We've spent years on convergence, cramming more and more functions into a little oblong of glass, metal and plastic.
From calls to camera, satnav to shopping, your smartphone is a networked computing powerhouse. Now it has hit critical mass.
The technical limitations that forced the first phone designers to pack everything into a candy bar format are being overcome. We can wirelessly link multiple devices at broadband speeds. We don't need screen, keyboard, microphone and speaker to be in the same package. Slowly, batteries are improving, enabling tiny, wireless devices with multi-day battery life.
If we can break these devices out around our body, we will. Because it makes sense. The best place for a screen is not in your pocket, it's near your eyes. The best place for a microphone is near your mouth; headphones in your ears. Controls? Where your fingers can easily reach them.
It's not that we won't have a phone. It's that it will stay in our pockets more and more, while we interact with it via devices that are more conveniently shaped and sited. The phone becomes a glorified personal hotspot; capable of more but rarely being used to its full capacity.
Ten years ago geeks like me were talking about this. We called it the 'Personal Area Network'. It didn't work then because the accessories were rubbish, the batteries crap and the phones dumb. The closest we got was Bluetooth headsets that made us all look like we were at sci-fi convention.
Things have changed. At this year's IFA the two words I heard most often were 'colours' and 'chamfers'. Audio giant Harman, parent of JBL and AKG, led its press conference not with watts and features but with a lecture on its approach to design.
Even Samsung, king of the Top Trumps spec sheet, spent a long time talking about the design philosophy behind its Galaxy Gear smart watch. And Apple? Well, Apple has been design-led for a very long time – just look at the status afforded to Jony Ive in the business.
The new generation of wearable accessories will be designed with more attention to fashion than feature count. It doesn't matter if they don't do a lot as long as they do it well and do it beautifully.
More after the break...
Batteries remain an issue for now. But we're getting there. Silicon electrodes and graphene-based materials are being introduced to Lithium Ion batteries, increasing both output and capacity for a given size and weight.
Week-long charges for smartphones are a matter of time. Meanwhile low-energy standards like Bluetooth LE are slashing the demands that remote gadgets place on battery life.
We can now make accessories that don’t need charging that often, and with wireless charging we'll be able to do away with fiddly micro-USB cables before long.
The Electric Wardrobe
Imagine this: you get up in the morning ten years from now. Freshly showered you turn to your wardrobe. Inside your clothes and accessories have been busily, but invisibly, charging overnight.
You pull on an outfit and a pair of shoes. Each syncs to the smartphone/hub on your bedside table: pedometer in the shoes, control surface in the jacket cuff, display, mic and skull-speakers in the glasses, heart rate and temperature monitor in the t-shirt. There’s no pairing, plugging or tapping. Disparate components seamlessly become part of the same network.
You pop the phone in your pocket, and it stays there. All day long.