This is the Motorola 888, one of the most popular cell phone models back in 1994. (I had one of these myself back then, it only had like 50 minutes of talk time every month, it was basically for emergencies)
Jump forward 10 years and Motorola introduced the Razr V3, a wildly different design right out of science fiction that flipped open like a Star Trek communicator, thinner than a pencil with hours of battery life and unlimited talk time. Also you could text and play games with it. I had one of these too.
Once upon a time, I had kept all the cell phones I’d owned over the years and had them displayed next to each other so you could see them get smaller and smaller over time. It was pretty cool. I would have hung onto it but I had an apartment fire in the early 2000s and lost them. So that sucks.
But that’s how much cell phones changed in those 10 years. How much have they changed in the last 10 years?
In 2013, Apple launched the iPhone 5S…
iPhone 5S – 2013
And here’s the current model, the iPhone 14. They’re… basically the same phone.
iPhone 14 – 2023
Yes, I know, they’ve gotten way more powerful, the cameras are better, and there is some functionality now that you didn’t have back then, but design-wise? User-interface-wise? It’s fundamentally not that much different than it was back then. In fact, you could argue that you could go all the way back to the first iPhone in 2007 to see a major difference.
I know all you Apple haters are flaming the comments saying it’s because Apple sucks and yes, you are that predictable.
The point is… we’ve kind-of reached peak smartphone. I mean… where can you even go from here with this device?
So one of two things is true here: Option 1: the phone has reached its final form and from this point forward the only improvements we’ll see are incremental changes just to get us to keep buying new ones. Because if we don’t, they go out of business.
Or… Option 2: Something new will come in and take its place. Something just as disruptive as the smartphone. Something that changes the way we interact with the world, something we’ll all have to go out and get just to not fall behind everybody else.
Some of the wealthiest companies in human history are facing massive pressure to be the first to create this device, whatever it may be.
With that much at stake and literal trillions of dollars to invest in it, I think there’s an argument to be made that the smartphone’s days are numbered.
So today let’s talk about what might come next, and how it might change our lives in the near future.
This is a codex. It’s basically a book, but written by hand, on something other than paper. Written or drawn, a lot of codices were illustrated.
“Codices” is a fun word.
Anyway. Before the codex, the only way to carry around words was in your head or on a scroll. Sure, you could etch some in stone, but only enough for like, fifteen commandments.
Point is, the codex was a disruptive device, that changed the way we communicated information as a species. Perhaps the first disruptive information technology.
Followed by the printing press in the 1430s, but things really got disrupted with Alexander Graham Bell.
Bell, of course, was one of the inventors of the telephone. As I mentioned in a recent video, Edison also worked on the telephone but Graham got the patent, so he got the credit.
The Bell box telephone went on sale in 1877, and for more than a hundred years, the design stayed mostly the same. I mean, microphone, speaker, wires, a dial – later buttons. What else could you need?
Then came the cell phone. In 1973, Motorola unveiled the first portable cell phone. It weighed 2.4 pounds and had to charge ten hours for 30 minutes of talk time.
Guys battery tech has come SO far, it’s insane.
But the cell phone, at first, was more of an evolution than a revolution. It was really the smart phone that changed everything.
I mean, think about the revolution that the smart phone was, it leapfrogged science fiction.
I mean, the Star Trek communicator was just that, a communicator. It didn’t play Angry Birds. You couldn’t even text with the thing.
I’ve done a video where I talked about the “you will” ad campaign from AT&T in the 90s, where they tried to predict where technology would go in the future. It’s an interesting episode if you haven’t seen it – go check it out.
But seriously, even the people who made the future happen had no idea what a change the smartphone would bring.
In 2007, over 122 million smartphones were sold. Sales numbers climbed through the debut of other iPhones and Android phones. In 2014, 1.2 billion smartphones were sold, and sales have hovered around the 1.4 billion mark ever since.
As of this video, nearly 7-out-of-10 people in the world owns a smartphone. It has become a fundamental part of the human experience.
But as I asked at the beginning of this video, where do we go from here? What more can we get out of this black square?
If TV and movies are any guide, future phones will be transparent and have holographic displays.
It’s kind-of amazing how ubiquitous that is as a shorthand for future technology, the transparent thing, like one of my favorite shows, Parks and Rec, in their final season in 2014, they jumped ahead 3 years and in their version of 2017, everyone used transparent phones with holographic projections.
Swing and a miss.
And yet, there’s no real push in that direction. Samsung filed a patent in 2020 for a partially transparent phone but nothing has come of it. There have been a few transparent displays, but the challenges of creating a clear phone are immense. Like all the battery and hardware would have to fit inside the bezel somehow.
Not saying we’ll never get there, but for now it’s more of a sci-fi convention than an actual trend.
One place we can expect improvements is in battery life.
I know, I just said that batteries have improved drastically, but so have the power needs of these devices… Point is there’s room for improvement.
Graphene batteries could add capacity while reducing weight. They’re also less prone to bursting into flames than lithium ion batteries. I’ve talked about graphene, and all kinds of other alternative batteries, in other videos.
One area that phone companies have tried to differentiate themselves is with the cameras.
