After the iPhone X: Predicting the future of the smartphone

What does the next ten years hold for the smartphone? Here's a few ideas.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

Apple's iPhone X arrives next week; the state of the art when it comes to smartphone technology. But after the insanely rapid rise of the smartphone in just one decade, what comes next? Ever-continuing growth, or decline? Here's a few predictions for what may happen to the smartphone over the next ten years or so.

One to three years: Peak smartphone

First comes the obvious short-term stuff. Screens will get better, but probably not much bigger. Phones will get thinner, but probably not by much as the battery will be the limiting factor here.

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Smartphone shipments will continue to grow as they replace more feature phones where the market is not already saturated. This is probably going to be peak for the smartphone era; after this it will gradually decline as other technologies start to compete for our attention. Perhaps it's already happening -- I ask Alexa what the weather will look like rather than checking an app, or check a notification on a smartwatch rather than digging out my phone.

Three to five years: Things get bendy

The next most obvious change will be the arrival of the curved, and then the foldable phone. Samsung recently sketched out how a folding phone would look, while those rumours about Microsoft's foldable display -- a new take on the abandoned Courier concept -- just won't die.

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Foldable screens don't just mean our existing devices will take up less room, they also mean we can carry bigger screens in our pockets. Consequently there will be less need for tablets, and maybe also for traditional notebooks and PCs, which will continue to decline. I'd expect that during this period augmented reality (AR) apps will become a standard part of the smartphone app world.

Five to ten years: Decline... and fall?

By the end of the next decade of its life, the smartphone will have lost its crown. Wearable devices will finally have become small and powerful enough as to be commonplace, while our homes and offices and the physical objects in them will have enough intelligence that carrying a smartphone will simply be one option among many. Smart glasses will become more common again and will be a logical home for AR applications.

Most of us will probably carry devices with screens that could just about be defined as a smartphone, although they will look very different to the ones we carry today. But I think some of the basic functions will have shifted; you might be able to make a call on your future 'smartphone', but you probably wouldn't -- that would be a job for your earbuds or smartwatch.

That's not to say the smartphone is going to go away, of course: after all, there are still plenty of feature phones and landlines around right now. That's what tends to happen with old technology; it never completely goes away, we just stop remembering to use it.

There are many variables here, especially in terms of the timescales for technology maturity. But I think the overall trajectory will remain the same, even if the timings change a bit.

Agree? Disagree? Or maybe you have your own version of the future of the smartphone. Let me know in the reader comments below.


The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

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