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Next Big Thing: Smartphones: What's next? (The Next Big Thing, Episode 3)
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Next Big Thing: Smartphones: What's next? (The Next Big Thing, Episode 3)

10:40 /

Now that smartphones are commodities, what's next? Also: why you may finally wear a fitness wearable, and the hype and hope around flexible screens.

-Smartphones, now that they're commodities, what's next? Why you may finally wear a fitness wearable, and the hype and hope around the flexible screens. Let's get a look at The Next Big Thing. I'm Brian Cooley in search of the next big thing. Welcome to CNET headquarters here in San Francisco. Have you noticed there aren't really any bad smartphones anymore? -Again, the FaceTime camera is a bit better. The battery life is a bit better and the LTE worldwide coverage is a bit better. -This phone is actually only slightly smaller than the HTC One original. You can see that there are still aluminum accents and the body looks really beautiful. Still has a premium feel. -It's fairly slim, which makes it a bit easier to hold, and it has the same polycarbonate design that you'll find on a lot of Nokia's previous Lumias. -Smartphone commoditization is definitely here. Lots of great phones with about the same specs and prices doing a lot of the exact same things for you. -The entire back and sides are made from a single part and the front is one glass multi-touch surface. -The display features 445 pixels per inch. And like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, it has a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution. -The iPhone 5S's biggest party trick that you wanna show off to your friends is probably touch ID. -It reads your fingerprint at an incredibly detailed level. -Really we are looking at here is an iPhone 5 that's been redesigned. -It comes in three metal finishes; silver, gold, and a new space gray. -One of the most interesting new feature is a fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone. That's what this black box is right below the camera module. Like the HTC one that came before, there is a 4-megapixel ultrapixel camera on the back. -Around the back you'll see the same polycarbonate design that you'll find on a lot of Nokia Windows Phones. If you've got quite small hands, this probably isn't for you, but it does give you loads of room for watching videos and checking out your photos. -Most of the sales and all of the profits in the smartphone biz have now coagulated around two players: Samsung and Apple. And you'll notice those two really just sort of checkmate each other regularly. They've also struggled to a degree with their latest big launches; iPhone 5C, Galaxy S4, not quite as red hot as it was expected before they hit the market. What does this mean to you? -At a price of just $99. -Now first and most obvious, this is keeping pressure on prices to keep them down or flat as well as pressure on features to give you more for the money you spent the last time you got a phone. However, that combination plus a little slowing of consumer's appetite to upgrade less than they used to has been bring down what's called average selling price in the marketplace. You're going to see phone makers strive harder to do something, anything, to stay relevant in the market or just stay in the market. Look at curved screens, gesture control, 40-megapixel cameras, fingerprint scanners, and phone smartwatch combos as recent examples, but notice none of those have had the seismic weight of the arrival of the iPhone in '07 or the rise of android in 2010. It's getting really hard to catch a big wave. As we saw in the heydays of home stereo, 25-mm photography, home video, we all kinda geek out on the gears specifically for the first, you know, 5, 7, 10 years then we get back to the content pretty quickly on devices that are good enough, reliable, fairly priced. On the downside, this could also mean less choice in some ways. Devices like BlackBerrys, Moto Droids with sliding keyboards, any windows phone are all on something of a bubble about being here tomorrow or not. Bottom line: Watch the low-cost sector, the smart money knows this is where the huge growth potential is and will be in the smartphone market. In a way, price might be the next big thing in smartphones. All of this is happening because the smartphone has captivated our minds, and our wallets, and our time like almost nothing in recent digital history. It truly is a tech product like no other. Welcome back to the next big thing. I'm Brian Cooley. I don't think anything in consumer tech right now deserves the label Next Big Thing as much as smart wearables especially in the fitness category. The Flex consists of a flexible rubbery band and a tiny tracker module, which sits inside. This gadget goes well beyond your average pedometer. To measure sleep, you tuck the one into a special clock arm strap you wear in bed. -Jawbone Up features a bendable design crammed with sensors that track everything from what you eat to when you sleep. It even logs mood swings. -Force boasts a real alpha numeric OLED screen. Another smartwatch-like ability is phone notifications. -It runs android. It can count steps and measure your stride, track your speed and how far you ran, and it also has Bluetooth so you could play music through a wireless headset. -The current design darling of activity monitors is the Shine from Misfit Wearables that's worn on your wrist, pocket, or as a necklace. -Now, at this stage, there's a lot gerrymandering going on as we all try and figure out