But we’ve gotten to the point where adding resolution is kinda pointless, like once you’re recording 4k videos… there’s just diminishing returns after that.
But there is some room for improvement on the front cameras.
In lieu of being able to improve the cameras, we can improve image processing. Specifically with AI.
In fact, the inclusion of AI is a big area where smartphones are expected to evolve.
You can expect to see large language models begin to act as assistants on the phone that can work between apps to perform tasks for you.
Like instead of ordering food from door dash or uber eats, you would just tell your phone, order me some lo mein from pearl’s chinese restaurant, and it would get on the app and order for you.
Or “I need to order plane tickets to Boston” and it will get on the travel apps and give you options to choose from.
But that’s where I think smartphones are going, becoming basically digital assistants. And distraction devices.
But really… where do you go from there?
Because I mean… nobody thought that the smartphone was going to be like, the end of progress right? There will be something that takes its place.
The question really comes down to… how far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?
Because there is a bit of a backlash to our smartphone addiction. Some would say it would be great to have a device that provides all the advantages of a smartphone but without the distraction. So we can live in the moment and connect with people.
Others believe the only way out is through – to go deeper into the immersion.
This is what Apple’s trying to do with the Vision Pro and Meta with the Quest and the metaverse.
I’ve talked about the metaverse before, no need to rehash all of that but there is a push for more immersion, which, this might sound weird to say, but it also aims to make the technology invisible.
What if, instead of looking down at a phone screen all the time, the world was your screen? This is the potential for smart glasses and headsets.
So I know I’m late to the game to talk about the Apple Vision Pro, there’s not much I can add here that you haven’t already heard, so let’s just call this my take on it.
So I’ve had the Quest 2 for a couple of years now, it was kind-of a pandemic purchase; and I go through phases with it, sometimes I use it a lot, sometimes it sits in the drawer for months at a time.
It’s safe to say I haven’t found a use for it that really drew me in and became part of my every day routine the way my computer and phone have become. It’s mostly recreational for me.
The high-definition, lifelike passthrough mode that you could turn on and off with a dial, the fact that it automatically became transparent when people walk into your field of view, the fact that you don’t need clunky controllers in your hands, this stuff blew my mind.
And I gotta be honest, I really want to experience the eye-tracking technology that everyone’s raving about, that just looks SICK.
Apple calls this “spatial computing” instead of AR because Apple gonna Apple, but I think it’s a fairly accurate term to use because they’re taking the computer experience off of a screen and making it three-dimensional, in the world.
Which, in a way, is kind-of a different way to have “transparent phones” if you think about it.
Of course here comes the comments about the price tag and me being an “Apple fanboy” and yes, you are that predictable.
And the price tag is steep, $3500 is a good chunk of change especially when you compare it with the Quest at $500, but the quality of the image and the mixed reality functions are just so far beyond what the Quest and lower priced models can do.
I really puts it more on par with higher-end mixed reality headsets like the Varjo VR3, which starts at the exact same price.
The Vision Pro is like buying a computer and a display in one, but the display can be made as big or small as you want it to be.
I don’t think the Vision Pro is going to be a game-changer, it’s priced too high for most people, it’s more of a developer product, for professionals to get their hands on and see what they can come up with for it.
Which one could argue is what the first iPhone was. I remember people laughing out loud at the price and saying nobody would ever be willing to spend that much on it.
And it didn’t have a fraction of the functionality that it would have even 5 years later, once the developers started creating more interesting and useful apps for it.
I see the Vision Pro being a first step. Something that will be refined in the coming years, and something that could get people used to this idea of “spatial computing” so that when something more like smart glasses come along, it’s an interface we all understand.
And I do think that’s where this is going. Like a lot of hay has been made about the front screen that shows your eyes, which yeah, it’s a little weird; maybe even dystopian, but I think it’s meant to be a band aid of sorts until the technology for transparent smart glasses gets perfected.
There we are with that transparent screen thing again.
You might not like the idea of smart glasses, but if you want to talk about what will replace the smartphone, what will cause the next sea change in how we interface with technology, this could be it.
Instead of being tethered to a screen you hold in your hand, the screen can be right in front of you, as big as you want, as transparent as you want, with helpful info displayed as you navigate the world, probably with some kind of AI assistant anticipating your needs.
Instead of carrying something around, you just put the glasses on and go about your day. The technology would be integrated into your daily life, and, ideally, become invisible.
That’s one direction things could go in, but there’s another direction, with the same goal of making the technology invisible.
It’s from a company called Humane, Inc, which was founded by two former Apple execs, Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno.
Imran and Bethany are a husband-and-wife team who left Apple in 2017, a move they didn’t make lightly.
Chaudhri worked as a designer at Apple for 22 years. He often worked side-by-side with Steve Jobs. He’s actually listed as a co-inventor on their patent for the touch screen.
Bongiorno was a Director of Software Engineering at Apple. She managed a number of notable projects, including the first iPad. And in case that’s not impressive enough, before that, she was an astrophysicist.
Clearly, these guys know a thing or two about building smart devices. They’re also good at keeping secrets, operating in stealth mode for nearly five years. Everybody knew they were up to something big – but nobody knew what.
