In 2003, I gave a series of lectures called "Three Screens of the Digital Lifestyle." Back in 2000, I had started researching how people use various screens in their lives, and predicted that over the next five to seven years, all of our screens would be digital with some type of smart OS. The three screens I focused on at the time were the PC, TV, and the feature phone – until 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone and that third screen became a smartphone.
In the lectures, I laid out how these screens would become the hub of our digital lifestyles, and I suggested that the smartest screen was the PC. The PC was already serving that central role since Apple's iPod needed the PC to sync with iTunes. Actually, the Mac was at the heart of Apple's overall idea of a PC being a hub. At MacWorld in 2001, Steve Jobs' keynote focused specifically on the idea of the "Mac being the hub of our digital lifestyle," as he put it. Over the next three years Jobs made a major effort to deliver on that vision.
Eventually the cloud became Apple's hub. It began to move more and more of our content to its iCloud and use it to store our music and apps, and then push them down to our devices. Consequently the data sync was now cloud-based and the Mac or the PC played a lesser role. However, the idea of a digital device being a hub is still alive, and in many ways the smartphone itself is becoming crucial in its own right.
If you have a wearable fitness gadget, you are already using it as an important technology in your own health lifestyle. My preferred wearable is the Nike+ FuelBand, which I wear 24 hours a day. It records my steps and calories expended, and it pushes me to move more throughout my day.
In the evening I sync it to my smartphone, where the data is compiled and analysed. It keeps a running weekly tally of my movements so I can compare them to previous weeks. It uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) radio signals for this synchronisation, and more and more devices of all types will rely on this important extension of the Bluetooth radio in the near future.
Recently, Nike added a new software version of its Nike iOS app called Nike+ Move, which takes full advantage of Apple's M7 motion coprocessor. Using this app, the iPhone becomes a personal health monitor, broadening the functionality of a smartphone and eliminating the need for a dedicated wearable health monitor.
I have also been testing the new iHealth Wireless Smart Gluco-Monitoring System, which allows diabetics to test their blood sugar levels and transmit the results wirelessly back to the iPhone. The Wireless Blood Pressure Wrist Monitor also uses the iPhone to manipulate the cuff itself, with all of the readings being done on the iPhone. There are dozens of other medical examples tied to smartphones, proving that your smartphone makes a seamless personal digital hub.
My smartphone has become an important hub in a lot of other ways, too. In fact, I pointed out in my Time column last month that the smartphone has become a "Swiss Army knife of gadgets." It is now my GPS system, digital camera, flashlight, voice recorder, home automation controller, and more. With the plethora of software and services available on my smartphone, it is by far the most important digital screen in my life.
In the next few years, the smartphone's role will become more dynamic. When integrated with sensors, it acquires even more unique capabilities. Case in point: Beacons, which are small sensors attached to physical objects that use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to send short bursts of data to your smartphone. Apple is leading the charge with iBeacons but Google, Microsoft, and others are all creating beacons for their platforms. A couple of weeks ago, Apple rolled out its iBeacon program in most of its US stores. These beacons are proximity-based and have the potential to revolutionise retail.
I am not sure Steve Jobs entirely understood the impact of the iPhone when he introduced it, but he did understand that it would be a platform for innovation and indeed that is what it has become. It's no wonder the industry is selling one billion smartphones a year now, and that by 2017 more than two billion smartphones will be sold each year while feature phones further fade into irrelevancy.
Although tablet sales will continue to grow and the devices will also become a platform for innovation, it is clear to me that most of the real action will take place in smartphones, and their role as a hub will only expand in the future.