_77782703_smartphonesmanyafpNewsweek has a piece today looking at the future of smartphones. To wit, author Kevin Maney doesn’t seem to think they really have one—at least insofar as amazing improvements go. Modern smartphones have gotten just about as good as they can get, and more and more important functions will be moving to the cloud.

Maney doesn’t directly touch on e-books, though his way of thinking is right in line with Paul’s recent post on web-based e-reading apps:

From now on, all the real innovation will happen outside your phone—in apps, the cloud and other connected devices. “We’re at the cusp of a transition to wanting our technology on us and around us,”Phillippe Kahn, one of the great inventors of mobile technology, told me recently. “Instead of having to carry gadgets, technology will just be there. The more we forget the technology, the better.”

He foresees cars getting smart enough to take voice commands and use head-up displays for music playlists, to spare drivers from “try[ing] to stab the screen with your thumb while going 72 miles per hour.” (It should be noted, however, that studies suggest talking over speaker phone while driving is actually just as distracting as talking on a physical phone held up to your head, so it’s not clear just how much of an improvement this would really be.)

He also predicts that more appliances will take their cues from Amazon’s Echo, which will listen and respond to voice commands without a smartphone being necessary. The smartphone won’t “go away” per se, but it will become more of a dumb pocket screen, with the actual smarts of the operation stored elsewhere.

And finally, he also expects individual apps to dwindle in favor of personal assistant apps like Google Now, Siri, or Cortana that can “de-silo and unbundle the function of apps” (according to Google director Aparna Chennapragada). No more fumbling about trying to find the specific app you want to open, or having to install dozens of different apps on every device you use.

As prognostication goes, it seems fairly reasonable—if a bit generic, and also kind of old news. After all, Google has been leading the push toward web apps for years now with its services for everything from reading e-books to playing music to writing Word or Excel documents—and has been leading the move toward thin hardware clients with its Chromebooks. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that if they keep on moving in that direction, sooner or later they’re going to get there, and bring the rest of the world along for the ride.

But at the same time, there’s a certain danger in declaring that a technology, such as cell phones, has gone as far as it can just because you can’t see it going any farther. History is replete with examples of people making sweeping predictions of that nature that later turn out to be dead wrong. Also, it’s hard to imagine the manufacturers of all those different apps willingly letting their product be replaced by an app aggregator.

And the danger of storing everything in the cloud is that you can lose access to it if your ISP blocks it, or if a fiber is cut. Granted, this isn’t something that people have to worry about very often, but it can happen.

Still, we’re reaching the point in mobile technology development where the future is getting more and more exciting every year. It should be interesting to see whether time eventually proves Mr. Maney right.

(As a side note, Newsweek has gone to a really annoying paywall, to try to get you to subscribe after a certain number of free articles. If you encounter this problem, just open an incognito or private browsing window and copy and paste the URL into it.)


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