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How wearable tech will change the smartphone as you know it

Al Sacco | Jan. 24, 2014
Wearable technology -- smartwatches, smartglasses and more -- may not replace your smartphone altogether, but it's sure to play a key role in the evolution of your handset. Here's why.

 Wearable Tech and Google's Nexus 5 Smartphone

The majority of wearable gadgets today are smartphone companion devices, designed to mostly work along with your phone and serve as a secondary display for your handset. The current popularity of smartwatches, smartglasses and other wearable gadgetry raises a number of intriguing questions about how these newfangled gizmos will affect the smartphones in so many of our pockets and purses.

As these device get "smarter" and evolve, will we still need our phones? Will there still be a place for the humble smartphone in 10 or 15 years?

While working on a recent story about wearable technology in the enterprise, I asked a handful of smart people for their thoughts on the subject. Opinions vary, but most of the sources agree that wearables will play a prominent role in the evolution of the smartphone.

Four Expert Opinions on Wearables — and Four Rebuttals
CA Technologies CTO John Michelsen thinks that if wearable technology does replace the smartphone, next-generation display technology will need to play a key role.

"It depends on the visual technology. It's the display," Michelsen says. "What am I going to do when someone emails me an Excel file and I need to do a quick review and respond? The smartphone is barely viable as it is. If we can get display tech that lets me hit a button for a display, I think the cell phone goes away."

Valid point. But I still don't see any form of currently available wearable technology completely replacing the smartphone, just as tablets have not fully replaced the PC. I see a place for the current smartphone form factor and the PC for years to come, though it may be a specialized place or niche for both.

Gartner Research Director Angela McIntyre didn't hesitate for one minute to shoot down the idea of the smartwatch replacing the smartphone.

"The smartphone is going to be alive and well for the foreseeable future," she says. "I don't see the smartwatch replacing the smartphone."

I agree. But I also think smartwatches and other wearables will eventually cannibalize the smartphone market and, perhaps, play a role in its demise.

Forrester VP and Principal Analyst J.P. Gownder also thinks display technology will play an important role in the evolution of wearables and says holographic displays could be in the future.

"You need to be able to see a large amount of information" while taking up as little space as possible, Gownder says. "Holography could help."

Gownder also predicts that wearables will someday be just as popular as smartphones. "As many people will be wearing these devices as people carry[ing] smartphones today," Gownder says. "People can wear more than one wearable, but nobody really carries more than two [smartphones or tablets]."


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