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Sun Dec 04 22:18:10 SAST 2016

End of the road for smart phones?

Reuters | 2016-03-24 07:07:48.0
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Nearly a decade after the iPhone broke the mould for cell phone design and capability, the question being asked is whether the evolution of the smartphone has now come to an end, as even Apple now treats older, smaller 4-inch screens as something new.

Industry experts believe innovation in smartphones is giving way to phone functions popping up as software or services in all manner of new devices, from cars to fridges, to watches and jewellery, instead of being the preserve of hand-held devices.

Analysts and product designers said new breakthroughs are running up against the practical limits of what's possible in current smartphone hardware in terms of screen size, battery life and network capacity.

"Everything in the phone industry now is incremental: slightly faster, slightly bigger, slightly more storage or better resolution," said Christian Lindholm, inventor of the easy text-messaging keyboards in old Nokia phones that made them the best-selling mobile devices of all time.

The financial stakes are high as the futures of Apple, Google, and Microsoft, the world's three biggest listed companies at the end of last year, might now turn on who gets the jump on making handsets redundant.

Many companies are experimenting with new ways to help consumers interact with the wider world through touch, sight and sound.

These include voice-activated personal assistant devices dangling from "smart jewellery" necklaces with tiny embedded microphones, or tiny earpieces that get things done for us based on our voice commands.

The world's biggest tech companies have made real progress in this arena. Google Now, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon.com's Alexa are now able to read texts or e-mails aloud, answer practical questions, control phone features, handle basic communications and read a map.

"The way the whole thing is evolving, the device is becoming just another way to provide access to a user's digital life," said independent financial analyst Richard Windsor.

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