Have smartphones become a mature technology?

I’ve been reading a bunch of tech people who think we’ve reached “peak smartphone” and that we’ve gone from them being like computers in the 90s- where they were obsolete every couple of years and needed frequent replacement- to something like now, where they are “good enough” for most people to last for years. Maybe not to that extent for phones, but moving in that direction. Also, we’ve seen a stall in technical advancement which causes flagship phones to have features added as gimmicks to differentiate themselves from the crowd, which drives up the price and mid-range phones are acceptable for the vast majority of use cases. In addition, sales are slowing especially in developed countries.

Does this all lead to the conclusion that smartphones are or are rapidly becoming a mature technology?

We are near the end of improvements in processor speed across the board. But there is still lots to be done on the flexible device front.

This years top of the line phone processor is 1.2 times faster (or so) than last years. That is a bigger jump than is normally seen in laptop/desktop/server processors. Radios are also getting faster, they’re putting in more RAM, increasing the default storage space, and putting on better cameras. Of course, any feature you don’t need is just a gimmick. I’d say that year over year top phones are often noticeably better than the year before. The features of the top phones also slide down into the mid-tier phones, so a mid-tier today is probably better than a few year’s ago flagship.

Having said all of that, I don’t think there is any need to upgrade a phone yearly, and even every two years is into enthusiast territory. Sometime between 2 and 4 years the phone will lose software updates, which can lead to compatibility and security problems.

I think there are two major things happening that are decreasing smart phone sales. First is that most everybody who wants a smart phone already has one, and the upgrade cycle definitely has slowed. My two year Samsung S8 (the flagship of its day) is fine, and I have no particular desire to upgrade it. When my old Samsung S3 (the flagship of its day) was two years old, it was desperately behind the current flagships. In summary, fewer people shopping for phones.

The second reason is just economics 101. The price of phones went up, therefore demand went down. This is really simple. The iPhone 5 in 2012 was $650. The iPhone 6S in 2015 was $650. The iPhone Xr today is $750, and that’s the cheap one.

I think the advances we’re going to see are more in the software rather than the hardware, as they issue smarter assistants for the phone, which will learn the owners routine and be more proactive.
The speed issue for smartphone processors is less the technology than how to squeeze speed out of low power designs. I worked on some very fast processors, but they would burn a hole right through your pockets (and maybe you) if used in a phone. There is a long way to go to figure out how to turn off the silicon not being used in order to conserve power.

I think the Next Big Thing will be smartphones that support 5G networks. Supposedly, you’ll be able to download an entire movie in seconds.

I think there’s still a lot of improvements to come. The really big thing is 5G. But I also expect longer battery life, which will allow smaller high-end phones. That and flexible screens will probably kill the phablet market – I think most people would prefer a small phone with a big screen they can pull out to watch a video than a thing that’s always big and doesn’t fit comfortably in a pocket.


I predict the next big technology will be a small computer you carry as a piece of jewelry, that has multiple wireless interfaces (unlike smartphones which only have 2, the touchscreen and verbal interactions).

Holographic interface you can physically interact with
Verbal interactions
Rolled up transparent touchscreen
Retinal display from a pair of glasses
VR gloves for a large holographic display
You’ll buy a ring, watch, something you clip on your belt and then you have all these options to interact with your computer from the list above.

I think that’ll replace smartphones in about ~10 years.

We are talking about real-world physics, not pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

Gotta have a light saber too.

I see your Schwartz is as big as mine!

Everything he mentioned already exists as working prototypes.

I can think of another couple of developments that could be significant, both relate to satellites

The next generation of phones will have GPS that can resolve down to a metre or two. This is due to several new constellations of GPS satellites and the development of chipsets cheap enough for mobile phones.

We also have the second attempt at creating huge constellations of low earth orbit satellites to provide broadband in all those unfortunate parts of the world that do not have 3G/4G/5G services.

I don’t suppose city folk will notice this much until they go hiking, but it will make a world of difference to several billion people who live in parts of the world that do not enjoy easy Internet access.

This will require smartphones that are much, much cheaper and apps aimed at the kind of services normally taken for granted in the developed world, but on a much bigger scale. Moving money around, getting help in emergencies, market information, news, medical advice, that sort of thing. A cheap global smartphone will do that.

For the urban sophisticates who have the latest tech, all this will be unimpressive. For them there will be a faster way of livestreaming themselves pulling a funny face to their favourite video channel, summon takeaway food or taxis with better efficiency or consume a box set of packaged entertainment.

Maybe all the useful apps already been devised for smartphone users in developed economies?

If that is the case, the market may be covered and new smartphones only provide incremental advantages at the premium end of the market. But at the other end of the market, I am sure there are fortunes to be made.

Elon Musk and several others have ambitious plans in that direction.

If you believe that in ten years we will be using ring-sized hologram projecting computers, then I would like to discuss a business deal with you concerning a bridge.

