Smartphones: Life’s Remote Control

The growing use of smartphones in more and more activities has led me to realize that, in essence, they’ve become the primary tool through which we run our lives: a personal remote control. Like a remote control, they’re (generally) convenient to use, always nearby, and offer instant gratification—or at least, instant access to choice.

Smartphones are, of course, pocketable computers, but they’re capability is extending into so much more. They’re pocket maps, communications consoles, portable entertainment centers, infinite reference guides, wireless televisions, miniature game consoles, digital cameras, home automation controllers, remote video monitors, electronic banking devices, printer-free ticket holders, health and wellness displays, artist’s palettes, musical instruments, oh, yeah, and TV remote controls.

Moving forward, as I’ve discussed before (see “Portable Digital Identities”), I expect them to eventually become our digital identity cards as well, for legal identification (with state and federal government agencies), credit identification (for purchases and other banking transactions) and health identification (carrying all our personal health records and other critical medical data). At that point, they will really have the capabilities to allow us to remotely control our lives and all the activities in which we engage.[pullquote]I’m not really sure what could replace the word, “smartphone”, but for many, a personal life remote probably isn’t a bad start.[/pullquote]

As powerful as smartphones are and continue to be, however, they do have their limits—primarily due to their physical size. Average screen sizes are increasing, but there are still restrictions on how big they can realistically get before people balk at carrying a device that’s too large to carry with them all the time, or that’s too difficult to manage with a single hand.

That’s where smartphones tie into another aspect of being a remote control: they typically work with larger devices. Now, unlike remote controls, smartphones are obviously fully independent devices that don’t require another device to actually function or offer value. However, there is only so much that you can achieve or do on a smartphone, even one of the large-screen varieties. This is one of many reasons why I’m still reasonably optimistic about the consumer PC market.

Larger screens are still important for a lot of activities that people regularly engage in, regardless of age (as my recent survey on consumer device usage clearly pointed out—see “Digital Generation Gap” for more). In fact, I think we will continue to see even more usage of larger and higher-resolution displays along with PCs—another reason why there’s still a future for desktop PCs, by the way. Having access to computing devices with larger screens allows for extensions and enhancements to the types of activities we’re already doing on smartphones, as well as activities that really only make sense on larger screens.

But for the day-to-day stuff of life, the smartphone has really evolved into an incredibly useful tool that its somewhat limiting-sounding name doesn’t even begin to do it justice. I’m not really sure what could replace the word, “smartphone”, but for many, a personal life remote probably isn’t a bad start.


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Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

1,247 thoughts on “Smartphones: Life’s Remote Control”

  1. “smartphones are obviously fully independent devices that don’t require another device to actually function or offer value.”

    Based on the context, I’m probably not looking where you’re looking, buuuuut… (clears throat)….they need another computer to natively program them. Let’s not even get into networking and GPS. When I think independent, I think “can stand alone”. In fact, the only devices that are more dependent, that I can think of, are dumb terminals and microcontrollers. Not that “dependence” is a bad thing here.

    I do agree with your closing paragraph and your overall theme.

  2. Great article Bob. With the news that just dropped today about Hilton spending $550 million dollars to allow guests to use their smartphone as a replacement for the typical room key they are thinking on the same lines as you are. I really do think that there are a lot more use cases where the smartphone can and will be used as more of our world gets smart.

    By having an always on, always connected computer in most peoples pocket opens up a lot of new possibilities. Plus as this computer is upgraded as quickly as it has been over the last number of years and it is able to have more sensors packed in it even more use cases become possible. We are going to take the world of personalized self service to a whole new level.

    1. Yep, the smartphone is the hub. I can imagine all kinds of wearable sensors that interact with and feed the hub. There are quite a few jobs-to-be-done that become more convenient when you don’t have to take the smartphone out of a pocket or a bag.