Welcome To Mobile World Congress: BTW, The Smartphone Is Dead

ZenithOptimedia and sister agency Performics met the attendees at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona with some sobering thoughts and predictions. The smartphone is going to be made obsolete by the coming era of an “Internet of Things” (IoT). Who needs a dedicated phone, the argument goes, when the world of objects around us will be rife with sensors and communications devices that are all connected with one another?

Okay, the claim is a bit sensational. After all, it is an ad agency, isn't it? In fact, even the report argues that the smartphone is not going away anytime soon. Its importance actually will only grow in coming years as we rely on smartphones for more tasks and use them as a connective tissue with the emerging Internet of Things. The next stage is a more intelligent smartphone that uses sensors and predictive logic to better organize our lives. And it will be the key component in interacting with other devices in the home. Mobile purchasing will increase, and the car will ultimately be seen as a mobile device.

So where is the dead phone thing? Apparently the smartphone's obsolescence will come after its importance peaks because of all of the above rather unremarkable predictions. “Once we reach hyper-connectivity, and come to enjoy a data-fueled world, powered by millions of sensors and screens embedded into surfaces around, the smartphone as we know it will cease to have a purpose,” the company states.

The future of “true mobility” is one where the functionality of the Internet, and currently our smartphones, is actually distributed among so many sensors and connected devices. Mobility will no longer be focused on a single device, but the world will be mobile. ZenithOptimedia suggests that the IoT may better be understood as a Mobile of Everything. “This new world will offer many exciting consumer engagement opportunities for brands that are prepared to invest in partnerships, technology solutions and importantly ‘owned content’,” states Fred Joseph, CEO EMEA, Performics and ZenithOptimedia Global Mobile Lead. Indeed, the company says that fully dispersed connectivity into things rather than a single device will also make obsolete the concept of “media channels.” With so much information moving back and forth across sensors and devices, the touchpoints become almost countless and reliance any specific channel or channels seems moot.

I am not sure I quite follow the logic of the more sensational point here. The dispersal of connectivity to things may actually have the opposite effect than what Frederic and ZenithOptimedia/Perfomics are supposing. The diffusion of connected tasks may underscore the importance of a genuinely personal device that is apart from the sensor-based and appliance-oriented IoT. It is the intimacy of the smartphone that is part of its historically unprecedented power. All of the tired but true stats about it being the device we wake up and go to sleep with, that we don’t share with others, that we value more than all else -- these are the signatures of a device whose important is way beyond connectivity and functionality.

Even if some functionality, including messaging and voice, were handled everywhere (VoIP enabled refrigerators, TVs, walls, hats) the need for a physical object that seemed to contain and protect it all might be heightened. Even if all of the at-hand information we need were actually accessible across all of these connected objects, it is hard to imagine people growing comfortable very soon to relying solely on the dispersed cloud for this. There is a reason the wallet, the handbag, and the purse have lasted as long as they have. Even if the digital universe already contains all of that information, those personal totems of privacy and control seem essential to us. 

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1 comment about "Welcome To Mobile World Congress: BTW, The Smartphone Is Dead".
  1. John Gauntt from Media Dojo , February 25, 2014 at 2:50 p.m.
    I'm at MWC and while I cant fault the ambition behind the statement that smartphones will be assimilated by the Internet of Things, I haven't seen any indication that a crunch is nigh. To paraphrase Keynes, the market will stay irrational a lot longer than Zenith et al will stay solvent.