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The Post-Mobile Era

The smartphone has laid the foundation on which the future will be built and will eventually give birth to that which displaces it.

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A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.


It is time to start looking beyond smartphone hardware. We are observing signs that the smartphone market is mature. More than two billion people have a smartphone, and the market is moving to “replacement cycle innovation” rather than “adoption cycle innovation.” In adoption cycle innovation, we see a heavier emphasis on features designed to attract consumers for a first-time purchase. Now that smartphones are in a replacement cycle for the most developed parts of the world, we will see more feature evolution than a burst of brand-new things. In this regard, the smartphone hardware landscape will start to feel similar to the PC hardware landscape. In the post-mature PC market, it’s not as much of a big deal when vendors launch PCs with new features as it used to be. The smartphone hardware landscape will now follow the same dynamics from here on out.

The post-mobile era is not like the post-PC era, where the smartphone displaced the PC as the primary computer for the masses.

I want to make it clear when I say we are in the post-mobile era, I’m not saying there is some magical device that will replace the smartphone. In this vernacular, the post-mobile era is not like the post-PC era, where the smartphone displaced the PC as the primary computer for the masses. There will be no single product that will sell 1.5 billion to two billion annually like the smartphone. And whatever is beyond the smartphone is five and maybe even 10 years away from mass-market adoption. What’s more, connecting the next billion humans and beyond remains a critical initiative, but it is one that will be much more difficult than connecting the previous two billion. In the vein of my post-mobile theme, this will be done because of the previous innovations in hardware to bring down the cost of the device, and of connectivity itself.

The smartphone and its now two billion and growing user base, has laid the most critical foundation for the future. It is time to move our focus from smartphone hardware, mobile operating systems and perhaps even the apps themselves, and begin to focus more on what the hardware, operating systems, and apps are enabling.

As my friend Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz is fond of saying, “Google and Apple have both won the mobile wars.” Apple has the most profitable minority of global consumers, and Google has the rest of the 80 percent of the market. While the share of iOS users and Android users is relevant, to a point, what happens on top of these platforms is now the important story.

Putting a computer with an Internet connection into the pockets of two billion (and eventually five billion) humans opens massive new doors to commerce.

One example of this is financial tech, or FinTech, as we call it. Putting a computer with an Internet connection into the pockets of two billion (and eventually five billion) humans opens massive new doors to commerce. We are watching markets like China and India as we see into markets where more digital commerce happens on smartphones than on PCs. And this reality will come to the U.S. and European markets before too long. When the mobile device becomes a central hub of commerce, banking, lending and a host of other financial services, it has the potential to reach more customers in a way they have never had before. My deepest conviction around mobile commerce is the smartphone in the pockets of five billion people will be responsible for the single greatest act of financial inclusion the world has ever seen.

Artificial intelligence is another buzzword gaining steam. It seems that most major players in the tech world from Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook, as well as major players in China, like Baidu, are all working on artificial intelligence of some kind. This is another area that will be built on top of and, in some cases, from the mobile era. We will need powerful computing capabilities both locally and in the cloud to accomplish true AI presences for consumer use. We will need deep device hardware security with end-to-end encryption to our cloud services. Artificial intelligence will spring up from the mobile center.

Similarly, the most interesting things around virtual reality will come from the mobile ecosystem rather than the PC ecosystem, despite how it looks today. Look more for smartphone chipsets, software platforms, apps and other innovations around VR to go mainstream as more VR does not require a cable connected to the PC and is built around and off of the mobile ecosystem.

There are a range of other examples from drones, smart cars, smart homes and smart cities, smartwatches and wearable/embeddable technology and more yet to be invented or come to market which will serve as examples of consumer technologies blossoming out of and from the mobile ecosystem. The smartphone has laid the foundation on which the future will be built, and will eventually give birth to that which displaces it. As we embrace the post-mobile era, it is time to shift our attention from the smartphone hardware itself to all the new things the smartphone will enable as the most pervasive form of personal computing in the history of our industry.


Ben Bajarin is a principal analyst at Creative Strategies Inc., an industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Reach him @BenBajarin.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.