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The death of smartphones is happening

In this science fiction story, we talk about a world where smartphones are dead, and they have been replaced by something far more exciting and innovative.

If you do not understand the difference between a Choco Lava cake and a Devil’s Dinner cake then you probably shouldn’t be running a bakery”, barked Dheeraj impatiently. The irony between his name and his demeanour was not lost on anyone in the room. But right now, what mattered most was getting these idiots to understand their mistake and get a replacement made in time. As he looked up the order receipt on his smart lenses, dealing with the clutter of his daily documents folder was unavoidable. He was placing some of those virtual files on the table next to him, when the receipt was finally projected on the counter in front of him. He tapped the AR table and hit ‘Public’ on the visibility settings.

“Look. Black forest 1kg cake made with Ghana Dark chocolate”, he stated as the baker copied the bill onto his own memory with a swipe on the table, “that was the order. Now, how long until you get it right?”

“Two hours Monsieur. We’ll be doing this on priority”

Dhiraj saved the recorded clip to his auxiliary memory card, stored in a crevice behind his ear. They weren’t getting away with this on his sister’s birthday.

The cab was about 10 minutes away. He brought up the clip he had just saved on to the table in the waiting area. Zooming onto the baker, he checked his name tag – M Beaumont. Well, if being French meant being incompetent, he’d rather have a good old Indian halwai make his sweet dishes any day. He checked the mini-map overlay on his palm once again – the cab was still about 4 minutes away. That should be reasonably close to fire up the bigger AR map overlay. Dhiraj stepped out of the foyer and tapped the side of his head twice to bring up the Epherim dashboard. After the downfall of most major smartphone manufacturers over the last 4-5 years, Epherim had risen from their ashes as a conglomerate comprising of the best software and hardware talent from the world of tech. And their flagship product, the Epherim dashboard, was now used in a multitude of devices – be it in AR, onboard computing or even dedicated terminals. Their own wearables were the most widely used products in the world right now.

Augmented reality
Using augmented reality to tell a person’s mood and even health is coming soon

Firing up the HexaCab interface took a couple more gestures and swipes on the side of his head. But once it was up, he could see the marker floating in the air to the left of him, indicating that the cab’s exact location in real time, as well as the time it would take for it to get to him. If only they had the flying taxis here in Mumbai, that some cities in the world had implemented, all of this waiting would have been immensely cut short.

Four minutes later, the cab pulled into the kerb and the AR marker above its head turned a bright green before disappearing in a puff of digital smoke. The design choices some of these companies made were pretty interesting. Dhiraj tapped twice again to switch off the AR mode before entering the cab after scanning his finger on the door sensor. While initial implementations of Aadhar had met with some mixed reactions, for most of the city dwelling people like him, it had made life alot easier. For instance, there would be no further communication between him and the driver now unless explicitly initiated – all the details have been sent by Hexacabs once they have verified him using his biometric data. Some experts even said that this was one of the main reasons smartphones lost out – because the world no longer needed a phone to communicate, even for basic stuff like authorisation via OTPs.

The driver himself had a more advanced Epherim lens installed – it was a standard practice with Hexacab drivers. Epherim Neuralink allowed the user to do everything an Epherim Pro could, but completely with thoughts. Something like this was essential for professions like driving, where constant manual tapping and scrolling wouldn’t be possible. It was expensive, but the driver wasn’t exactly paying for it and the company was saving tons of money with the added efficiency an AR device offered.

As they were picking up pace on the Eastern Express highway, Dhiraj couldn’t help but notice the huge mounds to the east. The initial smartphone discarding rate was normal – very few people were willing to experiment with wearable AR devices, even if they were certified by the most reliable authorities in the world. The main concerns were privacy – how could one allow the possibility of constant access to their basic senses, like vision, to a corporation? Gradually, though, people realised that they had already provided access to a large extent via social media and connected IoT devices. On the other hand, concerns were being taken up and tackled head on with corporations by activist groups like Tech2Life. As a consequence, the discarding rate gradually picked up. But the municipalities and the government in general could not keep up – what with everybody and their grandmother possessing 2-3 smartphones. Huge disposal mounds like these were not uncommon sights in most Indian cities these days. To think, what lay there as garbage right now was the pinnacle of engineering and a symbol of status in its own time. Such was the world of technology. Fickle, and unforgiving.

Augmented reality
Today’s flagship phones are just destined for the garbage mount as e-waste

Out of the corner of his eye, Dhiraj spotted the time and panicked. He was already running late with the preparations and now he had spent 30% of his journey, as indicated on the floating AR dashboard in the car, wondering about silly philosophical things. It was almost time for the final planning call before the party. Firing up the dashboard again, he brought up the contact list and looked for the birthday group he had created. Initiating a conference video call, he closed his eyelids to let the driver know that he was entering VR mode and didn’t want to be disturbed.

