Smartphones as a brand-agnostic commodity?

I’m hugely into science fiction. Or, as the current terminology goes in the US, ‘I’m bigly into sci-fi’.

Across books I listen to (audiobooks is my favorite mode of book ‘consumption’ given the amount of time I spend on Bengaluru roads) and across the films and TV shows I opt to spend time on.

There’s an amusing ‘aside’ to this – I’ve added that at the end of this post after I have made my primary point 🙂

I finished Andy ‘Martian’ Weir’s new book Artemis last month (highly recommend the audiobook, voice-acted by actor Rosario Dawson). It’s a thriller set on Moon, when there is a human settlement there, in the near future. Andy refers to people using things called ‘Gizmos’, to do everything – seek information, pay, open doors etc. Sort of like a super advanced version of our ‘smartphone’. But, at one point, Andy talks of the lead character, a Saudi girl named Jasmeen Bashara (high five for gender and race diversity when the book is turned into a movie!) impersonates an Indian tourist to the moon (named Harpreet) and gets a stock gizmo in Harpreet’s name from a hotel. The gizmo here is almost a functional gadget, not the kind we clamor about presently, in terms of brands, specs etc. What it provides is more important than the power and scope of the hardware.

And I’m watching the TV series, The Expanse, these days in my morning workout on the treadmill. Based on James S. A. Corey’s novels, it also is set in the future when there’s a human settlement on Mars and in asteroid belts. In the TV show, people are seen to be having really futuristic phone like devices. They have some incredible features like hologram-like projection (which is also touch sensitive!!), and seamless transfer of contents from device-to-device and device-to-TV etc. But the point is, they all look exactly the same – as if provided by the Government. What they do seems more important than the hardware.

Extrapolating this line of thought, I wonder if the hardware behind a smartphone-like gadget will eventually blur into the background unlike the current craze for brands, specs, updates etc. Most people would perhaps have a largely similar ‘smartphone-like’ device in the near future and services that the default device provides may be far more important and monetized than the hardware per se.

Even now, there are some signs that this may be feasible. We have a large number of brands who make largely similar phones, looks-wise and specs-wise. The prices are crashing constantly (barring flagship models) and most smartphones ‘do’ largely similar things. Yes, when AR and VR go mainstream, a few models may have the upper hand in providing those services before others, but eventually, the market will settle into another rhythm and most models will again seem similar.

In a way, the US market had moved in this direction when the phone’s cost was carried over multiple months and you start paying only for services. They are however moving to our Indian model, though – of paying up front for an unlocked hardware *and* paying for services on-the-go.

The closest example I can use, for this future is perhaps the public transportation system in developed countries. Most people use the metro-like system and increasingly, the need to own cars is reducing. Transportation, as a function, is provided flawlessly by the public utility that’s paid for by taxes. Where you’d like to go is the point, and not how you landed there. Similarly, what you get out of a smartphone may eventually be the point, not how good your device is. Eventually!

What do you think? I did warn you I’m big on sci-fi, right?

Anyway, on that amusing ‘aside’ I had mentioned in the beginning.

Most of the bedtime stories I tell my 7-year-old daughter ends up with a sci-fi angle in it. So, if she insists that I tell her a story featuring the Powerpuff Girls, I’ll ensure that Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup travel to Andromeda and fight aliens, meet sentient plants and so on. Or, about a human settlement in Mars where an unassuming father of a 7-year old (!!) is also the Prime Minister of Mars because a quirky time lag ensures that a day on Mars is just an hour in Earth (I know, I’m really making up things, but hey… sci-fi!). So the dad spends 1 hour every day on Earth when everyone’s asleep, uses his medallion-like matter transformation device to reach Mars in an instant and spends the day there, managing things! And so on.

Earlier this week, my daughter instructed me, as I started a new bedtime story, “I want a pony in it. No time travel, no aliens, no Mars, Moon or any other planet. Ok?”.

I started a story.

Me: So, long ago, there was a girl who had a pony as her pet.

Daughter: Was it Twilight Sparkle?

Me: Yes.

She: But unicorns are not real! (You should know that Twilight Sparkle, the pony from My Little Pony is a unicorn; not a vanilla variety horse-pony)

Me: Hmmm, there are at least 10 in India itself and I used to work for one!

She: WHAT??

Me: Never mind. This Twilight Sparkle was a normal pony and did not know the truth about its origin… that it was a magical unicorn…