Do Smartphones Need to Get Smarter?

The future holds a long list of upgrades to smart technology. Could cell phones could become obsolete?

By Cody CottierMay 16, 2023 8:00 AM
(Credit: Ground Picture/Shutterstock)


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Smartphones saw meteoric growth in sales and sophistication over the past decade, as manufacturers crammed more and more features into devices held by more than 6 billion people globally.

Few technologies have so deeply altered our relationship to the world, and they’ve come a long way since the days of the IBM Simon Personal Communicator.

But as sleek and versatile as it’s become, the cell phone’s evolution isn’t yet complete. Whether it's top-tier photography, customized voice assistance or holographic displays, you can expect a lot more from the smartphones of tomorrow — and much of it will be driven by artificial intelligence.

Smartphone Use

Artificial intelligence already plays a prominent role in our digital lives, from Siri and Alexa to algorithm-based recommendations on TikTok, Spotify and Netflix. But perhaps more than anything, developments in AI will set the next generation of smartphones apart, enabling them to personalize and enhance many aspects of our day-to-day experiences.

By analyzing the habits and preferences hidden within our activity, for example, they’ll be able to recommend restaurants we might like. Or they may automatically queue the music we tend to play at a certain time of day.

And in a logical step for text prediction, smartphones could eventually graduate from simply guessing the next few words in a message to scripting the entire thing — à la ChatGPT — in a convincingly personal style. As natural language processing improves, smartphones will also be able to listen and respond to human speech more effectively, potentially even translating audio from one language to another in real time.

Read More: What Is Smartphone Addiction and Is It Fueling Mental Health Problems?

The Benefits of AI-Powered Phones

Machine learning could help to extend battery life by predicting the most efficient power settings to match your usage patterns. Plus, the built-in cameras could come to rival high-end DSLRs, as phones get better at correcting distortions and automatically adjusting exposure for low light.

Security may be improved by more accurately detecting fraudulent phone activity and performing continuous authentication. In other words, they’ll constantly monitor the subtle nuances of your behavior to verify your identity on a moment-to-moment basis.

And in one of the more futuristic scenarios, AI-powered phones could finally drag the hologram out of the sci-fi realm and into the average person’s entertainment repertoire. If you love cat videos on an old-fashioned screen, just wait till you can revisit them in a 3D projection.

Read More: The Pros and Cons of Artificial Intelligence

Augmented Reality of Smart Technology

The opportunities for smartphone transformation are myriad. But it’s also possible that our constant handheld companions, indispensable as they feel today, could become obsolete.

Though Google’s early attempt at smart glasses famously failed to launch a decade ago, its competitors have continued developing their own cutting-edge lenses. Within months, Apple is expected to release its long-awaited mixed reality headset, supporting both augmented and virtual reality.

Tim Cook, the company’s chief executive, has said that soon enough, “you’ll wonder how you led your life without augmented reality.”

Smart glasses, for example, could display texts and emails before your eyes, without the need to reach into a pocket — or overlay digital navigation directions on the real-world landscape.

Despite a decade of hype around augmented reality, however, such products with smart technology have yet to achieve anything like the significance of smartphones. And it’s unclear when (or if) they will.

For one, similar features have already been incorporated into the smartphones of today: Think of the proliferation of funny Snapchat filters, and the wildly popular Pokémon Go, a game in which players wander the physical world in search of virtual creatures that appear on their screens.

Read More: How Ditching My Smartphone Let Me Recharge and Reconnect

Smart Gadgets and the Future of Smartphones

Alternatively, the human environment could one day be so replete with smart gadgets — armchairs, stovetops, subway seats, shopping carts — that we no longer burden ourselves with personal devices. Some Internet-endowed object or other will almost always be within reach, able to perform all the tasks your smartphone does now.

This is how Mark Weiser, the chief technology officer at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, imagined computers in the 21st century. He coined the term “ubiquitous computing” in 1988 to describe a future in which they “weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”

Almost four decades later, our phones remain quite distinguishable hubs in the expanding Internet of Things. Maybe someday the speakers, watches and other peripheral smart gadgets that revolve around our phones will collectively usurp the digital throne.

But for better or worse, you probably won’t be trading in for an omnipotent sink this year.

Read More: Technology Overuse and the Fear of "Digital Dementia"

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