ”writes the Washington Post. In addition, bots collect a lot of data inside your home. (The Roomba is still confused by black striped carpet, although.)

  • “It’s a surprisingly dark sight, and it’s on purpose.” It’s a reflection trial about a new famous family-focused streaming video series from TikTok that humanizes people who are pushed to social media stardom.

Check out these video clips of a barred owl nest in Indiana. Baby owls learning to fly are really the cutest things.


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