The Next 40 Years of the Mobile Phone

While reading an article on the 40th birthday of mobile phones recently I found it really interesting to see what people thought the future of mobile phones would be 40 years ago.

It made me realise how mobile phones have evolved with time and how many things we now take for granted. So, I thought I’d make some speculations of my own so that when someone 40 years from now reads this blog (!) they might feel the same way.

A short history

The mobile phone was initially designed and developed just for making calls from remote locations. Today it offers so much diverse functionality that making a call has become a very basic (no-value) function.

There was time when slim phones were very in and Motorola was the big player. Then Symbian OS phones became popular for processing power and functionality which gave Nokia a really big share in the mobile industry.

Now we have smart phones which not only are stylish but have great processing power and much better OSs. Smart phones are much more capable than the phones of a decade ago, with 1.5 GHz quad-core processors, memory in gigs, better networks (3G and moving to 4G), large displays and much more.

Great features that would be amazing 40 years ago are considered so basic now like clock, calendar, contacts, signal and battery life indicators.

HD cameras, email, web browsers, maps, weather widgets and so many interesting apps have become the norm. Things like 4G network, NFC, Swype, Siri and S-Voice, unthinkable 40 years ago, are now what users are looking forward to.

What’s on the way?

Currently research is being done in so many diverse fields that relate to the future of mobile phones it makes it very hard to say what mobile phones will be like after 40 years.

Nevertheless, here’s my attempt – based on my understanding of the directions of today’s research and the market.

1. Phones will be transparent

To most of us the idea of a transparent phone is quite exciting and many concepts of transparent phones have been around for quite a while – like Nokia’s concept of a transparent phone with touch screen.

While Sony’s attempt of transparent phone, Xperia Pureness was not very close to transparent Polytron is very close to launch and is an almost completely transparent phone.

Polytron, a Taiwanese company has developed a prototype of a multi-touch transparent phone with only the batteries and sim card not being transparent. It’s said to come to market by the end of 2013.

With transparent batteries in research soon we will see completely transparent phones around us.

2. Phones will be squeezable, bendable, flexible and feelable

Do you want to fold or squeeze your mobile phone in any shape without breaking it? Well it is about to become a possibility with Nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology empowers us to create material that is very flexible, transparent and at the same time very strong. Nokia and the University of Cambridge has designed a concept phone called Morph which will use Nanotechnology to be flexible enough to shape (squeeze) into a phone from a tablet and from a phone into a bracelet – the possibilities are unlimited.

Nanotechnology will not only enable Morph with a transparent display but all the components of the phone can be transparent. This dream concept phone is not coming into life in near future but the technology is quite promising. So, in future we will be working on our tablets one moment and the next moment listening to a call on the same tablet converted into a phone and when the call ends we might not need to put the phone in our pocket because it’s stylish enough to wear as a bracelet.

3. Phones won’t need fingers

The dream of Gesture control and eye-tracking technologies is a reality to some extent.

Although Samsung’s Galaxy S4 has more accuracy in eye-tracking compare to Galaxy S3, we would like more control and power with our eye-scrolling gestures.

A different technology to eye-tracking but in a similar context is Google Glass. Its small screen on the top right corner, a cam and a microphone enables you to see what is in your field of vision in the screen and speak to google glass to take photos record videos and share them live.

It can also translate in real time, you can ask anything from Google search and also get directions as you move and see.

4. Where we’re going, we don’t need phones…

Ideally, we would like to do what we want without touching or speaking to a device – just with our eye and brain control but this seems too far from reality right now.

However, there is one advancement that can give us a glimpse of hope: at the University of Washington researchers have successfully tested a bionic contact lens to wirelessly power and control the display of a contact lens in a rabbit eye.

This very basic bionic contact lens, which can wirelessly connect to a remote device, can become the building block for future bionic eye that can perform all the functions of the Google Glass, your mobile phone, and much more.

The grain of salt

All the predictions related to transparent phones, flexible phones and bionic eyes are currently either under research or in early stages of prototyping. Only time will tell us how the mobile phones will actually evolve.

We really have no idea if, forty years from now, mobile phones will be totally transparent or flexible or connecting to bionic eyes.

Perhaps, like the forecasters of forty years ago, all of our wildest predictions will have been completely exceeded.

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