Have we reached the Age of Peak Smartphone?

Incremental updates aside, what else can we get from smartphones?

Business & Tech

Picture by Tatan Syuflana AP/Press Association Images

15:37 28 Dec 2016 Kevin Kelly 15:37 Wednesday 28 December 2016

Another day, another super luxurious smartphone with outrageous features that go far beyond what people actually need from a smartphone.

This time is the Gionee M2017 from China with a huge battery that should last you days on a single charge. It’s coated in metal and leather, and aimed for the jet setting executive, as they’re the only type of people who could actually afford it.

It’s nice to look at, and nice to hold I’m sure, but it makes me wonder; what else can we do with smartphones?

Look at the type of smartphones on the market today. A lot of them are good enough to be classed as “high-end”, even though they’re in the pockets of most people these days. They do everything we want; from the basics like making phone calls, getting email, tweeting, checking Facebook, to even more strenuous tasks like playing console-level games, making highly animated presentations, they even have the camera quality to shoot feature length movies now.

What else can smartphones do now? It’s looking like we’ve reached peak-smartphone.

A few years ago it was impossible to imagine the smartphone world we’d be living in now. Back when phones were giant clunkers you needed a separate bag just to carry it around, you could only dream of a sleek, metal and glass slab that gave you access to all the information in the world. And you could put it in your pocket? Ridiculous.

That pipe dream is the reality now, and it does everything we want to do and more. These are powerful computers in our pocket. Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969 with 1,300 times less computing power than the iPhone 5s, and that phone is nearly 4 years old now.

Tick Tock

The incremental upgrade cycle of smartphones, mostly on a “tick tock” basis which means every second phone released is the major redesign and upgrade for the model, means that there is always a new spec model just around the corner. And those spec increases are starting to slow, with minimal boosts in storage and memory since the first smartphones started to appear.

What could appear next in smartphone models that will make us look back in a few years in the same vain that we look back at old Blockias with nostalgia now?

The answer is a mix of “well, I don’t know” and “I don’t think there’s much that could happen”.

First of all, it is impossible to predict the future. We can plan for it, but the smallest factor can change things in big ways down the line. We can’t say what future smartphones will look like in the same way that we couldn’t say what today’s smartphones would be like 15 years ago.

There’s lots of little things that could happen to smartphones though. Flexible screens, becoming even thinner, maybe even transparent. But none of those things stand out to feel like the revolutionary step in what the phone can do, except maybe fall out of your hand easier.


Any changes though in the near future of smartphones will be just boosting up what’s there already; a better camera, crisper screen, bumped up storage and memory. While all these are very nice garnishes, the main features of the phone aren’t being changed.

We’re now starting to see the smartphone lose features, with Apple removing the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 models. It’s a backward step really, especially when the space that was made inside wasn’t used for a new feature, just moved some existing innards around a bit.

Smartphones are the most personal computer we’ve ever had. We fondle them, pet them, panic when we can’t feel them in our pocket. And looking at them now, and the range available, perhaps its finally matured to a point of perfection, or a point of no return. If you like what your phone does now, it’s ok, there won’t be any major changes coming soon.

2 Related Articles

Rest in Pieces: Tech we lost in 2016

From big brands to small computers

Apple has a Mac problem, and it's their own fault

The tech giant is paying less and less attention to its anchor lineup of computers