Opinion: Will Smartphones be Replaced by Wearables?

We’re a fickle lot, us consumers. We’re wowed by the latest gadgets because they’re shiny, new and the ‘next gen’ up from our outdated tech. We’ve been getting more consumer-orientated since the advent of mobile phones. But have these contraptions really turned us into rampant devourers of consumables, or does functionality also guide our decision-making process when it comes to buying tech?flexible smartphone wearable

The developers of both wearable tech and smartphones will certainly be hoping so, as the two camps go head to head to woo consumers over to the dark side. Mobile phone developers claim that, as cool as wearables are, they’ll never replace smartphones for sheer practicality, range and tactile satisfaction. Wearable developers say that smartphones are so last decade, and that wearables are poised to conquer the world. So who’s right?

Smartphones.. An old favorite

Let’s look at smartphones first. Just because they’re seen as the older tech on the block compared to wearables, don’t assume that they’re archaic or standing still when it comes to development. The smartphone of the future will be lighter, more robust (that glass screen has simply got to go…) and even more in tune with our on-the-go computing needs. There’s also the aspirational aspect. Once it was all about having the latest sneakers. Now, we judge our own social standing and that of others by the type of smartphone they have. It may be shallow, but it’s merely adhering to a pattern that has been part of our development for centuries.

Your flexible tech-friend

Smartphone technology is looking at one key factor to push it forward – flexible screen technology. One of the biggest headaches for smartphone users is that soul-destroying ‘crunch’ sound when you sit on your phone and the screen shatters. Plastic flexible screens could remove that problem entirely (as well as cutting down on the weight of phones). Companies like Plastic Logic are currently developing full-colour screens that could be used in smartphones.

The colour palette is also limited, but advancements happen quickly in cutting edge tech like this, so expect to see working smartphone prototypes with flexible screens hitting the exhibitions very soon. Indro Mukerjee, CEO at Plastic Logic, has recently commented: “Plastic Logic’s development of a color flexible plastic display is particularly significant, since the same process could enable unbreakable, flexible display solutions with other media such as LCD and OLED.”

Wearables.. Crossing boundaries

But Indro and those working in this field also recognise the application of flexible screen technology for wearables too. “Flexible electronics is a reality, already proven through the development and manufacture of plastic, bendable displays and sensors,” he said recently. “For the first time a fully organic, plastic, flexible AMOLED demonstration has been achieved with a real industrial fabrication process. This marks the start of a revolution in wearable products, the next frontier in consumer electronics – 2014 will be the year that wearable technology starts to go mainstream.”

So we won’t be saying goodbye to smartphones any time soon. But could wearables usurp smartphones’ dominance in other departments? It is possible. ‘Wearables’ is quite a broad category, and includes everything from Google Glass and smart watches through to health sensors and monitoring devices such as the Nike Fuel band- no further development here I believe. These are niche areas that smartphones have been unable to penetrate and, frankly, probably can’t be bothered to even try.

Know your limits, wearables!

Currently, wearables have their limitations, including some practical issues – such as just how small a screen does a consumer really want to look at? An email on a smartwatch might be trendy, but can you actually read it? Smart glasses might make the wearer feel like they’re part of the Matrix, but how reliable are they? And can we ever really break that smartphone habit we’ve all got into? (Do we even want to?)

Wearables and smartphones are very different animals, and comparing them is like comparing Apples and Oranges (pardon the blatant product placements there). For the moment, they are uneasy bedfellows that keep trying to steal the duvet off each other. But it’s highly unlikely that wearables will ever truly ‘replace’ smartphones.

Image Courtesy: TheTechStorm

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