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Smartphones getting dumb


When the first iPhone was launched in Singapore, I stood in a queue overnight for 8 hours, to grab one. Mine was the first white iPhone in my (then) office. Many of my (then) colleagues were amused at the simple design of the iPhone. I distinctly remember a senior mocking at the only 1 home button, and another one rotating the screen several times.. only to write-off iPhone as a gaming device for kids. I attempted to reason in vain with their ignorance, and told them that in 6 months each of them would be carrying an iPhone in their pockets. Time proved me right, thanks to my extensive reading of tech journals and magazines. iPhone was a milestone in the story of smartphone devices, as it raised the bar and set an all new standard in the industry. Since then, I have become an early adopter of technology (read as - living on the bleeding edge of technology). My only regret is that I could not monetize my thoughts, by buying stocks of Apple in time.

Then came iPad. Going from iPhone to iPad was like watching the "before and after" pictures of Pamela Anderson, after her infamous implants. It's not too hard to imagine where does Silicon Valley get it's inspiration from. Speaking of Silicon Valley, in the words of Bill Gate "I have been predicting the adoption of tablet devices for many years, either I will turn out to be right or dead". iPad ignited a meteoric rise of tablet devices. It made possible what many tech evangelists had been envisioning, but were unable to execute. The simplest way to define a tablet device thus became, it is everything an iPad is and isn't. Apple's promise to turn their device into a media-hub for a consumer succeded, in the next 1 year.
 
Let's take a look back at the origin of smartphones - it was a result of convergence, between the mobile-phone and (wireless) internet computing. For many years smartphones have dominated the industry. But with the arrival of the tablet devices, the game has changed. Tablet devices have penetrated the mainstream consumer market. The likes of iPad copycats, and some failed attempts from BlackBerry; Acer; Motorla; and Toshiba have had one great impact - it has commoditized the tablet. As I write this blog, the launch of Microsoft Windows tablet called "Surface" is due on 26 Oct, and a 7 inch iPad Mini is scheduled to launch on 23 Oct. Another notable phenomenon is the App'diction. Today's consumers are hooked on to the Apps. In fact, the App is the new browser. It was quantitatively proven that the app usage had eclipsed the browser, in a study by an analytics firm called 'Flurry'.

Now put together the penetration of tablets with the phenomenon of App'diction - and you have a breed of App'oholics who are hooked on to a large screen. This is an althogther new frontier in convergence. To be precise this is the battle ground between Apple; Samsung; and Google today.

I am one of the many App'oholics who only uses iPad. I don't use a laptop, destop or a smartphone anymore. I can understand why desktop and laptops have dropped off from my list, but I often wonder about my old iPhone lying idle. It makes me wonder, why do we need a smartphone today, if it becomes redundant with a tablet. If my usage of smartphone has declined, so should for millions of other people. The preliminary answer lies in convergence. Tablets are a new frontier in the convergence between smartphones and laptops. In simple words, the smartphone as a category of device - has increasingly become irrelevant today!
 
This blog would not be complete without the mention of Samsung, which has launched devices in so many form-factors, that it has blurred the lines between the tablet and a smartphone. It first caught my eye, when i visited my neighbour for her son's 1st month celebration. For her petite figure and demure looks, I was rather surprised when she pulled-out a 5 inch Samsung Galaxy Note, to record my number. What surprised me more was that as soon as she wrote my number, Google auto populated my full name and a picture *gulp*. But that is not the subject of this blog-post, so lets hammer Google on privacy issues in another post. My point is that, the customer's appetite for larger screens is growing. Today, in Singapore which is a microcosm of any ultra urbanized market (like US, Japan, or HK) - the market is just ripe for a 5 to 7 inch device.
 
This makes anything smaller look dumb, as in smartphones. Let me explain, everything in this world is perceived as relative. Thus, there is a natural tendency to compare the smartphone screen size with the tablets. In contrast to the larger Samsung phones and tablets like iPad & Note II, the smartphones visibly look dumb and outdated. This was evident in the launch of iPhone 5, which disappointed many for it's awkward screen size. The Economist rated it as a 5 out of 10.
 
Based on this premise, one would argue what does the future hold for the smartphone? My sense is that, a phone is nothing but an App on a tablet device. That is where it will end up in the next 3 years. The telecom service providers will not be able to hang on to their legacy voice and text services for revenue, and will shift to monetize the data usage on 4G networks. If you have used Skype or FaceTime on iPad, you have already got a sense of it.
 
I am conviced that smartphones will become obselete, as a result of convergence. The future of handheld devices is going to rest between 7 to 10 inch tablets. I have finally understood why smartphones have begun to look dumb lately.