I suspect the upgrade cycle may continue with ‘radio’ options that are for pay to connect with, and for that one would need the phone with the proper receiver, which means a upgrade. These things may be enhanced positioning with lower power consumption, satellite internet receiver - so coverage everywhere one can view the sky, and we already see Verizon Wireless wanting to tack on a fee for 5G connections. There are perhaps other radio signals which would be desirable to receive, private for pay networks that give enhanced abilities.

5G is really the only technology that will be a significant change anytime soon. But you have to ask yourself - how much am I missing extra bandwidth right now? Use cases like streaming movies are unlikely to be major market drivers - not enough to justify the billions being spent on infrastructure. Indeed we see 5G not so much being touted as a mobile solution, but as a cheap high bandwidth reticulation for fixed internet access in competition with cables and fibres in the ground.

I like to say that right now, with our current mobile phones we are living science fiction. If you go back through the old Sci-fi ideas about future technology there is plenty they predict that we have not got anywhere with (where is my jetpack or flying car?) but you are hard pressed to find any sci-fi that envisaged anything as advanced in capability as a modern phone.

But, as noted above, the additional features that make a difference are getting harder to find. Cameras are pretty insane in capability, enough to wipe out an entire market segment of ordinary cameras. Storage capacity is now in the difficult to fill range. Processor power is very capable, and the wide range of different architectures inside a phone, directed at different needs makes a personal computer look remarkably naive. The biggest driver in PCs is games. Most home computing needs are otherwise covered with only very modest machines.

I just retired my old iPhone 5. Bought an XS with 256GB. It is really very very nice. Much nicer than I thought. But its capability over the 5 is not that great a leap. Everything is smoother, faster, the camera is better, and I finally got into the world of NFC communications (so I can pay with my phone) and biometric ID is a nice to have. But seriously, if I was forced to keep the 5 for another year, it would not have bothered me all that much.

There is one use case that I feel has been held back - and this is one Apple could do if they had the will. Make the phone interface to a full screen, keyboard and mouse, with some sort of small dock, or even a wireless interface. Make it replace the PC. You keep most of your life in the cloud, the phone caches what you need, and it provides the portable context for all your work. Sit down, phone links to screen/keyboard/mouse and your currently active spreadsheet/document/photos/etc applications appear. Do some work, get up, disconnect phone, and walk off. Re-establish at any other screen system at any time. Apple already have the idea of active transfer of work between phone and desktops, but there is point where your phone has enough power that the desktop is simply not needed. We have already passed that point.

There are other applications of phones, but noting that needs new higher power hardware. A lot of applications need software and infrastructure to enable them. There are many barriers to uptake of ideas that are rooted in commercial and legal interests. Getting wide enough cooperation between stakeholders to get an idea off the ground, and not simply die because stakeholders want a bigger slice of the pie than there is pie is a common problem.

The idea that augmented reality, holograms, or haptic gloves will be drivers is naive. There are no extant holographic projection systems, even in labs. Things like VR glasses, haptics and like have been around for decades. They have not got much more useful over that time, although they have become cheaper. The idea hat people will wish to become an augmented cyborg so that they can be bombarded with ever more advertising is something only a marketdroid would believe. Ther will need to be some major breakthrough in interface technology to enable a paradigm shift, and that breakthrough will probably not so much advance the mobile phone to the next level as render it obsolete.

A few things are near or at the maximum. E.g., screen resolution. But there are several things that have a lot of improvement. My list of key things:

Battery life.
Connection speed.
Storage. (This one is surprising. You should have at least 500GB minimum on a lot of these phones given their prices. And the amount should be increasing greatly every generation.)

Processor speed has some room for improvement but not as much as the above.

I’ve seen some stuff lately about Samsung hoping to come out with a phone whose front is edge-to-edge all screen. Hidden camera, fingerprint reader, etc. included. This will become a “standard”. Making the infamous “notch” a quaint, period artifact.

The real “wow” stuff will be in the area of human-device interaction. E.g., being able to “type” in midair near your phone. Plus things we can’t even dream of now.

Well, there is, but I doubt that using lasers to turn pockets of air into plasma is ever going to meet consumer electronics safety standards (or be low-powered enough to be portable.)
On the software front, as I mentioned in another thread:

Who would want to do that? Just because something is technically possible doesn’t mean that it isn’t an ergonomic nightmare. (See: arms, gorilla.)

He never freakin said there would be ring-sized hologram projectors in 10 years. He mentioned that there would be a holographic interface that the user could interact with. He also mentioned that consumers might use “something you clip on your belt”. Such technology already exists, but you think that it somehow violates “real-world physics”.

Instead of discussing a business deal with me about a bridge, perhaps find someone to educate you on physics, consumer technology, and reading comprehension.

And no, I don’t think such things will be mainstream in 10 years. But that isn’t because it violates “real-world physics”. It’s just not going to be popular or practical. But it will be physically possible.

They didn’t say there would be ring-sized holographic projectors, they said the computer itself would be ring-sized and would wirelessly communicate with the desired interface device, like touchscreens or holographic projectors. Nothing inherently implausible about that.