Sometimes it seems like there is a new mobile phone or device announced every day. It’s an exciting time when the things we could only dream about 15 years ago are becoming reality. What do we have to look forward to in the next few years and beyond?
Near Field Communication (NFC)
The technology allows interaction between devices and even unpowered chips or tags. It’s already used in a wide array of applications from payment systems, contact and media sharing to automation of processes and controlling systems. It is not yet a ubiquitous technology, but it will be interesting to see how it is used in the future. Instead of buying tickets and passes your cell phone could be used as an entry pass. Place your phone down in your home or car and have it set temperature, lighting and music based on the weather and time of day.
Gesture and Touchless Control
Mobile phones made a big leap when we started to use capacitive touch screens. Could gesture and touchless control make as big an impact? Microsoft’s Kinect already shows how motion and gestures can be used in a wide array of applications. Phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 can tell when you are looking at your screen.
When mobile devices started using touch screens we also started losing the devices with physical keyboards. There’s no doubt that there are people who miss that hardware feature. It sounds like a slim chance to me, but there are companies who are working on screens that can change their shape to offer more tactile feedback as needed. Perhaps in the future we’ll have phones that can change their screen texture to improve input methods.
During the last few years wireless charging has come to mobile devices. With wireless charging we can place a device on a charging mat instead of plugging a cord in it. Unfortunately there are competing standards to wireless charging and it looks like it will be awhile before it can be used without a thought. In the future will we see wireless charging evolve to a point where you can place your device down at Starbucks and have it charged? Those plans are already underway and in implementation in some areas. Will it ever come to a point where we have true wireless charging? Researches are always exploring new ways to do this. In the future our devices may charge themselves using ambient radio radiation or even a super efficient implementation of the oldest wireless charging tech: solar power. Perhaps we will never need to worry about charging our phones again.
Along with wireless charging better battery technology is needed to keep our phones going. Current battery technology lags behind the needs of our mobile devices. Researchers are always looking for ways to achieve lighter, safer and longer lasting energy storage mediums. Hydrogen battery cells didn’t quite work out yet, but graphene based solutions are showing some promise having a capacity dozens of times more and charging in a fraction of time versus current lithium based solutions. In the future we may not need to worry about whether our device will last until the end of the day even with heavy use.
The size of our phone and tablet screens more or less dictate where and how we use our devices. The smaller the screen the more we take it with us. Larger screens allow us to use them more comfortably. Samsung, Corning and other companies have been at work creating flexible glass and displays. In the future we could have a phone that rolls up while still being usable as a phone, but can also be rolled out to a tablet sized display for more productive computing. A device could be made to wrap around your write like a watch and then unwrap to become a phone.
An artificial intelligence that thinks and learns has always been dreamt about. With early digital assistants and now with software like Siri and Google Now we are getting closer to having computers that assist us in our daily lives in more natural and human-like ways. Perhaps it’s too early to imagine a real J.A.R.V.I.S from the Iron Man movies, but technology appears to be moving in that direction. The recent Motorola X phone is able to always listen for your voice. Devices use GPS, gyroscopes and other sensors to detect changes in the environment. An always seeing camera is probably not that far off.
It’s already happening, some mobile devices will be able to send their display to TVs and other devices wirelessly. Google’s Chromecast and Apple’s Air Play are examples of this using add on devices, but in the future the technology may be built into your devices and monitors. It’s not so far a stretch to imagine a device that can send signals to your TV which you could then interact with using voice, touch, gesture or other input methods.
Many people have a cell phone, a tablet, a laptop and a desktop. All of these devices run separate operating systems and software you buy on one doesn’t always work on the other. Software companies are attempting to merge their respective OSes to offer better integration between devices and convergence. Apple’s iOS devices allow you to use the same apps on both the iPhone and iPad. Google does the same for phones and tablets. Microsoft does it between the desktop and tablet and ambitiously Ubuntu is attempting to create one OS that will run on your phone, tablet, laptop and desktop. In the future perhaps your phone will be the only device you need.
Biometrics and Health Sensors
We are already seeing these in use. Phones have had fingerprint scanners before and the iPhone 5s has an improved scanner in the home button. Google’s Android has been able to do face recognition to unlock your phone. There are sensors used by fitness trackers to measure your heart rate and how far you have travelled. There are even sensors that can monitor air pollution, function as a breathalyzer and help to diagnose eye conditions. As sensor technology and software improves perhaps we’ll have phones that are more aware of their surroundings than we are. Your phone may one day be able to know who you are before you even pick it up.
I'm sure that you can imagine even more amazing things than this. What types of things do you think we will see in the next 5-10 years?