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Introducing: The World's Next Great Smartphone (Or At Least The Process For Finding It)

Introducing: The World's Next Great Smartphone Or At Least The Process For Finding It
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To say the smartphone is a hit is a massive understatement. Nearly two billion people now own the gadget. The world's most successful model (the iPhone) makes up 69 percent of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) revenue stream, a company that just posted the best quarter in recorded history.

The device has transcended incomes, oceans and cultures in a way no other consumer tech gadget has come close to doing.

But even the biggest hits don't last forever. Eventually, the smartphone will begin to fade, leaving way for new technology to either take its place or invent something else altogether.

With this in mind, we set out to answer one question: what will be the next smartphone?

The "next smartphone" must be a few things:

1. For consumers
2. Made for everyone: relevant across cultures and affordable across socioeconomic statuses
3. A solution to a big problem

That last point is critical. The next great consumer tech can't simply be nifty or fun to use: it has to improve people's lives in some obvious, lasting way. The current smartphone has revolutionized the way we stay organized, entertained, informed, and connected.* Our day-to-day lives are fundamentally different as a result. The "next smartphone" must share these qualities.

*It's also turned us into bumbling, phone-obsessed zombies who occasionally stumble into traffic while staring at tiny screens, but let's put aside unintended consequences for now.

So let's run down a series of up-and-coming products to see which ones could be a worthy successor to the smartphone's throne.

The Smartwatch


Is it for consumers? Yes.
Is it made for everyone? For the most part.
Does it solve a big problem? Unclear.

With the Apple Watch now two months away, the tech world is wondering whether the smartwatch will be the next consumer megahit. The formula seems simple enough: take a classic, centuries-old staple (the wristwatch), then bake in smart functionality, like reminders, text messages and fitness tracking. When you consider that the core feature is telling time—something that applies to every human on the planet—why wouldn't the smartwatch be destined for greatness?

The bad news is that the smartwatch has been languishing for years now, selling in small numbers, and for the most part, only to geeks.

Granted, early smartwatch developers like Pebble and Meta Watch simply could have been too early, and Apple's upcoming launch could take the whole industry mainstream. But at the same time, what does the smartwatch do that the smartphone doesn't?

Aren't the two products almost too similar?

And do most people really want to go back to wearing wristwatches, a habit most of us left behind five to ten years ago?

Bottom line: right intentions, wrong product

The Fitness Tracker


Is it for consumers? Yes.
Is it made for everyone? Depends who you ask.
Does it solve a big problem? Mostly, yes.

The fitness tracker is the practical, focused cousin of the smartwatch. Where the smartwatch wants to recreate the smartphone on your wrist, the fitness tracker simply wants to organize your exercise. And for humans, staying fit is as basic and essential as telling the time.

So far as we can see it, however, the fitness tracker has two problems. First, the device has far more appeal with type-A personalities, the sort of person who wants to track every single step taken or calorie burned. Large swaths of the population simply won't care about the precision of a tracker—some might even be a little spooked by it.

And then there's our inherent laziness. Lots of people are buying fitness trackers, but many of them give up on the device after one or two months of fading good intentions. Like a New Year's resolution, the fitness bug only lasts so long.

Bottom line: doomed by our laziness

The 3D Printer


Is it for consumers? So far, no.
Is it made for everyone? Probably not.
Does it solve a big problem? In some cases.

For consumers, 3D printers and scanners are more "nifty" than "revolutionary." Most manufacturers like to show off geeky jewelry and offbeat artwork, but it's hard to find an application that justifies the $1,000+ price tag. There's a little more promise in the enterprise space—particularly with healthcare—but for a mass-market consumer product, we remain unconvinced.

The best consumer idea we've heard? Home appliance repair. In theory, you could "print out" a replacement for your broken dish-washing rack in minutes using a capable 3D printer. But we'll need something more exciting than that to christen 3D printing as the next big thing.

Bottom line: still too geeky and obscure

Augmented Reality


Virtual Reality

Photo by AP Images

Is it for consumers? Sort of.
Is it made for everyone? Hard to say.
Does it solve a big problem? Not yet.