There were some hints along the way. Like a 2020 patent application for a “body-worn device” with a laser projector.
And a leaked investor document from 2021 that mentioned an always-on camera and lidar sensors.
Back in April of this year, they finally revealed what they’ve been working on in a TED Talk.
Since the reveal they’ve given it a name, the AI Pin. Though I have a feeling they’re hoping people will drop the A and just say iPin, but whatever.
Their goal with the AI Pin, and the mission statement for Humane in general is to make the technology invisible and get rid of screens altogether.
In his talk, Chaudhri called screens, “A further barrier between you and the world.” And claims that Humane wants their technology to “fade into the background of your life.”
(over any images or video)
The way it works is, it’s a wearable that sits on top of your shirt, either with a pin or a magnet. When you’re not actively using it, it kinda monitors your surroundings and helps you navigate or provide information when needed.
You interact with it with your voice and with gestures, and when it does need to display information, as you saw from that clip where he made the phone call, you just hold out your hand and it projects it on your hand with lasers.
The idea is, it’s a little AI assistant that you interact with like it’s a person. It listens and anticipates your needs so if you say you’re hungry, it might suggest nearby options.
I noticed a moment in the TED Talk right before he makes the phone call that he says the word “wife”, a little light goes across his Ai Pin.
Was that somebody cueing the pin by remote, or was it a sign the AI had caught his intention to take the call? It certainly seemed like something intelligent was paying attention and acting appropriately.
Chaudhri talked about tech being ambient and contextual. And that’s what he showed: a piece of tech that waits quietly, taking in the world around it, until it can be helpful.
At one point in the demo, he used a double finger tap to have the pin translate his words into French.
The translation was in his voice, using generative AI. Which is super cool for all the travelers out there.
Granted we’ve had Google translate on our phones for a while, but this just takes it one step further. Again, without the need for a screen.
It can also serve as a personal assistant, managing your email and calendar.
According to Chaudhri it’s fully customizable with the gestures and prompts so you can teach it what you want it to do with machine learning. And because it learns from you, the more you use it, the more efficient it will get.
Where it gets a little yikesy is the camera is basically always on. The idea being that instead of having to whip out a phone and experience moments through a screen, you just get to enjoy it, and then tell the device to save what just happened.
Which I get that, but you definitely get into some privacy concerns there.
Though… we’ve all got cameras in our pockets, and security cameras are everywhere, but it’s something else when someone is pointing a camera at you.
Like next time you’re out somewhere just pull up your phone and go like this at the next table over:
People don’t like that. And the coffee shop will not let me back in— YOU back in there again.
By the way, that’s one of the hangups people had with the Snap glasses and the Rayban smart glasses, those big cameras just staring at people when you’re trying to talk to them.
I do worry a little bit that if smart glasses do become a thing, or always-on digital assistants like the AI Pen, that it might change how people act.
Which might sound like a good thing if you think people are generally bastards, that maybe knowing that they’re being recorded might make people a little more civil to each other, and that’s possible, I don’t know, as someone who makes video content for a living, I can tell you, people just act differently when there’s a camera on them.
I’m a little worried that over time, if these things become ubiquitous that people will just adopt a layer of falseness in our interactions with each other. That we’ll never really be sure who we’re talking to – it is the authentic person or a persona they adopt for the camera?
Which, to push back against Humane just a little bit, if their stated goal is to remove screens so that we can connect with each other more fully… I think this could be a hinderance to that.
Anyway, the TED talk is linked below, feel free to go check it out in full.
Humane’s Ai Pin is expected to come out this year. The company hasn’t even hinted at the cost, but if you want one, you can go to hu.ma.ne to get on the waiting list.
The idea is interesting and I’ll be watching to see where it goes. I think when it comes down to it, the big question is have we reached peak distraction?
Because the entire premise of this company and their device is that we’re all clamoring to get off our phones and re-engage with each other. Which… I think there’s a solid argument that that would be better for society, and maybe we have reached a point where things have gotten so out of whack that there is a movement or a trend away from technology and screens. To log off and touch grass as they say.
But I think there’s also a solid argument that uh… People like distraction. Kind-of a lot.
So this is a segment that I like to call, “Joe contradicts the entire point of his video.”
I mean, let’s face it, there’s nothing stopping any of us from setting these things down and walking away from it right now, but we don’t do it, do we? Our phones are more integrated into our lives than ever before.
And maybe a clip-on AI assistant could take on a lot of the major uses of the phone and free us from our dependence on them, but let’s be honest with ourselves, most of the time we spend on our phones are mindlessly scrolling some feed or playing meaningless games – it’s a dopamine delivery device.
Which is why if I had to make a choice between these two options, I’d bet on the smart goggles because those would still allow you to engage in that sweet, sweet distraction when you wanted.
Or, maybe in the future AI assistants become the thing we use to navigate our world but we also have a screen of some sort. A phone or tablet that you can consume content on or do work with.
Or maybe… maybe my entire thesis is flawed. Maybe we landed on the perfect design. A pocket-sized device that we can use to communicate with anybody in the world and contains all the knowledge in the world. Maybe that’s sci-fi enough.