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Why wearables will replace your smartphone

Mike Elgan | July 5, 2016
Smartphones are about to change completely, then fade away. Here comes the distributed, invisible user interface

Google Glass was destroyed in the court of public opinion, with journalists saying that the beta prototype was awkward and dorky -- a Segway for your face.

The consensus is that wearables are a huge disappointment.

But wearables are useful only as replacements either for the smartphone user interface or the smartphone itself. If I can look at the display on my smartwatch instead of my phone, then the smartwatch is doing its job. If I still need to directly use my phone all the time, then what's the point of the watch?

Change is already happening. Bit by bit, our smartphone user interface will be replaced by wearables. For example, earbuds like the Doppler Labs' Here One are so good for constant use that (once future versions can last all day on a charge), you'll always wear them. And if you always wear earbuds, the speakers on your phone are unnecessary.

With the rise of virtual assistants and bots, we'll increasingly talk to our smartphones through wearables instead of poking at their screens. Notifications and updates will be spoken to us through our wireless earbuds. Haptics will nudge and inform us with increasingly sophisticated vibrations. The electronics now used in smartglasses will vanish inside ordinary looking glasses and sunglasses, and we'll use them to take photos and videos with a tap or swipe to see high-resolution mixed- and augmented-reality images.

Doppler Labs' Here One earbuds are a great example of the future of all wearables: They're so good they make a smartphone component obsolete.

Mixed- and augmented-reality smartglasses will eventually do something similar. They'll eventually be so compelling to use that we'll prefer the visuals beamed directly into our eyes to the screens on our phones.

Future earbuds and smartglasses working together, along with additional haptic and visual input from our smartwatches, will create a total experience that will be far beyond anything the smartphone by itself could produce.

Ultimately, we'll opt for smaller smartphones that we almost never remove from our pockets, purses and backpacks. And then one day all the electronics normally built into a smartphone will fit into a smartwatch and we'll be done with smartphones forever.

This vision of mobile "personal computing" will be intensely personal. Nobody around us will hear our virtual assistants talking to us, feel the haptics or see the visual information poured directly into our eyes from our smartglasses. Wearables will work together to give us an invisible user interface.

Ultimately, this vision of using multiple wearables as the main or sole interface to our smartphones -- and eventually as an alternative to smartphones -- will make us feel like we, ourselves, are the computer. That may sound unappealing today, but we'll be thrilled by the experience.

Ultimately, Apple's audio jack isn't all that important. The world of smartphone audio is about to radically change how we use smartphones. Eventually, the future of smarter wearables will end the need for smartphones altogether.


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