CES 2013: welcome to the "post-smartphone era"

6 Jan 2013
Shawn DuBravac

Most time spent using smartphones isn't for communications, analyst says

Forget the post-PC era, we’re already moving into the post-smartphone age, one analyst has said.

That’s according to Shawn DuBravac, chief economist and senior director of research at the Consumer Electronics Association, speaking at an event ahead of CES 2013.

Steve Jobs infamously claimed the industry was entering the post-PC era, but while Jobs was predicting the decline of computer sales, DuBravac said smartphones were continuing to sell well. Instead, he's claiming that communications such as calls and texting were no longer the main focus for smartphones.

It was never the intention to use smartphones to check blood pressure, or fly a toy helicopter

He noted the original iPhone was "first and foremost a telephone", but now users spend 65% of their time with a smartphone on "non-communication" tasks.

"We end up with unintended consequences of tablets and smartphones becoming hub devices" that control computing in our lives, he said. "It was never the intention to use smartphones to check blood pressure, or fly a toy helicopter."

He expects that trend to continue as apps extend the ability of smartphones to different uses, such as unlocking doors and controlling music systems in cars.

"Smartphones [are] evolving from communications devices to hardware cores with peripheral services built around them," he added.

DuBravac noted that this year's CES has the largest display of "smart" cars yet, and the health and fitness section has grown by 25% compared to 2012 - and most use tablets or smartphones as the platform for the service.

He stressed that the "post-smartphone era" had nothing to do with sales, adding that smartphones are now in 52% of US households, while tablets grew from 20% to 40% of US households.

Steve Koenig, another CEA analyst, noted that the ability of smartphones and tablets to cover many functions is likely helping sales, as people in emerging markets "leapfrog" analogue devices to new technologies. For example, they may move from standard music players directly to a smartphone, skipping over standalone MP3 players.

"A lot of these old product categories are turning into apps," he added.

Crossing streams

DuBravac also predicted that in 2013 algorithms would become more important, as applications and services look to make use of the huge quantity of data collected by sensors on smartphones, as well as in cars and healthcare devices.

Services will look to "take these streams of digital data and do something with it," he said. "Once you've digitised that information, you can start to do something with it."

He added that can include "crossing streams of data to make them more useful", suggesting as an example taking data from a blood pressure monitor and overlaying it onto a calendar. "You guys can measure your stress this week at CES and see how it spikes," he said.

Computing and resolution

While the focus on apps and smartphones suggests there may have been some truth to Jobs' claim of a "post-PC world", DuBravac said computing was set for a refresh, helped by innovative new designs such as hybrid laptop-tablets as well as improved input technologies such as gesture and voice controls.

He also predicted that display resolution would continue to be important, but more so for smaller devices like tablets and smartphones than TVs.

"The TV has gotten the most attention... but this is a shift that’s happening across all screens," he said.

"This has implications for things like the web generally – if we start to have phones and tablets and monitors that are high resolution, we’re going to start demanding high-resolution images, and that will have an impact on a variety of web services," DuBravac added.

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