Future smartphones

In no other tech sector has development been as rapid as with the smartphone - the mobile device that does it all. Five years ago calling, texting, taking tiny photos or browsing ropey WAP sites was the height of its ambitions. Now you surf, shop, navigate, shoot HD movies, even run the bath. Where can they go next?

We've seen concepts phones with built-in projectors - they've already turned up in purchasable cameras, after all - fragrance cartridges and even smartphones that hook up to our brains, but we don't think these will be commonplace by 2020 - or 2050, come to that. What we will see is the smartphone app model continuing to crop up in other types of tech. There'll also be even greater connectivity and better longevity - both the world's eco-conscience and consumers frustrated by having to eke out a charge demand it.

The Science

Feel the surge

The next ten years will see an end to the two huge issues plaguing mobiles today: battery life and slow broadband.

WiMax 4G networks are good to go in the USA, with the Sprint Network launching the first 4G device, the HTC Evo, earlier this year. The UK is going with competing 4G tech Long Term Evolution (LTE). Though we’re currently struggling to roll out the tech, by 2020 LTE Advanced will be providing download speeds of one Gigabit per second. That’ll allow HD movie downloads in seconds and make cloud computing a day-to-day reality. The tech will run alongside current 3G networks, freeing up bandwidth and increasing speeds there too.

The fact that connection times to download web pages and emails will be measured in millseconds rather than seconds will increase battery life, as will the introduction of super-efficient components such as memristors. A more total solution awaits in the form of fuel cells, which should be providing greatly increased battery life by 2020, and through-the-air, wireless recharging. Fujitsu and others are working on devices that charge from a distance of several metres, using magnetic fields.

By 2020 we could see public electricity hotspots as well as Wi-Fi ones. Also, Powermat-like induction chargers will become commonplace in coffee shops, cafes and even household furniture as the decade rolls on.

(Pictured above: The Fuse phone is a concept, designed by The Alloy. It reacts to touch - squeeze the sides or stroke the case, back and screen)

Augmented Reality

So far, apps such as Layar have displayed information – restaurant phone numbers, star ratings and closest pubs – over surroundings viewed through a smartphone camera. The info is based on GPS information, ie: knowing exactly where you are.

Next-gen AR apps will go beyond that and actually recognise what you’re looking at. Google Goggles is an early example of this.

If you see one of your friends on the street, you’ll see their Facebook status, latest tweets and photos. Or if you’ve just bought a new car, this kind of app could provide information on each part in the engine or each control on the dash as you pass your smartphone can over it.

The next step is to get rid of the smartphone. AR contact lenses are already in production and could literally change the way you see the world by 2020. You’ll see special deals, tailored to your tastes, coming into your line of sight. Movie times at the cinema will be available in the blink of an eye.

Futurologist Ian Pearson says “Certainly we should expect glasses-based augmented reality to be commonplace, indeed active contact lenses using direct retinal projection, using a micro-mirror to raster scan focused beams onto the retina, are just starting to come in.

This could make walking down the street a positively psychedelic experience, with tailored 3D advertising literally leaping out at you as you move around. Fellow futurologist Ray Hammond adds, “In ten years time we’ll be using all sorts of interfaces including glasses, earpieces and displays on clothing. Some augmented reality will be based on location, some on your own needs, some on your social network’s profile and some tailored by the user. Everything around you will appear to be smart.”

Expert View

Richard Watson, Author of Future Minds

“The intelligence of the phone will move to a whole new level. it will know you, know what you like, understand what you are supposed to be doing and will control parts of your office and home.

It will also be a personal security device, opening doors but also detecting threats. it will be your wallet, your watch, your house keys and an entertainment centre. it will plug in and control parts of your car, it will feature voice recognition and have biometric security features. It will, as someone else once said, be a remote control for your entire life.”

Scott Ahn, former Head of Mobile at LG predicted that within two to three years, only Android, Windows Mobile and Apple would still be in the mobile OS business: “For a while, we will concentrate on Android and Windows Phone 7 Series by Microsoft. our strategy is not to make a mobile platform of our own.”

T3’s 2020 prediction

Your smartphone will know what your favourite things are, where you are and where you’ve been. It’ll allow you to communicate with anyone and anything from friends to advertising hoardings, your car to ATMs. RFID tech will allow it to act as your credit card and the advent of super-fast 4G networks will make the cloud work as it should, letting you store all your digital life remotely, tapping into it at will.