Today I feel like rambling a bit. This time my thoughts are about wearable technology and the mobile handset (smartphone).

White_AppleWatch_with_ScreenWearable technologies are coming, with many early arrivals on the market today. We all know it, we just aren’t in complete agreement what form they will take or evolve into, what will be their place in our mobile arsenal, or what functions they will perform. Google Glass arrived, and I followed David Kelly‘s online conversations about his experiences with the technology and how it may fit in the world of learning and development. Fitness bands are all the rage, but their function is limited. Microsoft is now selling Microsoft Band, positioned as a feature-rich health device. Smart watches are also becoming more popular, with offerings from a variety of vendors, although I’ve heard many people balk at the idea of wearing them. And now the Internet of Things is set to explode. Smart objects will surround us, automatically populating the Internet with real-time information; many of these will be wearable objects.

It was at Learning Solutions 2013 Conference in Orlando when I first heard people talking about how the mobile handset–that smartphone we take everywhere–is nearing the end of its life cycle. I’m pretty sure it was Neil Lasher who mentioned it, but many others subsequently echoed it, even though no one had all that clear an idea of what would replace it. Wearables were certainly one of the suggested replacements, but I remained skeptical.

That challenge stuck with me, and my thoughts began to gel around a central concept where the handset is really becoming little more than an Internet access device. It negotiates the distance between it and the nearest access point, whether that’s WiFi or a cell tower. It then communicates over whatever network it connects to, converting a variety of inputs (voice, video, photos, text, etc.) into data that can be up or downloaded. It can accommodate a variety of input/output devices as well. My car can be a hands-free telephone, a wireless speaker, and recording accessory. In my home, my smartphone interfaces with a variety of things, including my computer and television. In many ways, the speaker and microphone built into the handset are redundant with my many accessories. That will only expand with wearable electronics.


Early wearable technology

But to fully replace the handset requires full mobility. Sarah Gilbert says the truly mobile device is the one you use naturally in your environment. In other words, it’s virtually always with you and you’re able to use it with ease. It was only as I began looking seriously into the Apple Watch, wondering how I would adapt to wearing one after abandoning wrist-mounted timepieces after smartphones entirely replaced their functions, when it hit me. Of course people will wear watches. People used to wear them all the time. They were much more mobile than the pocket watches that preceded them, which were themselves more portable than clocks. Watches are wearable technology, but now, they’re poised to explode as phenomenally powerful input and output objects for whatever we use to access the Internet.

Wearable technology has been with us for about a century. The mobile handset replaced it for some of us, but it’s poised to make a comeback, and in a big way. That makes the mobile handset merely an inflection point in the growth curve of mobile technology.

So who cares if smartphones get larger and tablets more capable? It really doesn’t matter. Ultimately they’re just Internet access devices that will be used by a range of personal devices to do interesting things. The access devices will get smaller and probably even change their form factor. The real excitement will be in wearables (and the evolution of mobile and portable input/output devices), how they will make us yet more productive, and how we will use them for even more innovative ways to learn.

Thanks for reading!

Apple watch photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons user Justin14



The Mobile Handset, an Inflection Point? — 4 Comments

  1. Wearables? Dunno. There’s lots to overcome. I haven’t worn a watch since Mrs asked me to stop diving and I hung-up my dive watch. I don’t think they’ll be useful for stubby fingered people like me. I’m curious about their use as sensors or transducers. Certainly with skin contact they’ll be able to sense a lot about us. I can see them used in simulations: position, context they’d be able to pick that up and still be unobtrusive. I can see them used in gaming for you-are-here stuff. But mostly I think they’d have to be paired with something that has a larger GUI. In this context they’d be like embedded integrated circuit applications: controllers in appliances.

    Want to know what they’ll be like? Think about the people who will wear them first. What contexts lend themselves to spatiality?

    • Thanks for the thoughts, Urbie. I also see wearables as being paired (at least in the near-term) with something with a larger GUI – or the larger GUI could be yet another peripheral for a more generic Internet and telco access device. Not to mention that antenna size is tied to power requirements – smaller antennas (in smaller devices) require more power to amplify signals, so the small wearable won’t have direct connectivity in the near term. I do, however, see them being somewhat more capable than simply sensors or transducers. With an array of such devices deployed around the world, the concept of, “Big data,” just got even bigger. Ultimately, it will be a contextual evolution. People won’t use what doesn’t fit naturally into daily and business life, and they won’t use what is deemed socially unacceptable. My next post on this topic addresses this issue, stay tuned – I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

  2. I’ve been guilty of leaving my phone behind in the past but having it strapped to my wrist will be helpful in avoiding that traumatic event from reoccurring. I hope watches will replace phones and if we need a larger screen, then there is always the iPad.

    A lot can be done with very little screen space, especially if it uses Spritz reading technology:–3

    And perhaps watches can also have a projector to project pictures, etc. like this one:

    • I like your future vision, Lisa; thanks for sharing. I’m no futurist, but I believe in natural selection and evolution in consumer electronics. The Next computer never took off, despite it being a superior computer platform than many other options in the marketplace; the Macintosh continues to hold its own against the PC, despite higher up-front cost. In the case of wearables, I don’t see these in the near-term having autonomous access to the Internet or wireless telco networks, simply because of antenna and power limitations: small antennas need more power to amplify signals. Instead, the devices will use low-power technology to connect through other devices like your smart phone and whatever its successor becomes. But you still won’t have to worry about leaving your phone behind if you wear a smart watch – it should alert you when its paired access device is out of range.

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