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Mobile phone in 10 years. Year 2033.
What will smartphones look like in 10 years? I’m afraid the most likely answer is one of two options: it will either be completely different, or disappointingly the same.
The history of the smartphone began with technological breakthroughs combined with ingenuity (best example: camera + data = Instagram), but eventually turned into an annual series of iterative improvements (such as improving the camera).
The most likely story, as always, is iteration. If there is no breakthrough, then we will again try to turn our ideas into reality. Almost every time someone says that there will be a massive breakthrough in 5-10 years – be it self-driving cars or augmented reality – it’s safest to assume that they will make the same prediction five years later.
Note that even with repeated updates, smartphones will be radically better than today, and in some ways they will also differ.
Screens will be brighter and fold differently, cameras will be so advanced that they threaten to supplant expensive ones.
SLR cameras, and the digital assistants inside them will be even smarter.
It’s easy to underestimate how important iterative change can be. Would Instagram have been born if the original iPhone camera hadn’t been a little dated?
Would it still exist if this camera didn’t get so good that it wiped out entire product categories? OLED is just a new way to display pixels, but now the screen can flex and consume very little power.
The gradual improvement of any component can make our phones faster.
Take, for example, ultra-broadband. It’s a chip in high-end phones that allows them to locate other devices in space, as well as transmit small pieces of data – for example, to unlock a door. Right now it is used for
searching for gadgets in sofa cushions, and there is a promise that soon he will open your car door.
Whatever happens, the iterative path for smartphones will inevitably mean that each phone launch will be less exciting than the last, a trend we’re already familiar with today. But this does not mean that phones will become less important and influential.
Instead, they will become more familiar. We will begin to understand more clearly that phones function as a kind of fashion. That they will follow yearly trends that are much more about style than function.
With luck, we will also have a deeper and more conscious understanding of the place of the smartphone in our lives, just like in the case of fashion. My hope is that phones will be ubiquitous without being all-consuming.
It’s frustrating to start on a sad note about the future of technological progress, but it’s important to stay a little grounded in reality. We could tell a story about phones that project their displays into the air between your fingers.
I could predict we wouldn’t have phones at all, but instead, broadband connectors would plug right into our brains, connecting us to a 6 or 7G network of wordless, emotional communication.
Fourteen years ago, Palm founder Jeff Hawkins unveiled his latest big technology idea. He beat the PDA tech giants with the PalmPilot to create the Treo smartphone, far ahead of the iPhone or Android. His third and final act was to create a different type of computer, a dummy terminal that simply acted as a window into your phone, where all of your real data was stored.
We can’t say what phones will look like in 10 years. But here are a few suggestions for what they might look like.
Wouldn’t it be better if our phones could change shape to fit the task at hand? This is the promise behind foldable devices.
Before foldables actually hit the market, there are a couple of things that need to be figured out, starting with the question of cost. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 brings foldable phones a little closer to the mainstream with a $999 price tag, but it’s still out of reach for a lot of people as well.
larger foldable phones like the Fold 3 cost closer to $2,000.
Manufacturers will need to be able to produce these foldable components more efficiently at a lower cost.
Durability is another major concern – foldable devices require thinner screens, as well as hinges and moving parts that are much harder to keep dust and water out than standard candy bar-shaped components. Samsung showed
creative way to make their foldable phones more durable, but for screens that
fold and bend, many more solutions will be needed. It doesn’t help that we’ve all come to expect a certain level of durability from our devices, which we
will match the phones of the future.
The smartphone industry has been fascinated by modular phones for years, anticipating a future filled with devices that can transform and upgrade as needed, adding better cameras, different sensors, and amazing new features. But again and again this idea failed.
There was an LG G5 that allowed the bottom of it to slide out to add a camera attachment with a dedicated shutter button. But LG abandoned the entire concept by the next year. Motorola then tried it with its Moto Z line, creating a system where accessories could be magnetically attached to the back of the phone.
There were battery packs, a JBL speaker, a Hasselblad camera, and even a good movie projector, and they
worked on several generations of devices. But sales figures didn’t pan out, and eventually the modular push faded into the background.
Compared to these efforts, the Google Ara project seemed like a real modular dream. According to the company, someday you will be able to change the individual components of the phone – the processor, sensor/camera lenses, battery, and even the display – and keep your
the original device is up to date with the latest advances in hardware, regularly replacing its internals. But the company abandoned Ara and its LEGO-inspired updates before it even shipped the hardware to developers.
To be sure, there is a technical challenge involved in realizing our sci-fi fantasies of modular phones. Google had to abandon its ambitions with Ara and ended up integrating the processor and display into the frame of the device, which meant they couldn’t.
will replace. And perhaps the biggest reason why individual smartphones will never work is how much the company wants to make from this solution. It’s simply not profitable.
When Samsung, Apple, and other companies can charge $1,000 for new devices every year, what incentive do they have to embrace modularity?
an approach that allows consumers to spend less money and update their phones with the latest cutting edge technology?
Maintaining compatibility with the modular system for many years can also prevent companies from moving forward with more
inventive, futuristic designs. It’s hard to look at something like the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and see how easy it would be to swap its components.
But in 10 years, perhaps the mobile industry has evolved to the point where modular phones are back.
The most enticing prediction is that in 10 years, the pocket smartphone as we know it will be replaced by—or at least most often sent into our pockets—smart glasses.
We are already on the right track, although early attempts like Google Glass were too primitive, creepy and weird looking. More recent attempts by such companies are still too heavily dependent on phone functionality.
The main hurdle between existing and more powerful smart glasses is being able to boil down all the necessary technology to a pair that normal people would want to wear in public. Display technology is also not yet quite where it should be. Some past smart glasses have projected their user interface onto the glass of the lens, but this is where things get cumbersome.
Another fundamental challenge is to create an interface that makes sense and is appropriate for your eyes and the outside world. Think about how often you check your phone during the day.
No one wants to constantly play with swipe and touch gestures on
your glasses so often. Voice control also needs to go beyond its current performance on mobile devices if we want to feel comfortable when we’ve left our phone or tablet at home.
Even if all this comes true, a proven and reliable smartphone will not become a “brick” in 10 years – productivity and other tasks lend themselves better to a device with a screen and keyboard.
In the sci-fi fantasy of the next 10 years, the phone is not something we carry around with us, it’s everywhere. Every room in your house has a smart speaker, a screen, a lamp, and God knows what else, connected to the network, ready to do whatever you ask your phone to do.
The same thing happens outside the home. We do not carry personal devices with us – they are in our cars, at bus stops. Instead of facing the onerous task of taking your phone out of your pocket, unlocking it, opening the right app, and typing words
on its small screen, new phones will just come to save us from this tedious task.
There are very obvious and serious ethical issues associated with this scenario. Equipping the world around us to anticipate and meet our needs requires us to provide an incredible amount of information about ourselves. And what happens when
does an almighty algorithm decide that we are acting suspiciously by analyzing our sleep patterns, shopping and oral hygiene habits?
Just take a look at how futurologists draw the future of the last 70 years in sci-fi films and books. It is unlikely that life, completely surrounded by gadgets and devices, will someday become a reality. But it will not be an exaggeration to say that many of the fantastic things will soon become our reality.