With 2017 winding down and 2018 just getting started, a new years calls for a look at the development of consumer electronics. I wanted to see where we have come in the past ten years, and where we are going. I wanted to see what the next big thing is: the next big gadget that will go from a niche experiment to a modern commodity and necessity. In the past ten years, we have had many rapid advancements in consumer technology. Let’s start by looking at one of the most recognizable products on the planet: the smartphone.
The birth of the smartphone took place in 2007 when Apple introduced us to the iPhone, a device that drastically changed the world and how we communicate with the people around us. Along with the iPhone came the development of apps and a new wave of social media, as companies such as Snapchat would not have even been a thought without the development of the smartphone.
After the iPhone and the surge of smartphones that ensued, a new product category emerged when Apple unveiled the iPad in 2010. Before then, people watched movies and TV shows on their televisions or even their phones. Phone screens were a lot smaller at that time, with most of the highest end phones at the time having screens near the size of Apple’s iPhone 4. The tablet became a common item for many homes, but not necessarily a necessity to survive in the digital age that we find ourselves in today, with sales failing to consistently grow since 2010 and even declining in recent years as phones with bigger screens edge out tablets.
Next came the smartwatch. In 2012, a startup by the name of Pebble released their smartwatch for Android and iOS devices after a massive Kickstarter campaign (one that was the largest in Kickstarter history, according to the Huffington Post). Within three years, Google and Apple both have developed their own platforms for smartwatches with Android Wear and the Apple Watch, respectively. Since inception, the product category has consistently grown, but the product category itself is still a bit young, so it will be interesting to see if smartwatches are still relevant and selling five years from now.
A new product category that I think could really become a popular sight in homes within the next few years is the smart speaker. Smart speakers are pretty much speakers that connect to the Wi-Fi in your home and have a form of artificial intelligence (A.I.). This A.I. can and will talk to the other devices in your home to create a living environment that is more “alive” than ever before. These smart speakers can connect directly with your phone, which allows them access to information that would be useful to you.
Besides giving basic info such as traffic and weather reports, a smart speaker can also shop for you. From buying things off of Amazon.com to summoning a Lyft driver, getting access to the goods and services that you need can’t get any easier than this (unless society develops a mind reading device, but I don’t think we are there yet). Another unique feature of the smart-connected speaker is the ability to integrate with the smart-home. If you have some Phillips Hue Lights or a wifi-connected speaker system setup, or even a Chromecast, you can now control all of these devices by voice with the aid of your smart speaker.
More and more intelligent devices are coming out, such as the smart home lock and the Nest smart thermostat. The dream of having a futuristic, almost Jetsons-like smart home aided by robots is becoming more and more of a reality (although flying cars are still a work-in-progress, I’ll admit). Are smart speakers going to be a fad item that eventually will be remembered as a rather ugly experiment from the major tech companies? Or are smart speakers going to become an essential part of our lives like the smartphone and PC are?
I honestly can’t tell. I mean, all of these smart appliances in the home can already be controlled by a smartphone (let’s be honest, many if not most people always have their phones within arms reach anyways). Even if a person doesn’t have a smartphone, they may have a smartwatch on their person that could also serve most of the controlling functions that a smart speaker does. Only time will tell if the smart speaker can last and join the daily lives of the masses. Either way, it is exciting to see tech companies innovating with new products like the smart speaker.