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Despite cries to the contrary, wearables will not lead to the demise of the smartphone. In fact, this technology will only make the smartphone more central to our lives.
A direct connection
The smartphone is cellular and Wi-Fi enabled already. It is built to connect, upload and download data.
Many wearables — for reasons ranging from energy consumption to data plan costs — are not directly connected to the internet and must be tethered to a smartphone. A Pebble smart watch is not very smart until it is connected to your phone’s data through Bluetooth, making the smartphone a requirement.
In a connected environment, such as a retail store, your phone is the most universal trigger to identify who and where you are, while also initiating a conversation. The phone can relay your specific location in an aisle or receive notifications about related items or deals more personally and immediately than environmental displays.
Small but mighty
The smartphone is already a high-performance, portable device. Some wearables give very little to no output (such as visual or audio), as with the Misfit Shine, which only displays illuminated dots to communicate with the owner. While other wearables, such as the Adidas miCoach smart watch, can show more. These devices were built for speed of communication, or “glanceability,” not for analyzing workouts or patterns.
Other devices, such as Google Glass, use voice input to initiate navigation. This method still in its nascent stages and is easily influenced by your environment: Is there lots of background noise? Is it appropriate to be talking out loud right now or about this topic?
The phone, however, was designed around voice. Unlike with voice-enabled wearables, talking on the phone and having rich conversations is natural and accepted behavior. When it evolved into the smartphone, the phone grew into an interactive device with a high-resolution touchscreen as the standard. These screens are small enough to be portable but large enough to show complex information, such as your banking information or fitness patterns.
The incredible Swiss Army knife
The smartphone is here to stay. Its versatility is unrivaled by any other mobile device: it is a phone, alarm clock, watch, TV, calendar, camera, map, wallet and so much more. In the near-term, wearables cannot efficiently replace everything that smartphones are capable of doing. We can, however, expect them to do one of two things: be a window into your phone, like the Pebble and Samsung Gear, or have a specialized, niche purpose like with the Adidas miCoach smart watch.
For connected environments, the smartphone is also a multi-purpose device: one in two American adults have a smartphone, making it one of the most ubiquitous technologies that people take with them everywhere.
Ultimately, these new technologies will be additive, not reductive. As wearables and connected environments become more prevalent, this evolution will only further cement the smartphone as the true digital hub in people’s lives.
Olof Schybergson is the CEO and co-founder of service design consultancy, Fjord (part of Accenture Interactive). He is passionate about elegant simplicity and its power to solve challenges, big or small.