Sat. May 18th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • There’s no need to replace smartphones, as they’re already great thanks to their versatility, powerful hardware, and seamless user experience.
  • Devices that promise to replace smartphones often fall short due to technical limitations and compromises in hardware.
  • Tech companies should instead focus on creating supplementary devices that complement smartphones.

As a bona fide tech enthusiast, I appreciate the constant stream of new tech gadgets that are emerging. However, one gripe I have with these gadgets is that they want to replace my smartphone, but regardless of what they promise, my smartphone isn’t going anywhere.

Smartphones Are Nearly Perfect Already

Smartphones are the greatest thing since sliced bread. They’re versatile, fit in our pockets, and pack pretty powerful hardware. The large touchscreens we use to interact with smartphones are intuitive, and the industry has had plenty of time to make the user experience seamless. We’ve all grown accustomed to smartphones, their UIs, and the endless array of readily available apps.

Smartphones are so good that they’ve virtually replaced compact cameras, music players, and gaming handhelds for some of us. Of course, as technology keeps improving, our smartphones are only going to get smarter, better, faster, stronger.

The point is, it’s challenging to recreate the smartphone experience with anything other than a smartphone—but not for lack of trying. Tech companies are in a billion-dollar race to create a device that’ll be the “next smartphone.” There are several devices that are trying to do just that, but the issue is that they all fall short of the humble smartphone in one way or another. Let’s look at a few examples.

A smartwatch can track your workouts and vitals, tell the weather, show notifications, play music, and more, but it also has a tiny screen that makes it hard to type on, no cameras to speak of, and weak processing power.

The Humane Ai Pin has several benefits and drawbacks that are the opposite of a smartwatch, which would incidentally make it a great Apple Watch accessory. If you’re not familiar with the Humane Ai Pin, picture it as a wearable ChatGPT device priced similarly to a smartphone ($699 plus a subscription fee), yet it falls short of a real smartphone in every way imaginable.

It utilizes an impractical projector for its UI, which necessitates the use of audio and an integrated camera for most interactions. Since you have to give verbal commands, privacy and discretion become nonexistent.

The only piece of tech that I’ve seen so far that even comes close to the smartphone experience is VR headsets—particularly the Apple Vision Pro. It’s the closest we’ve seen to a next-gen smartphone alternative; you can use the Vision Pro to watch movies and TV shows, play games, take photos, have video calls, answer emails, open multiple apps simultaneously, and so much more.

However, it also costs $3,499, which is enough money to buy four iPhone 15s for the whole family and still have money left over. Other than VR & AR and the very different user experience, there are very few features that distinguish the Apple Vision Pro from a smartphone if you really think about it.

person wear the Apple Vision Pro with two head bands
Tyler Hayes / How-To Geek

It’s Hard to Cram Lots of Tech Into a Tiny Device

Devices that want to replace our phones must be about the same size or, more commonly, smaller than a typical smartphone by design. However, it’s hard to squeeze a powerful SoC (System on a Chip) into a form factor that’s even smaller than a smartphone due to thermal and battery constraints—smartphone SoCs can easily drain a large smartphone battery in a day, and they get relatively hot while gaming.

The same applies to many other pieces of hardware, such as storage, cameras, sensors, and speakers. So, manufacturers have to compromise by using less powerful hardware intended for portable devices and to minimize costs, both in terms of hardware and design, and they still end up costing several hundred dollars.

On the flip side, the Apple Vision Pro’s M2 processor, which is also used in Macs and iPads, packs plenty of processing power, but the Vision Pro is a heavy, bulky device. Also, despite its massive size, you only get to use the Vision Pro for a couple of hours before you have to recharge it. This is because it’s always on as you wear it to ensure you can see your surroundings and have instant access to your apps.

Smartphones hit the sweet spot between features and size, in no small part thanks to years of research and development. Smartphones have decent cameras, bright and colorful AMOLED screens, and solid performance to the point that you can play PC games like the GTA Trilogy and Resident Evil Village.

Person holding the GameSir G8 Galileo to game on an Android phone.
Sergio Rodriguez / How-To Geek

We Want Supplementary Tech, Not Smartphone Replacements

Instead of trying to recreate the smartphone experience on a novelty device, I believe that the best course of action for tech companies is to create devices that complement our smartphones instead, at least for the time being. Most of us carry our phones wherever we go, and we can all agree that there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

Instead of stuffing these high-tech gadgets with expensive components and large batteries, manufacturers should figure out a way to maximize the use of smartphones first. Looking back at the Humane Ai Pin example, we can see that it’s a standalone device that costs way too much money.

According to the spec sheet, the Pin has an octa-core SoC, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. That’s a lot of processing power that could’ve been offloaded to your smartphone. By only including the essentials (the camera, battery, and sensors), the device could’ve been significantly cheaper, more people would have bought it, and Humane would have grown as a company. At least in theory.

The R1 Rabbit companion device held in a hand, showing the Rabbit icon on its screen.
Rabbit Tech

Exhibit B is the Rabbit R1, which is a $199 handheld AI gadget that reminds me of an AI-only version of a smartphone. It’s a cool idea, but it was also later revealed that the whole thing is allegedly just an Android app. Even if it isn’t an app, there’s no denying that it could be replaced by one, so I don’t really see the point of the Rabbit R1—though its design exudes an undeniably cool aesthetic.

Wearable Tech Raises Serious Privacy Concerns

Let’s set technological limitations aside for now to discuss the potential lack of privacy that could arise from a gadget that’s capable of seeing and hearing everything around you. While our smartphones don’t necessarily listen to us—at least not all the time—smart gadgets that rely on cameras and microphones to work would have to stay permanently turned on to allow for real-time scanning, suggestions, and responses.

This sort of constant monitoring raises serious privacy concerns, begging the question of how much of our private life we are willing to sacrifice for high-tech convenience. If you ask me, it’s a “Big Brother” just short of George Orwell’s 1984. I would feel extremely uncomfortable knowing that a tech company is using a smart assistant-style gadget to learn about my spending habits so that they could sell my data to advertisers.

I love to see exciting new gadgets pop out of nowhere, but I think that tech companies are missing the point entirely by focusing on the next “smartphone killer.” These gadgets should instead follow in the footsteps that smartwatches left behind—decent standalone devices that get even better when connected to your phone. I’m particularly interested in what type of smart glasses we could see if they are integrated with our smartphones.

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By John P.

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