The Smartphone Continues to Prove Its Form Factor Perfection

David Pierce, the Verge:

Smartphones may be boring now, but that’s only because they’ve been so good for so long. As they’ve become so entrenched and ubiquitous in our lives, they’ve become even harder to disrupt. How do you beat the device that can do everything and is always with you? Battery life, I suppose. But good luck with that on your AR glasses.

The iPhone was, as Brian Mccullough put it on the tenth anniversary of the device’s announcement, “conceptually perfect”. Just about every post-iPhone smartphone has been a clear evolution of that first model in almost every single way: a device small enough to fit in your pocket but with a display for immersive applications, with a wide range of connectivity options, and a battery that lasts for about a day. It is an immersive device that does not require total immersion, unlike many of the products pitched for our future. The single biggest conceptual difference between the original iPhone and today’s smartphones is the shift of the camera as an afterthought to one of any smartphone’s key features.

None of us can predict the future. But it is difficult to imagine improving upon it with anywhere near the smartphone’s mass adoption.

Only one main issue with Pierce’s piece I see:

Amazon’s big idea about Alexa wasn’t wrong, exactly. In fact, most of the tech industry shares the ambient computing vision: a seamless network of gadgets that know you and can act on your behalf to accomplish all kinds of goals. And there are lots of Alexa devices out there in people’s homes, playing music and setting timers. But nobody’s figured out how to make ambient computing profitable.

I am not sure this is right. The two most recognizable entrants into the ambient computing space — if by “ambient computing” you mean a creepy egg — are Amazon and Google, which sell their devices at a loss — but that is their choice. They could, theoretically, price these gadgets with healthier margins. But that would likely price them out of impulse buys, into the realm of things that need more fulsome justification. And that is the real problem. The hard part of ambient computing is not making it profitable, it is making it good and compelling.

Something with no visual interface sounds amazing until you realize it is impossible to know its boundaries. You can ask for a translation to one language and it will work perfectly, but a different language is not translatable. A command that activates some smart home gadget may not work the same way for a different device. If all an egg is reliably good for is setting timers and reminding you of chores, it is no surprise that few people are likely to pay hundreds of dollars for one.