The next big thing in smartphones? The software

“Nearly a decade after taking off, the smartphone is at a turning point,” Betsy Morris reports for The Wall Street Journal. “Advances in hardware have become incremental, and growth in handset sales has largely stalled. But the development of software and services on the phone is booming, driven largely by advances in artificial intelligence, expanding what the devices are capable of and making them increasingly indispensable.”

“It is the reason Apple — famed for its hardware — is boasting about growth in its services,” Morris reports. “While phone makers lately have added features like second camera lenses and waterproofing, few analysts expect major new hardware advances that could drive sales growth beyond single digits in the foreseeable future.

“‘The question is: can there be something else to get sales going again,’ said analyst Gene Munster, who recently left Piper Jaffray to start a venture-capital firm,” Morris reports. “Some features that could juice demand are still likely years away, such as truly foldable glass displays that would allow a phone-tablet combination to fit in your pocket, or a dramatic improvement in augmented reality that would take it beyond rudimentary games and into practical uses like figuring out if a chair you want to buy would fit into your living room.”

“While hardware advances have been less exciting, software is changing at head-spinning rates, driven by advances in how computers process giant amounts of data using artificial-intelligence techniques,” Morris reports. “Those have enabled big leaps in vision and speech-recognition software that have led, among other things, to much improved versions of virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Inc.’s Alexa, and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Assistant.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: It’s the software, stupid.

The first big thing in smartphones? The software. As in: iOS (née iPhone OS).

Apple is famed for their software.

The fact that Apple’s hardware is thoughtfully designed, beautiful, and offers rock-solid build quality are just bonuses. Without macOS, Macs are just pretty boxes (or cylinders). Without watchOS, Apple Watch is just another stupidwatch. Without iOS, iPhone is just another phone and iPad is just another tablet.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Nine” for the heads up.]


    1. With over 20% of the $s in GDP associated with healthcare, we are going to see huge increases in use of iPhones as part of the early warning system between patients and doctors.

      The NIH has stated that early detection and closer communication between people and their doctors is essential to improving health & lowering costs.

  1. Foldable devices don’t seem too far away with prototypes like that from Lenovo.

    I hear Samsung and LG are also planning on limited production runs (100k units) of foldable devices by Q3.

  2. Ah, but the software is advancing because the hardware allows it to.

    Even in A.I. many of the techniques are no different than they were back in the 80s. The difference is that you have massive amounts of computing power to toss as the problem.

    Back in the day at DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) we searched for ways to apply Expert Systems to existing problems but often failed because a half a million dollar computer with 265MB of RAM and a 12Mhz processor and maybe a gigabyte of storage, just didn’t have the capacity to tackle the problem space.

    Fast forward to today. Never mind the mind boggling processing power of giant clusters like IBM’s Watson, I’m walking around with a phone in my pocket larger than all the computers that we used to run Security Pacific Bank on.

    Computers didn’t get smarter, but you can store and search all the freaking possible moves in a chess game in less time than it takes a human opponent to pick his nose.

    You can read and search 10,000 periodicals in no time flat. It just wasn’t possible before.

    But now the HARDWARE permits it. So don’t go writing off hardware advances and saying it’s all software.

    I mean these guys, they see a trick and think something amazing has changed the world.

    What was it a couple of years ago that they all went nuts over… chat bots! Remember? The Internet and Google and everything were going to be replaced by chat bots. What a hoot that was. Stupid chat bots were as old as ELIZA (circa 1965). Eliza was a little chat bot that at the time was the talk of the town. Everyone thought it was going to shepherd in true artificial intelligence.

    Even SIRI acknowledges Eliza if you ask her about it. “ELIZA is my good friend. She was a brilliant psychiatrist, but she’s retired now.”

    Developing new techniques in Machine Learning seems to be promising, but as you dig deeper into machine learning, you discover that its really a process of automating knowledge acquisition, which was the foundation of Expert Systems back in the 80s.

    1. Thelonius, I would only add that it is software and sensors which are going to be the “NBT” now that the hardware can support sophisticated sensing and analysis, in real time as needed.

  3. Camera and lens technologies will be one big smartphone innovation driver for the next few years. The iPhone needs a 35- to 420mm, optical zoom lens (35mm equivalent) like the glass in my Panasonic HD video camera.

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