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The Future of Smartphones: 2010-2015 and Beyond

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In five years, the concept of a smartphone will change dramatically. How do we know this? Just look at the last half-decade. Since 2005, the Apple iPhone emerged as a cannibalizing platform, made for loading innovative apps, designed with finger-flicking ease-of-use in mind. The rumored Google Phone not only came out in the form of a new operating system, but the actual Nexus One as well. Accelerometers, touchscreens, GPS-based location awareness – these have also all appeared in full force in the last few years and changed the market entirely.

Toshiba T-01A

Toshiba T-01A

PC Replacements

The primary change will occur over the next few years as smartphones start behaving more and more like laptops. In June, DoCoMo started offering the Toshiba T-01A in Japan, a super-fast phone that uses an advanced Qualcomm chip. With these fast processors, smartphones will finally run full-blown apps such as Adobe Photoshop – and not just with the limited features offered in the current Photoshop app. There are already signs of other forthcoming power apps on the horizon as well, including tools that can handle photographic effects and process large, high-res images and videos.

Nokia recently launched the N900, which it calls a mobile computer. It runs a Linux operating system and can multitask like a MacBook. In 2015, these powerful laptop replacements will provide true multitasking where you can run Spotify to stream audio, chat over an IM client, process EXIF data for a massive photo collection, and even play World of Warcraft all at the same time. These uber-phones will have similar-size displays and use touch input, but the background processing will be much more advanced and allow full PC-like capabilities.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality

Connected Devices

The dream of fully connected, location-aware devices will finally come to fruition. This is more than just a simple Bluetooth dump between business phones, but a full data exchange – say, sending all your favorite apps over Wi-Fi to another smartphone, as well as every movie you have ever download, and all of your music.

“Your phone is likely to be situationally and contextually aware, and present information to you accordingly,” says John Jackson, a vice president of research at CCS Insight. “The phone — and the cloud-based server side intelligence behind it — will know you, your location, your social networks, and your preferences in food, media, and communication. It will predict your next moves. The multi-trillion dollar question is who enables it and controls the sources and uses of information.”

Location awareness will further lead to several other innovations. Phones in 2015 will know when you are near a McDonald’s or Starbucks and offer to pay your bill. Augmented reality – an emerging trend in 2009 – will become a social-awareness tool in the next five years as users link their phones. For example, connected devices could form into an ad hoc broadcast terminal at sporting events where you can view a video feed from a guy in the second row or up in the nose-bleed seats.

According to John Shen, the Lab Director at Nokia Research Center, the smartphone of 2015 will go even further: You will be able to link phones together to form a cluster where a group of phones provides PC-like processing capability.