Is The Smartphone Going Away?

I have a smartphone and it goes just about everywhere I go, except running. I know many runners use their smartphone to track their miles and sync up to really cool apps like Strava, Runkeeper, Endomondo, MapMyRun, Nike and many more. I run just about every day and if I see another runner there is a good chance they have their smartphone attached somewhere on their body with earbuds sticking out of their ears. You heard it here first, the smartphone is a device of the past when it comes to running. For as many smartphones you see runners using today, use will soon divert back to what you saw just ten years ago, zero.

I am sure your first thought is “this guy’s crazy”. You would never think of running or training without your smartphone. Well think again. Not only may your smartphone be missing from your future runs but it may also be missing from your list of technology gadgets.

Let me explain my bold statement by taking a step back and looking at the technology used in a smartphone. The primary feature of a smartphone is the SOC (System on a Chip). The SOC will consist of the MCU (microcontroller Unit), I/O (input/output) and communication (WiFi, Bluetooth, radio). There are other components, but these are the most critical. I realize we have a display on a smartphone and that occupies the majority of the area on the phone. We will get back to the display in just a bit. Let’s continue to talk technology.

I will use Intel as an example. They are now shipping silicon (processors and SOC’s) using a 14nm process. You may be saying so what. Well, just a few years back Intel was on a 32nm process and the difference between 32nm and 14nm is huge. As the process shrinks you are able to either do more (add features) with the existing area of the die or you can shrink it and keep the same features and reduce the footprint. I want to focus on shrinking the die.

As the die shrinks you are creating new opportunities. The one we are most familiar with is the smart watch. We are able to shrink the silicon and lower the power consumption enough to make it a viable product. Once you enable the hardware features the rest is up to the software developers or as we lovingly think of as apps.

We hear more and more about smart devices. A smart device can be almost anything; your home, refrigerator, car, light switch, thermometer, glucose meter, etc. They are being made possible by the silicon being integrated into the device. The silicon is small enough and consume little power to be used for long periods of time without changing or charging the battery. One other important feature is cost, the silicon has come down in price to make the smart devices attractive to consumers. We can them “smart” because they are creating data and either analyzing the data and providing you with a result or sending the data to the cloud for analysis and then back to the device with the result. Either way, it is smart.

Why do we have to have the big bulky smartphone? The smart watch will eventually overtake the smartphone in sales. The Apple watch has received plenty of hype, but Apple made one big mistake in my humble opinion. They have it tethered to the iphone. As a consumer, I want a smart watch that can be used without a smartphone. It can use my smartphone as a gateway device to the cloud to perform analytics or it can be its own gateway and eliminate the phone completely.

So, you like to watch videos on your smartphone and how can you do it without the displays we have today? Smart glasses are the first step toward eliminating the display from your hand. This technology has to continue to develop before it will eliminate the smartphone, but it will. Think of Google Glasses, they are the first wearable display that has gained notoriety. Did you know there are smart contacts being developed? As this technology develops you will be able to say goodbye to the rigid displays we have on smartphones today.

Runners love technology and I expect they will be the first to embrace the untethered devices. An example of a pair of wearable glasses for athletes are from Recon Jet. Today, this is tethered to a phone but it is only generation one. Give them a few more years. Between smart watches and smart glasses you will be asking yourself why am I not seeing any more smartphones on my runs.
Mike Haedrich
Mike Haedrich

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