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The smartphone might be going away into AI-driven, screen-less oblivion

The future of the smartphone might not be another smartphone, even if it bends or folds or can be wrapped around your wrist. The future of the smartphone will most probably be one in which the personal computing device that we have all held close to our hearts, quite literally, hides itself from plain sight. While top tech companies have been moving in this direction for years, the biggest step towards a post-smartphone world happened last week when Humane announced its AI Pin. The Humane AI Pin does everything a smartphone does, but actually does more, without being a smartphone that you hold in your hand, and presents a six-inch display for you to fiddle with.

The first time I got a hint about the smartphone taking the back seat was in 2015 when a conversation with a top tech company executive drifted towards how voice commands can tackle most of the smartphone functions. This was way before Alexa had become a thing and the closest we had to what we were speaking of was Siri.

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Soon, we had the AirPod which let you get things done on the phone without actually holding it in your hand. Now, virtual assistants can be summoned from literally any Bluetooth device even as the phone that is doing the heavy lifting with your queries is tucked away in your jeans pocket or inside a handbag.

But still, there was a problem of the display. If you make the phone go away then the display too vanishes. It was in 2019 that I chanced upon how this problem was being solved. Covering the WWDC in San Jose, I walked into someone working on a three-dimensional screen that was projecting itself out of a small pod that he had kept on top of an iPad.

3D Projection on iPad

I was fascinated even though the concept did not seem very practical — it lacked privacy to start with and was not exactly a personal solution. But it was clear that a screen could be projected. Again, this was not a new concept for smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy Beam being just one example.

Festive offerSamsung Galaxy Beam, a smartphone with a projector (Image credit: Samsung)

But if a screen is projected then how do you interact with it? There have been solutions for this problem for a while as well, ever since smartphone companies started experimenting with gestures. While some of these experiments have been really strange and impractical, it is now common for some users to wave their hands to trigger a selfie. Just this year, Apple announced Double Tap, which lets you control aspects of the Apple Watch. This again was a refinement of what it has been doing with accessibility features in the watch.

In fact, accessibility features now let you control almost all aspects of a smartphone, or for that matter a laptop. While developed for users who are visually challenged or not able to use the device the way it has been originally designed, these now show us the possibilities of a screen-less world where the UI is not what we are used to and maybe more natural with voice commands and gestures.

But then what if a phone could predict your context and reduce these interactions? This is where artificial intelligence can come into the picture by suggesting replies to emails and messages, drafts of new communications, and even suggestions on how to frame a picture from the camera which could be embedded in your goggles or even be a pin on the shirt, a bit like what the Humane AI Pin is.

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In fact, it is the camera that has already made big strides in stepping out of the smartphone chassis by making its way into smart glasses over the past decade or so. And as the camera sees, the AI can decipher and provide the context as well as the response. Now, that is stepping into realms the smartphone has not treaded upon so far. And it makes more business as we have seen with Apple, which now rakes in a substantial part of its revenue from services. The Humane model too seems headed that way with each user spending as much as the device in subscription within two years of purchase. And for a change in AI-driven products subscriptions will not be an add-on but an essential part of the product. So there will be no question of not getting a monthly subscription with the device. The Humane AI Pin is also ushering in an era of AI-led devices where the service is the king, not the product itself.

But then the smartphone will not completely vanish, it will maybe become a secondary device that you use more for consumption. That, however, could be the slow walk on the plank for the device that killed many standalone products over the past two decades or so, just because these had ended up as one-trick ponies.

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The Humane AI Pin might not be the post-smartphone solution the world has been waiting for. But with innovation in the smartphone segment plateauing, this new device gives us a direction on where the world of personal technology could be headed in the not-so-distant future. This seems like a future where the hardware itself will take a back seat and software will do your bidding, at a monthly subscription cost, of course.

© IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd Nandagopal Rajan

Nandagopal Rajan writes on technology, gadgets and everything related. He has worked with the India Today Group and Hindustan Times. He is an alumnus of Calicut University and Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Dhenkanal. … Read More

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