Augmented reality (whether in the form of holograms or fully virtual worlds) has been gaining steam for the last two years. So far, the main players are Oculus (virtual reality gaming headsets), and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ: MSFT) (the HoloLens), though several smaller operations have started jumping in.

These augmented reality headsets make for extraordinary demos, whether they're promising the next revolution in gaming or a three-dimensional experiment in office productivity. It all seems like a genuine glimpse of the future.

The problem? The lack of a simple, clear path forward. Augmented reality often looks like the future, but it rarely feels like something we need in the present. The technology produces amazement, but it doesn't just click the way a hit product needs to. We still expect augmented reality to catch fire at some point, but in its current form, we don't see it. Just look at Google Inc (NASDAQ: GOOG) Glass.

Bottom line: needs more time in the augmented oven

The Driverless Car


Driverless Car

Driverless Car – photo by Ben Taylor

Is it for consumers? Yes.
Is it made for everyone? Not quite.
Does it solve a big problem? Yes, but we may not realize it yet.

The driverless car has been gliding around trade shows and Google press releases since at least 2011, though the world has been slow to jump in and buckle up. Understandably, people are weary of the concept.

What if I enjoy driving? What if there's a bug in the software? I've seen The Terminator and other robot-sci-fi flicks. Won't the cars develop minds of their own?

The data tends to refute most of the above concerns. Most people tend to hate their morning and evening commutes anyway. Driverless cars are far, far safer than human-piloted autos. And Hollywood has a tendency to dramatize robots.

But the stigma is still there, and it presents a problem for the driverless car.

What's more, even if the driverless car does go mainstream, consider that only around 10 percent of the world's population owns a car. Yes, many more humans do interact with automobiles from time to time (e.g., taxis), but the driverless car already has a lower ceiling than the smartphone, simply because there are fewer people using cars than phones.

Bottom line: a potential revolution that people may have a hard time accepting

The Drone


Drone at CES 2015

Drone at CES 2015 – photo by Ben Taylor

Is it for consumers? Not really, yet.
Is it made for everyone? Could be.
Does it solve a big problem? Yes.

Most people associate the drone with warfare. It's an unfortunate reputation, given that the drone is already serving a lot of more peaceful, commercial needs, from delivering medicine to watering crops to filming commercials. Most consumers probably don't see drones on a daily basis, but, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) could be well on their way to making consumer drone deliveries.

So the drone may very well become an essential technology for the world, but will it be a genuine consumer hit? The market for average Joes is less clear. Today, consumer drone use is limited to glorified remote-controlled airplane flying—hardly the smartphone 2.0.

Bottom line: becoming a commercial staple, but the consumer market is murky

The Connected Home


Panasonic's home monitoring service

Panasonic home monitoring – photo by Ben Taylor

Is it for consumers? Yes.
Is it made for everyone? Potentially.
Does it solve a big problem? Yes.

With smartphones already controlling TVs, alarm clocks and door locks across America, the full-fledged connected home seems like a logical next step. Companies like Nest (acquired by Google) and Lowe's have already been selling smart home systems for a few years now, though most of the functionality is in its very early stages.

More traditional tech players like Panasonic have begun to jump in as well, promising temperature control, music, media and security features, all responding to a single tap or spoken phrase.

If there's been anything to criticize so far, it's the over-emphasis on security.

According to The New York Times, approximately 80 percent of all home security alerts are false alarms. We're happy that the world's biggest tech companies are serious about alarms and sirens, but what about things like comfort and daily efficiency? (See this vaguely creepy Panasonic home monitoring video starring Kris Kringle himself.)

If the industry can get over its obsession with break-ins, however, the connected home could be poised for a smartphone-like revolution. Like the phone, the home is part of our daily lives, the sort of environment where a few nifty features could win us all over in a hurry.

More importantly, however, the home is personal, cozy and sentimental. Just like with the smartphone, an emotional connection can mean the difference between a cool gadget and a worldwide revolution.

Bottom line: real potential, as long as we can get past security

The post Predicting the Next Smartphone: The Consumer Tech Hit of the Future appeared first on FindTheBest: The Official Blog.

The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.

Posted-In: Tech Best of Benzinga


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