iPhone addiction? You ain't seen nothing yet ...

iPhones and other smartphones truly are addictive, and we’re spending more time staring at them than ever before.

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iPhones and other smartphones truly are addictive, and we’re spending more time staring at them than ever. Meanwhile, Q4 smartphone sales utterly eclipsed PC sales. But where is this going?

Heavy haulage

Summarizing current analysis:

  • PC sales have fallen from their 2011 365 million per year peak to 263 million in 2017.
  • Smartphone sales have grown from a figure hovering around nothing in 2007 to 1.5 billion last year.
  • China is the biggest smartphone market, followed by India and then the U.S.

“Soon consumer PCs will be extinct (only used by pro and semi-pro users),” claims mobile industry analyst Tomi Ahonen.

Addictive technologies

Apple’s parental controls technologies team will be interested to learn that the amount of time we are using apps on their devices has shot up — 30 percent more than where it was in 2015, App Annie claims.

That means the average user now spends three hours each day staring at their smartphone screen. (That’s the kind of profitable attention companies lobby governments for tax law changes for, so they can “do the right thing” — for shareholders.)

“In most markets analyzed, the average smartphone user has 80 apps on their phone and uses 40 of them in a given month,” App Annie said.

App Annie also confirmed:

  • App downloads across both Android and iOS apps exceeded 175 billion.
  • Spending on iOS apps climbed 105 percent in comparison to 2015.
  • China now accounts for 25 percent of app spending.

App usage is international, with users in the world’s biggest smartphone markets, China and India, also regularly using around 40 of the many apps they carry on their smartphone.

The patterns are clear:

Smartphones are providing computer-like experiences to a huge global population, and that population is becoming increasingly engaged in those experiences.

Watching the chem-trails

When Apple and Steve Jobs first began to predict mobile devices would eventually replace PCs, many in the industry laughed out loud.

They thought this was a crackpot theory, fake news for a flat planet, a reality distortion fantasy that went way too far. They were wrong.

What’s the next inevitable step?

In a sense, we already see it when we look to the moderately successful Microsoft Surface range. Microsoft has acted with a degree of intelligence in this product — recognizing itself to have utterly lost the mobile market, it leap-frogged that market to aim for that hybrid space in which both PCs and mobile devices will inevitably collide. That’s also the space in which Apple’s iPad resides — and (I think) possibly the most important near-term battleground for the future of the PC.

What happens next?

The future of the PC is also the future of the Mac. We can already see how Apple sees that future — its latest Macs stress power and performance as the company aims at its homelands in the pro and prosumer markets. Its latest iPads blur the divide between Macs and mobile devices, bringing a usable file system and UI tweaks that make it much easier to use iPads for just about any everyday computing task. (Though it is telling that Apple doesn’t yet ship Xcode for iPad.)

When we look at the hybrid attempted within the Surface range and consider the incremental improvements in iPads that steadily provide PC-style features within a mobile device, it seems inevitable that at some point the operating systems used on both Macs and iPads (and by inference iPhones) will not exactly combine, but become more equal than different.

There will always be some things computers are better suited for than mobile devices (and Apple now wants to sell you those computers, too).

The fifth wave

However, the big difference between the PC age and the mobile epoch is that the latter is a far more democratic age in which computing power is in far more hands than ever before.

As mobile technologies continue their journey into the background of every part of everyday life, these addictive (and also productive) experiences will demand even more of our time.

That means today’s iPhone-addicted children aren’t exceptions to any rule, but weathervanes that show us how technology will transform human behavior and interaction everywhere as these disruptive technologies realize the ambition of a computer world.

Such profound change inevitably brings new problems, as well as new solutions. It's up to you to decide if you think the yin and the yang of such transformation balances out.

Does it?

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