Sunday 18 September 2011

What Will Phones Look Like in Five Years?

If you can even remember the most popular phone being used five years ago, it looked quite a bit different than the ones we are sporting today. For the most part, they were boxy devices that really didn’t have a lot going for them compared to today’s iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7 devices. With this in mind, what will phones of tomorrow look like, and how can they really improve on the form factor we have come to appreciate today?

First, we should take a look at where these devices are getting things right. The capacitive screen technology we use today has done for touch screens what Wi-Fi has done for networking. By eliminating the need for a special stylus to be accurate, these screens have revolutionized the way we interact with mobile devices. To say that this technology will be almost entirely replaced in the next few years is questionable at best.

OLED screens are thin, low-energy display solutions that are beginning to take hold in the tech industry. Prices are expected to decline, as with most tech, so it would be reasonable to say that these organic LED displays may find their way in the majority of mobile devices in the future. If this is the case, you could almost certainly expect phones to become even thinner between now and then, as these displays take up significantly less space.

Portable projectors are a big thing right now, and while these devices are shrinking already, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to predict that they could find their way into the phones of the future. Taking an image that would normally be displayed on a relatively small touch display and projecting it on a nearby wall for others to see is an outstanding feature, and one the industry would do well to consider as the technology becomes more feasible.

As solid-state drives become smaller and more reliable, you could reasonably expect mobile phones to carry enough capacity to act as a more capable secondary drive. In much the same way as the 160 GB iPod became a popular external drive for transferring large files from one system to another, mobile phones of tomorrow could very well fill this role.

In fact, it wouldn’t be a far stretch to say that mobile phones may be capable of running a desktop-grade operating system and plugging directly into a monitor via a Thunderbolt connection.

There are some remarkable phone concepts in the works, including one from Seunghan Song that is virtually entirely transparent. In addition to looking great, it also indicates current weather conditions by appearing covered in water on rainy days, frosty on snowy days, and clear on sunny days. Concepts like these are what fuel the imagination of designers and developers alike, and ultimately become the inspiration for the real-world phones of the future.

Unfortunately, all of this is just speculation. While it would be nice to have the ability to gaze into a crystal ball and predict what form the mobile phone will take in the future, there is no telling what technological breakthroughs will take place during that time. For now, we can enjoy the great strides mobile computing has made, and hope that the next several years bring us closer to a truly robust and seamless experience.

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