Smartphones on way out, Augmented Reality on the way in

The days of the cellphones are numbered. Do you remember the last time you watched a movie on a VCR, listened to your favourite tracks on a Walkman, or sent your camera film to a processing centre? Probably not.

Over the years, these technologies have become obsolete, and have been largely replaced by smartphones.

This is the nature of the fast-changing world we live in.

As technology progresses, we will continue to see new devices emerging and old devices becoming obsolete.

No surprises there. What will come as a surprise to many is that the next device on the endangered list is none other than the cellphone itself.

How is this possible?

How will the world as we know it function without cellphones?

I mean, sure, the old devices like VCRs were replaced by smartphones, but what could possibly replace our smartphones?

The truth that many of us don’t realise is that we’ve already begun to replace our smartphones.

Case in point: it is possible to make a call without picking up your cellphone or removing it from your pocket.

While this may have been impossible to do just a few years ago, today all you need to do is to talk to your phone: “Hey Siri! Call Mum.”

Simply plug in a pair of earphones, and you will be in business.

Today’s voice-activated, natural-language processing virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri and Android’s Google Assist have become increasingly advanced and powerful.

Besides making calls, they’ve become adept at other functions like opening apps, playing audio, sending messages, searching the web, setting reminders and making appointments.

They also make cellphone usage safer. If you are driving around and need directions, there is no need to take your eyes off the road and pick up your phone.

You can simply ask your virtual assistant for directions, and it will guide you to your destination, step by step. Of course, not all functions of your cellphone can be handled through voice commands. We still need to look at a display for activities like reading messages and checking calendars. Enter smart watches. In 2018 more than 45 million smart watches were sold, and there are some good reasons for this.

Apart from the built-in features like fitness tracking and heart-rate monitoring, smart watches allow you to quickly make and receive calls, read and respond to messages, check schedules, take voice notes, and play audio like music and podcasts.

Smart watches provide yet another reason not to look at your phone, but with a tiny, one square inch screen, they definitely won’t replace cellphones. The final nail in the cellphone coffin will actually be a new and emerging technology that is progressing in leaps and bounds: augmented reality.

AR is a technology that will eventually bring your cellphone’s display right up to your eyes, giving you a heads-up, hands-free display wherever you are looking, making your entire field of vision into a huge display. In essence, you will no longer need a physical cellphone or a tablet PC.

Unlike virtual reality, AR will not block your view of the real world. You will still be able to see the world as normal, but things that would normally show up on a cellphone screen will be overlaid on to your field of vision, and you will be able to choose what appears in your vision.

For example, you might choose to display call and email notifications in a corner of your field of vision, while web surfing, videos and apps might occupy the central region.

Companies like Microsoft, Apple and Magic Leap are putting their weight behind AR, and we could see practical, lightweight AR glasses within five years. In fact, a start-up in Los Angeles is already taking things a step further by developing AR contact lenses.

A big question around AR is, How will we interact with it, since there will be no interface like a touch screen or a keyboard?

There are some interesting solutions to this, which I will discuss in more detail in the next article. I believe that physical cellphones and tablets have outlived their usefulness, and it’s time for a change.

We don’t think of it much, but in reality, mobile devices are notoriously unwieldy and intrusive. To operate them, we need to look directly at them and divert our gazes away from the world around us, which could be dangerous.

Then, mobile devices need at least an entire hand to operate, which is usually our dominant hand, vastly reducing our ability to do any physical work. Added to that, they are extremely fragile; they fall, they bend, they break. And they get stolen.

Previously we did not have any choice but to use physical devices, but with new technologies such as augmented reality on the horizon, it seems the days of the good old physical devices are numbered.

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