Look around your desk right now. Unless you work at a call center of some sort, you probably have a computer, and a shockingly stupid phone sitting right there on your desk. There is no technological reason for this. The technology to just use your PC as your phone has been around for over a decade. There are certainly advantages to using a PC as a phone, yet it is very rare to see anyone do it, because a phone is a phone. All it really has to do is ring when someone calls it, and let you ring other people’s phones when you call them. Any refinements beyond that are nice, but people have very little patience for any feature that adds complexity to something that was previously very simple.
This is exactly why I have a suspicion that smartphones are doomed. Right now we put up with them, because the choice is to have just a phone, to have a smartphone, or to lug a laptop around with us everywhere. But as the smartphone adds more and more features, it grows bigger and bigger, requires more battery power, gets more expensive and complex and generally becomes ever more like the ultra-mobile PC that threatens its very existence. Eventually you end up with a device that is identical to the ultra-mobile PC, except that it has a smaller screen, more limited functionality, and fewer input choices. At that point, why would anyone pick the smartphone?
I know, there are a lot of arguments about so-called convergence and how people don’t want to carry multiple devices, but I think if you stop an look at the success of Bluetooth headsets, you will have to admit that people are less adverse to carrying an extra device than was previously thought, provided it adds sufficient value. Hell, I see people all the time who carry their portable music player (even though their phone can play music) their traditional paper day planner (even though their phone has a calender feature), and their phone.
Back in my days as a contractor in the tech sector, I would regularly see people with a mobile phone, a pager, a PDA, and a laptop! If people see the value, they are fine carrying an extra device. I don’t think that getting someone to carry a phone the size of a Bluetooth headset, and a PC about the size of a traditional day planner is really going to be a burden to someone who already carries a bulky smartphone, and a Bluetooth headset.
No, I honestly think that over the next five years or so, you are going to see the smartphone go the way of other transitional technologies like the PDA or the electronic organizer. I think that the focus in phones will continue in the direction of smaller, more stylish ‘stupid phones’ and you will see real computers that can talk to those ‘stupid phones’ replacing PDAs and smartphones. At least that is my crazy take on the situation. What I am interested to see is if companies like RIM will be smart and find a niche for themselves in the ultra-mobile PC world, or if they will cling to the past and flounder much like Palm did as smartphones replaced PDAs?