what constitutes the smart wearable category; fitness wearables, smartwatches, and also augmented reality glasses all have a lot of distinctions, but also a lot of overlap. Part of that is why you'll find some wild differences in the estimates of the market size from as much as $4.6 billion this year to as little as $1.5 billion next year. Now, we at CNET think that fitness wearables really broke out around January 2013 at the Consumer Electronics Show. Prior to that, this sort of tech was mostly found on either a triathlete's wrists or in the pages of one of those dumb airline shopping magazines. Suddenly though, the product started to speak to the needs of real people. They're all using the currency of the 3S's; stairs, steps, and sleep. No longer do you have to be [unk] body mass index measurement, a Crossfit profile, or a gym membership. Instead, this is all relatable to all of us. The smartphone has become a sort of key. It unlocks a lot of the richness of what the device is learning about you, displaying it on its nice intuitive interface or also via web services that let's you not only really get deep into what's happening, but also gamify your performance against people you know or the broader user population wearing that kind of device. Now, as personal as fitness wearables are, there are at least two major parties that would love to look over your shoulder as you use one. First of all, a lot of corporations are now nibbling away at the idea of incenting you to wear one of these in exchange for perhaps better health insurance rates or other benefits. They want to encourage you to be healthy, but they might also then be able to find out if you're not. It will be an interesting development in the future. Secondly, advisers and marketers would love to have a look at this data and I have little doubt they will in some form. Let's face it. Millions and millions of dollars are wasted marketing weight loss programs to thin people and sports drinks to lazy people. This kind of data coming off fitness devices in real time could really help to make a lot of that more efficient. Bottom line: If 2013 set the table for fitness wearables as we believe, I agree with Juniper Research that 2014 will be the breakout year for them. But as that happens, watch for some interesting cannibalization because smartwatches were coming along in parallel. Most of us I don't think are gonna wanna wear one of each, but we do want the features from each. Who ends up owning that real estate on your wrist? That will be an interesting question to watch as we go in search of the Next Big Thing. Finally, let's talk a little about the so-called flexible display screens. -This is the company's first used OLED technology that allows the TV to achieve security picture quality compared to current plasma and LED TVs. -This is your very First Look at Corning's Willow Glass. This is actually a bendable glass that we will see in applications soon. -For those of you keeping score of the curved phone market, the arch on the G-Flex is different from the bend in Samsung's Galaxy Round, which has the left and right sides curving inward. -Perhaps the defining point around flexible screens right now is who gets to flex them. Currently, it's just the manufacturer. For example, look at the Samsung Galaxy Round phone or the LG curved OLED screen TV. Those are flexible screens, but they're flexed in the manufacturing process to create a fixed curved final product, all of which brings us to the really big point, which is what is the point of a flexible screen? Right now, it is looking fairly likely solution hunting for a problem, but there are several prospects. First of which is durability. If you've ever broken your phone or tablet, it's probably because the rigidity of its screen disagreed with that of a sidewalk. If your mobile device had a screen with some give, it might not break nearly as often. The next prospect is formability, the idea that the screen can be used to curve around a part of your body where a device is worn. You don't really wanna take a slab-like screen and strap it to your wrist in the smartwatch era or for glasses that could be better contoured to your face. Same thing going on inside of car interiors. Look around. About the only thing left that is not some kind of an organic ovoid in the dash is that flat screen. It could be nice if it was more mapped to the car it shapes. And finally, visibility. This is going on right now and I mean it in a marketing sense. Any product today, small or large, that has a curved screen is really standing out in either the retail aisle or on the web-based review page, but that isn't necessarily a functional attribute for you, the enduser. Now, I'm not sure if we're ever gonna be carrying a lot of screens you can roll up and fold and have them stay intact. The next big thing status of flexible display remains somewhat up in the air, but it's a fascinating one to watch. I hope you enjoyed our show this time. The e-mail address is thenextbigthing@cnet.com. Send me your ideas for topics you would like us to take on or questions about the ones we already have. In the meantime, I'll see you next time we go in pursuit of the Next Big Thing.
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Brian Cooley joined CNET in 1995 and always comes at technology from the real consumer's point of view. He brings his high energy, often skeptical style to all avenues of CNET coverage, with an emphasis on car tech. You'll also find him frequently on television, radio and the TV screens at Costco!

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