Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook are building the future, but your smartphone still isn’t going anywhere

Tim Cook iPhone
Apple CEO Tim Cook Getty

Many people — myself included — have high, high hopes for new tech like Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant, or the Microsoft HoloLens hologram headset, to usher in a new era beyond the smartphone.

But even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos thinks that future is a long time coming.

In a recent interview, Bezos said that with shopping, Alexa is only really “good for reordering consumables, where you don’t have to make a lot of choices, but most online shopping is going to be facilitated by having a display.”

He’s not wrong, either. If you’re buying anything more complicated than toilet paper, using an Amazon Echo or Google Home to buy stuff is about as much fun as having a friend read you the Costco catalogue over the phone. Anything else, and you still need to sit down in front of a phone, tablet, or computer.

Similarly, the most mainstream augmented reality hardware to date, Snapchat’s video-taking Spectacles, are a stripped-down experience that require a smartphone to edit and share video. Meanwhile, companies like Magic Leap and Microsoft have made great strides in building standalone augmented reality headsets — but they have both run into roadblocks on the way to getting that tech down to a consumer-friendly level of price and performance.

And Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality subsidiary has indicated that while standalone virtual reality goggles are the eventual goal, smartphone-powered headsets like the Samsung Gear VR are a consumer’s best bet. Meanwhile, virtual reality itself hasn’t yet taken off like Facebook and its contemporaries had hoped.

Snapchat Spectacles colours
Snapchat Spectacles Snapchat

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that he thinks augmented reality could be the next smartphone. And yet, that new platform will, apparently, start on the smartphone itself, with Apple tasking a secret team with turning the iPhone’s camera into something better suited for augmented reality, like Pokémon Go but with way better effects.

Similarly, while Apple’s AirPods wireless earbuds and startup-made products like the Doppler Labs Here One pave the way for a future of so-called “hearable computing,” with the interface literally just a whisper in your ear, they currently require a smartphone or PC connection to do pretty much anything.

So while it’s true that the smartphone boom is over, it’s going to be a while before these future technological platforms are really, truly ready for primetime.

In the interim, the smartphone is here to stay, for better or for worse.

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