The future of smartphones
As you can see from the picture at the top of this post, last week BlackBerry’s smartphone market share fell to 0% in the global marketplace. In all fairness, this number reflects the number of devices running BlackBerry OS (not the number of BlackBerry-branded Android devices, which together with all other Android devices, comprise 82% of the market).
If you think back to 2007, BlackBerry pretty much owned the smartphone world that they created - they were too big to fail, and too proud to accept that Apple and Google could eat their cake. But 10 years later, they’re a niche company trying to peddle their security and smartphone management software to any Fortune 500 company that still has fond memories of their brand. It’s a stark reminder of how quickly the tech industry can change, and how unforgiving it can be to those left behind.
This sort of trend isn’t uncommon in the technology world whatsoever. Most technology platforms that grow into a market success evolve using a radical paradigm shift in how the market uses that technology, which in turn leads to a a whole new technology that grows into a market success.
We can see this evolution in smartphones as well. A smartphone started out as a 2-way email device (the original BlackBerry 950 from RIM in 1999) that quickly became a market success after it was the only communication device operational after the 9/11 attacks in New York City in 2001. With an influx of millions of orders, RIM added a cellular phone to their BlackBerry in 2002 and the smartphone was born! Back then, a smartphone was an email device plus a cellular phone. And it was crazy popular - CrackBerry thumb was an actual medical condition that arose from texting too much on the BlackBerry’s physical keyboard.
Then, in 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone, which was essentially a fully-functional computer in your pocket with high-speed Internet access that could run apps (including email and phone). Overnight it changed what we wanted smartphones to do - we wanted to Google information, share pictures/posts, and play games on our smartphone! Google followed suit shortly afterwards in 2008 by releasing Android to a plethora of different hardware manufacturers that popularized smartphones worldwide. Everyone was talking about the “latest new app” you can get on your phone, and life was good. Or in T-Mobile’s words, “Life’s for sharing”: https://youtu.be/VQ3d3KigPQM
It’s now been almost 10 years since Apple introduced the iPhone and changed the way that we think about smartphones. A few additional contenders tried to enter the market (BlackBerry & Windows Phone), but in the end, only Android (with 82% of the market) and Apple (with 17% of the market) remain. Smartphones and smartphone apps are now ubiquitous, and we’re itching for the next new paradigm shift in smartphone evolution:
What what emerging technologies will we see in phase 3 of smartphone evolution, and who will be the dominant players? We won’t know for sure, but there are some things that I think will likely define the next phase of smartphone evolution based on what we’re currently seeing in the industry:
The focus for app development will be on cross-platform technologies
Cross-platform development technologies such as Microsoft’s Xamarin will likely overshadow native app development, and games will likely be made using cross-platform engines such as Unity. We’ll probably also see a massive rise in apps that are almost entirely Web-based too.
Open technologies will be favoured over closed ones
While Apple really deserves credit for starting phase 2 of smartphone evolution, their operating system is closed on many levels compared to Android. While this allowed them to sell a large number of smartphones early on, a closed system will likely turn out to be a hinderance as we evolve into the next phase of smartphone evolution, where collaboration between vendors could define the next paradigm shift. In 1980s terms, Apple is more like the closed Sony BETA VCR, and Google is like the open VHS VCR standard. Emerging technologies such as smartphone enterprise security (e.g. KNOX), Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are already speeding ahead on Android with collaboration from multiple vendors, and Apple may find itself left in the dust if it doesn’t foster key vendor relationships or embrace a more open approach.
We’ll see more cloud integration for identity management, authentication & payment
Right now, we’ve got some rudimentary authentication systems as well as some commercial payment systems (e.g. Apple Pay, Android Pay), but nothing feels revolutionary here. We still have a wallet or purse full of cards, and dozens of credentials to remember. Emerging technologies will need to deal with this problem, and we may see a new third-party player in the market perform this paradigm shift.