Are Google and Apple Preparing for the Death of Smartphones?

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If 2012 was the year that disc drives and compact discs became obsolete, the ubiquity of GPS services on smartphones made stand-alone GPS devices unnecessary, and small-screened smartphones were widely replaced by the large-screened Samsung (SSNLF) Galaxy and slightly taller Apple (AAPL) iPhone 5, what can we expect from 2013?

The evolution of technology proceeds ferociously fast, and this past year was no exception. With rumors on the Internet of Google's (GOOG) wearable eyeglasses, known now as Glass, and more recently, of an iWatch from Apple, the companies may be preparing wearable computer technology in anticipation of the death of the smartphone as we know it.

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In a report released yesterday morning, Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray, responding to spreading rumors on tech blogs of an Apple iWatch, said, "We believe that longer term (over the next 10+ years), wearable computers could eventually replace the iPhone and smartphones in general." Munster also writes about a point in time only a few years away when consumers will have tablets that they will use in addition to wearable computers like an iWatch or Google's Glass. In fact, this technology already exists, with watches that sync with the user's Facebook (FB) and Twitter feeds, like Sony's (SNE) Android powered SmartWatch, which retails for $129.99

Additionally, Munster writes that Apple may expand its MFi program, which licenses to third party manufacturers the ability to make products that connect to Apple iOS devices. The watch seems like small potatoes, but may be the vanguard of a trend, a trend that Munster says "offers revenue potential beyond the iPhone/iPad franchise."

When Google premiered its Glass last April, speculation began mounting for a 2013 release, but it seems like a wide release will not happen until at least 2014. According to an interview IEEE Spectrum did with Babak Parvix, an electrical engineer at Google, "The feature set for the device is not set yet. It is still in flux." The same is probably true for the iWatch, which will also most likely see a 2014 debut. This being said, a prototype version of Google Glass, called "Explorer," will supposedly be available to buy for $1,500 sometime this year.

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Rumors are already circulating on the Internet about Apple testing its iPhone 6 (or 5s) for release later this year. The speed of production at Apple is, as usual, unrelenting, and uncertainty is abounding after Apple's stock price roller coaster of 2012. Also in works for the company is an Apple TV, a fully inclusive television set, like iMac was for computers. Apple has been testing the waters of the TV market with its Apple TV box and service. Perhaps the rumored iWatch will be a similar experiment, to test the waters of wearable computers.

Just as flip phones were succeeded so successfully by smartphones, will smartphones as we know them today be succeeded by wearable devices, in the form of glasses and watches? Even the beginning of this shift is at least a year away, but the more I read about the future of wearable computers and phones, the more I buy into this being the next stage of smartphone evolution -- a move toward the full development of what Paul Jacobs, Chairman and CEO of Qualcomm (QCOM), calls a "digital sixth sense."

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Imagine looking through a sleek pair of glasses, seeing arrows pointing you in the right direction to your appointment across town, so you don't have to look down at a map and lose momentum in the midday crowds. Imagine seeing an acquaintance, someone you met once but whose name you've forgotten -- your glasses will recognize their face and remind you of their name. Or imagine such a device as a tactical tool for a solider, allowing for a constant stream of information while looking dead ahead.

These are small ways this kind of computing could change us and our world. But as smartphones and their apps have demonstrated by becoming fundamental elements of our daily lives, the small things add up, and once they do, we don't turn back.

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