The room was abuzz with discussions. It was Aditya’s idea to choose the Stark tower as the VR meeting place – made them feel cool, apparently. Dhiraj never got these silly whims. Looking over at Adrija and Sahya, he noticed them showing each other what they would be wearing for the party using the AR module off Dresskart, that allowed to to pick a dress and simply try it on in VR or AR – and that was the end of trial rooms as well. Ranjeet was projecting his latest DotA acheivement onto the table to boast about at a couple of other guys. He still remembered when they had launched their smartphone app, thinking THAT would be what would make them truly omnipresent. “If only one could see the future,” he sighed as he tapped the table to get everyone’s attention.

Augmented reality

“I believe all of us have the details of the party?” Dhiraj asked. There were affirmative nods around the room. “Just in case you don’t have them saved yet, here is the invite brochure again,” he said, swiping the virtual brochures at each person on the table. “Inside, you’ll find the AR map codes to the location, the dress code to filter your wardrobe with, and the menu along with the nutritional information. Keep in mind that you need to specify your dietary preferences at least an hour before the event commences – I would advise checking the reviews and the dish itself on your AR dashboards before deciding. Moving on, I have arranged for Adele to perform via VR at the – hey, c’mon now! You know Raima loves Adele, so no point cringing and making faces about it. Get your own star at your own event. And that’s about it for this meeting, see you at the venue”. Murmurs rose around the room as people started to trail off. Dhiraj logged out just in time as the car pulled into his house.

Today, the house felt busier than the local OmniMart on a sale day. There were too many family members here for the party. Dhiraj caught the eye of his father from across the room as he entered and indicated him to step aside into the study. Once there, he closed the door behind them, and turned to his father, “I just wanted to go over the arrangements one final time with you, if that’s okay?” His father nodded and smiled, looking at his son getting all worked up about his sister’s eighteenth birthday.

Augmented reality
Why build models of anything when computers can do it for you in VR?

Dhiraj fired up the map module in AR onto the study table that covered most of the room. The table was enabled with Daego Smartfab, a smart fabric technology that amplified what you could do on normal surfaces in AR. The map hitched onto the four corners of the fabric and the city was right there in front of them, with a lot of colour-coded pointers moving about at different paces.

“The blue ones are the guests who have responded to the invitation via the RSVP location enabled codes. Almost all of them should be there on time, which means we don’t have time to lose. The brown marker is the baker, who has been a pinnacle of incompetence and will probably make it just in time. The big red dot is the decor team which, as you can see, is already at the venue and setting up the decor.” At this point, Dhiraj tapped on the venue to bring up live CCTV footage of it being decorated. Tapping once more, he switched the view to the kitchen, “And the prep for the food has also started. Now all we have to ensure is that we get there on time.”

His dad looked at him with a fond smile and asked, “All that is fine, but when was the last time you spoke to your sister?”

“Umm..in the morning before I left for office. Is she in her room? I’ll go give that buffoon a couple of head bumps before she can officially vote. Why don’t you get the guests into the cars while I go get her?”, Dhiraj replied as he headed upstairs. As he knocked on the door, some childhood memories in this house flashed before his eyes – without the assistance of a social media feed or an app behind it.

“So you’re finally here. I thought you wouldn’t make it, what with that stupid office of yours.” barked his sister, already impatient and ready to leave for the party, “How do I look?”

Augmented reality
Looks like a fancy set of goggles they put on you when you do an eye test… or is it?

She did look pretty. Dhiraj never realised when Raima grew up, with him mostly being away for his education. Now that he was back in the city for his job, he intended to make the most of it, starting with her birthday. His parents surely hadn’t left anything out, with the huge budget they had given him to arrange the party on top of what they had gifted Raima – the full Epherim Connected package. She had upgraded to the brain controlled Neuralink lenses and had also received the rest of their wearables and implants like Auralia, the audio implant that could play music directly in your ear, translate languages for you, and even identify lyrics and dialogues to their sources among other things. The devices on her hands and feet would let her monitor her dance classes even more closely, augmenting her learning process with visual guides. Overall, this would be any teenager’s dream right now and that’s what his sister deserved.
“You look like a toad. Now c’mon! Don’t be late for your own party! Let’s get going.”

As they started heading down the stairs, Dhiraj took one last look at the corridor before switching the light off. This was where he and Raima used to play as kids most of the time, when they had much more time to spend with each other. A time when you didn’t have this much to do, all the time, thanks to these constant connections to everyone. A time when you could press the lock button to disconnect everything and be in the moment. Well, that time was all but lost now.

This article was first published in the June 2017 issue of Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.

Arnab Mukherjee

Arnab Mukherjee