Facebook of the future6/1/2017
Every spring, the world’s tech giants hold their annual developer conferences and use their moment in the limelight to proselytize their version of the tech future. This spring, the most bombastic version of the tech future came from Facebook, whose CEO said, in so many words, that the end of the smartphone is near.
Dubbed “Facebook F8,” the annual developer conference is the routine moment for Mark Zuckerberg to throw out his pie-in-the-sky ideas. In 2015, it is was connectivity and messaging. In 2016, Zuckerberg waxed poetic on the imminent omnipresence of artificial intelligent mobile assistants (think next-gen versions of Google Now, Amazon Echo, or Siri). As for 2017, well, apparently, we’re a stone’s throw from the death of the smartphone. What does Zuckerberg see bringing on the smartphone’s demise? Virtual and augmented reality.
Now if you’ve been paying attention long enough, you might recognize that VR has been “the next big thing” for anywhere between five and 25 years. At some point, the next big thing actually has to materialize, right? Well, Facebook seems to think that time is now, because it appears its 2014 acquisition of Oculus Rift may have secretly been a move to engineer mobile VR and AR gadgetry. While VR might make you think of wrapping your head in an enclosed high-tech helmet screen, AR turns glasses and camera lenses into the screen. If Zuckerberg has his way, the next Oculus gadget will be a combination of Google Glass portability and concept, blended with Snapchat’s face modeled AR graphics, and a sprinkling of Facebook’s community consumption of content.
Talking about the end of the smartphone is a flashy way to get headlines, but the truth is that Facebook is really just taking a run at a bunch of failed or faltering tech ideas. VR hasn’t taken off because the necessary equipment is ridiculously expensive. AR was a flash in the pan hit with Pokemon Go! last summer only to flame out quickly when no one presented any other good ideas, and Google Glass was a hit with some of the worst press you can imagine for its unflattering design and potential to invade people’s privacy.
Facebook will not be killing the smartphone, at least not with these tools and a flashy presentation. Even its unveiling of a bonkers brain-reading concept tech is nothing more than an idea at the moment. If the market rejected web-connected glasses with embedded cameras, telepathic headbands have virtually no chance of consumer adoption. Much like a car show, these conferences are purely about showmanship. Brain-powered computers are nothing more than concept cars; you likely won’t own it for years to come, if ever.
What F8 2017 was actually about was luring programmers to develop for Facebook’s new camera AR functionality called Camera Effects. All the marketing puffery is just a cover to Facebook’s real motivation to steal another feature from Snapchat and hopefully lure some developers and tech columnists in the process.
Will the smartphone permanently sit atop the mountain of consumer tech? Goodness no. The desktop, the laptop, the iPod, the smartphone, the tablet, wearables… each of these hit the market with a fervor and drove the marketplace wild. As each tech innovation rises, a previous one falters. ♦