When Apple holds its big event on Tuesday, it will not only reveal the iPhone 8, but will launch another wave of announcements from technology giants. Only this time, what big companies will be promoting will not be their conceptions for the future of the industry. They will be the products that you can really buy this holiday season.
That the transition from vision to tangible products is the first step in the master game plan of supplanting the smartphone with the next big technology platform. It will still be a decade or more before the change is complete, at least if you believe Mark Zuckerberg. But we are slowly - a new Apple, Google or Microsoft gadget at a time - building a future without screens, keyboards, or, in fact, the smartphone itself
If you're tracking the long, slow march of the smartphone to the cemetery of history, here are the first signs of traffic you should look for the rest of the year.
In its Tuesday event, Apple is expected to launch the iPhone 8, the 10th anniversary edition of the gadget that sparked the smartphone boom. The device will represent an update of the iPhone hardware; you should expect to have a screen that covers the entire front of the phone, minus a "notch" for your camera. But more importantly, the iPhone 8 will mark Apple's first big step in the world of augmented reality.
Augmented reality is the technology that projects digital images into users' field of vision. It is delivered through special glasses or hats. In the future, you can access it through personalized contact lenses.
Most experts in the technology industry assume that these AR devices will eventually replace the smartphone. After all, why carry a phone if you can view your text messages, edit spreadsheets and watch Netflix through your glasses or contact lenses?
The impending change to augmented reality devices gives Apple almost a perverse incentive to kill the iPhone itself. Apple benefited greatly from helping drive the industry's move from PC technology to smartphone, much to Microsoft's disgust, which ruled the era of the PC. It is in Apple's interest to push the next transition from smartphones to augmented reality before any upstart can slip and turn the iPhone maker into the next Microsoft.
Apple seems to be trying to do just that. It recently released ARkit, a suite of software tools that allow developers to leverage the iPhone's camera and sensors to create augmented reality applications.
In the short term, Apple expects ARkit to be a boon to its smartphones, and the company can be expected to strongly promote the augmented reality features of the iPhone 8. CEO Tim Cook has said that with augmented reality, iPhone will be "still more essential than it is now. "
But in the long run, ARkit could give Apple an edge on devices that will make the iPhone obsolete. According to reports, Apple is already working on a pair of smart glasses.
When Apple launched the iPad, consumers could, from day one, download thousands of applications for it, as they could run the same ones that were designed for the iPhone, which had hit the market three years earlier. In the same way, every time Apple launches its smart glasses, buyers will probably be able to download many AR applications for them. They will be the same ones that developers are creating with ARkit today.
But augmented reality is not the only new technology or Apple's post-smartphone device that will likely speak on Tuesday. The company is also likely to share more details about HomePod, its new Siri smart speaker, which will compete with Amazon's Echo devices and Google Home.
This October, several weeks after the Apple event, Google is expected to release the Pixel 2, its new Android smartphone and tracking the original Pixel last year. What will be interesting to see is if Google uses the event to talk about augmented reality.
The company recently launched ARcore, an augmented reality system for Android that functions as Apple's ARkit, allowing developers to create new applications that use the phone's camera in new ways. The difference is different from Apple, whose smart glasses are still under development, Google already has some in the market in the form of the revitalized Google Glass. That might give him some momentum.
Augmented reality is certainly as important to Google as to Apple. As the dominant maker of smartphone operating systems, Google has a lot to lose if people start spending more time on augmented reality devices instead of on smartphones, especially if those new devices run the software from another company.
But if Google reveals more of your hand in the area of augmented reality, it is likely that you will soon talk about digital assistants and smart speakers.
As the early success of Amazon's Echo gadgets has shown, there is potentially a great market for technology that allows users to ask questions and get answers without having to use a screen. At first glance, the market should be natural to Google. Answering the questions is literally why it exists, and the thing it does better than any other company. And, in fact, Google showed last year that it focused on the market when it launched its smart speaker from Google Home.
Now the company is preparing a small version of Google Home. Not only would the new gadget probably be better positioned than the original to compete with Amazon's bestseller and Echo Dot-sized hockey puck, who would talk about the company's importance of its Google Assistant, search giant Siri smart agent style.
But like augmented reality, smart speakers and digital assistants pose a threat to the company. He has not figured out how to extend his core advertising business, which brings the vast majority of his revenue to voice-based devices and interfaces.
However, you should expect Google to keep pushing in the voice assistant market until you have a significant fee.
Every October in recent years, Microsoft has announced new surface equipment. It is expected to do so again this year, although what it will announce exactly is still pending debate.
But we do know the company's biggest image strategy: if augmented reality is going to be the next big thing, Microsoft wants Windows to turn it on. The company does not want to lose, as it did with the mobile.
Microsoft bet on its augmented reality statement before the technology was cool with its HoloLens headset. Announced in early 2015 and released with a price tag of $ 3,000 in the middle of last year, HoloLens outpaced its rivals to the coup.
Now, however, Apple and Google are threatening the battle again. And so, Microsoft goes on the offensive, although not in augmented reality, but in a related area. The company is partnering with PC makers including Dell and Asus to launch virtual reality headsets for Windows for as low as $ 300. And the software giant has reached agreements with Valve and other companies to provide VR content.
Returning to Surface's long-awaited announcement, you can expect Microsoft, by revealing its new Surface hardware, to also invent VR in Windows.
As for the voice, Microsoft is trying to build a niche for its agent Cortana as the artificial intelligence system of choice for professionals along the way. You can expect to hear more from the company about how it's connecting Cortana with Alexa from Amazon. That's a draw that should worry Google and Apple.
The wild card
Amazon does not really throw parties for itself, and is not usually a fan of letting its plans be known in advance. But we can make some educated guess about at least one product.
Over the past few weeks, the company has been offering its stylish Echo speaker, which usually sells for $ 179, for $ 99 or less. That might indicate that a new version is on the way.
The whole market is watching Amazon, Echo and Alexa closely. Because Amazon does not have a consumer computing platform widely used to defend, the retailer has been free to go crazy in the area of smart speakers and digital assistant. So far this year, Amazon has launched a fashion camera with Alexa technology and a touchscreen tablet from Alexa with few other controls. And numerous companies have announced that they will build Alexa in their products, from other smart speakers to coolers to cars.
Amazon's hardware business does not work on the same scale as Apple or Microsoft, but its Echo devices are a modest success in its own right. In the race to kill the smartphone, Amazon may not be the company in the lead, but it is certainly the one to see.