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Have we reached peak smartphone?

Michael Simon | March 4, 2015
The revolution started by the iPhone has lost momentum. Michael Simon looks ahead to the next frontier.

Follow the leader

The current crop of smartphones is nothing short of stunning. The iPhone 6's curved glass set the standard for large-screen design, and Samsung responded with the sexy S6 Edge, sporting a screen that literally drips off the sides. LG's Flex 2 takes the gimmick out of the curved screen, and Motorola's Moto X meshes beauty and power in a bezel-free, buttonless enclosure. Even HTC, who went the conservative route with the M9's design, still has one of the most beautiful handset designs around.

But it's becoming clear that the traditional smartphone design has reached its zenith. The screens are about as big as they're gonna get, and the thinness race is starting to adversely affect battery life advancement. The premium phones all look so good, design seems to be becoming less of a factor in our purchasing decision, which is why one of Samsung's biggest selling points with the S6 is that there's less preinstalled bloatware.

But that's not all it lost. Samsung's stunning S6 is being hailed for its Cupertino-inspired redesign, but the things that truly set earlier models apart from its competitors--the removable battery, external memory and waterproofness--were all dropped amid the metal-and-glass shuffle. Of course, Apple has been plenty successful without any of these things, but for as good as the S6 Edge's infinity screen looks, at its core, it's just keeping pace. Samsung's an easy target for Apple fans, but really, it's locked in an eternal game of catch-up. The only phone-maker brave enough to break the mold again is Apple, and until that happens, each year will bring another batch of refined rounded rectangles.

Wear we're headed

That's where smartwatches come in. We're still in the early stages of fitting them into our lives and routines, but if Apple's first wearable is any indication of how the landscape is moving, the smartwatch-smartphone tandem isn't about cutting down on the number of times we need to take our phones out of our pockets or bags, it's about leaving them there until we absolutely need them. Just like CarPlay supplements the need to reach for our iPhone while we're driving, Apple Watch lets us access the bits of information we need and quickly communicate when our iPhones aren't in our hands. The iPhone 6 is as powerful as a MacBook from just a few years ago, but Apple actually wants us to use it less (or at least differently) than we have in the past. 

It's not that we'll be spending more time looking at our wrists, but the little things we reach for our phones to do will be dramatically lessened by the alerts and Glances on our watch. And when we're not unlocking our iPhones as many times each day, we're not playing that extra game of Trivia Crack or Threes, or getting lost in a Facebook conversation. Much like the iPad altered the way we use our MacBooks, Apple Watch will start adjusting the way the use our iPhones, which will dictate the direction Apple takes with future models. And you can bet Samsung, HTC and Motorola will be sure to follow. 

The rectangles in our pockets are about as good as they're gonna get. Now it's about what they can do when we're not holding them.


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