Google Pixel Buds are here, and they still require that you connect over Bluetooth to your smartphone. (The earbuds work best with the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL phones.) Yet, in the near future, there's no reason you couldn't skip the phone altogether and use earbuds as your primary form of communication throughout the day, using a laptop for real work or speaking to voicebots at home and in the office. The screens will be in the same room, à la something like the Amazon Echo Show, and not in your hand. Why carry a gadget at all? A personal communication device is all you will need to get through the day.
I first wrote about this "no smartphone" future last month, and the response surprised me. Many readers defended the smartphone and suggested we'd still be using them in 2025, advocating for apps like Evernote and Slack. Even as they dissented, several readers admitted that having to charge a phone every day is starting to get old and agreed with at least some of my points. Here's the weird thing for me: I'm already living in 2025 in some ways. I've set the phone down way more often in the past year.
In the morning, I ask Alexa to read the news. Why look at my phone? I'd rather have the bot read me a summary. In my office, I communicate with editors and friends mostly using Slack and other collaborative environments, and find that typing works much better on a real keyboard. I use a Google Home speaker to check on the weather and for music. In the car, I never type on my phone but I've been using Siri a lot more. I haven't typed in an address to get directions in over two years. It's almost all voice control in the car these days.
So how do the Pixel Buds, which cost $159 and come with a charging case, fit into the equation? I've been testing them for a few days, and the first point to make is they sound outstanding. I mean, better than most earbuds I've tested from companies like Phiaton and Bose. They certainly trump the Apple AirPods for quality. (By the way, the Pixel Buds work with the iPhone X--you tap to access Siri. The Buds work best with the Pixel 2, though.)
On some of my favorite modern rock songs--say, by Bleachers or Bastille--the bass is loud and distinct. If you get a chance to test them out, crank it up and let me know if you agree. Honestly, they sound better than any earbuds I've used. You can also swipe to change the volume, and the Buds fit comfortably in your ear. They charge up quickly, which is a perk for anyone who uses Bluetooth earbuds--charging them is usually a big pain.
The Pixel Buds have a hidden talent, though. Tap and hold on the right earbud and you can command Google Assistant. I used the Buds to ask about directions, the weather, and to translate German during a conversation on Skype. I asked Google to remind me about an appointment with one of my editors, and I controlled my music by voice.
Since the Buds fit so snugly in your ear, you can rely on the voicebot all day. I never had any trouble communicating with Google Assistant, even in a coffee shop with music and background noise. That's when it hit me. All morning, typing on a laptop and using Slack, I never picked up my phone a single time. Why bother? Everything I need is either on a work productivity machine (a laptop) or one tap away on the earbuds.
Of course, there are some serious impediments here. We won't want to bring a laptop everywhere, but what about when we want to watch a movie? I'd argue that there is always a screen around--on the plane, at home, and even at work. In a break room where there are no personal screens, maybe the employer could start installing kiosks. In an airport, when you don't want to pull out a laptop you might not want to talk to a voicebot, but even then it's a fairly unique scenario (unless you travel constantly).
Most importantly, this prediction about not needing smartphones as often is based on my own usage patterns. I kind of hate apps. I am not using a phone as much. I'm using voicebots more to check on traffic and weather. On my iPhone, I find I tend to use the same few apps over and over again, and I can see where a voicebot can process my social-media updates much faster and more easily (or even without my direct involvement), handle connected-home functions automatically, and take notes for me by voice.
I get that we're visual. We like our personal gadgets, we like Instagram. In my experience, the screen is moving away from my hand and pocket and out into the world. These screens are widely available almost everywhere I go these days, so playing photos and videos will get easier and easier (and on a bigger screen). I'm guessing screens and voicebots will become more common; we'll rely less and less on phones.
Do you agree? Feel free to post on my Twitter feed.