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.
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.
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.
Gaming Expands Even Further
Gaming exploded in 2009 – especially with fantastic shooters such as Alive-4ever on the iPhone, with gameplay and graphics that look like something you’d see on Xbox 360 (granted, as a casual game). Yet, these games also point to a trend where mobile gaming gets much more graphical (like the jump from PS2 to PS3) and gamers will be able to connect with each other for multiplayer shootouts, albeit with not just one or two players, but rather a roomful of 32 gamers all at once.
Moreover, with faster processors and faster carrier service (not to mention faster Wi-Fi), gamers will be able to connect for an experience that is more like the recently released Uncharted 2: Among Thieves where a multiplayer match involves high-resolution graphics, co-operative play with two players on screen at the same time, incredibly fluid gameplay mechanics, and much more realistic console-like sound. At the heart of this new technology: Faster networks and ubiquitous connections for anytime gaming with anyone.
“The chips running the device will be highly efficient,” says Jackson. “Like today, your phone will have sufficient memory to store oodles of information, but it will also be connected to the Internet in an ambient way through whatever network makes the most sense (WiFi, cellular… even peer-to-peer possibly).”
Social Networking and Connections
The Palm Pre and Motorola Droid showed how to aggregate social networking – you can add accounts and view contact info and e-mails in one thread. This multi-service aggregation is just the first step in the smartphone’s coming evolution, however. In 2015, there will be no need to use Facebook on a computer anymore, because your connections will occur in real-time when you meet people in person, swapping contact info, photos, and even personal details (like who you are dating or what you plan to do later that night) in an instant.
This kind of socially-aware service will work like the Poken (www.poken.com) in that it won’t require a lot of user interaction – just enter into an area where someone is actively sharing their Facebook profile or Twitter status and the phones (using a newly emerged networking standard) will swap data even between devices from different manufacturers and on different carriers.
Consumer analyst Michael Gartenberg says this social integration will spawn entirely new services and features on smartphones in 2015. For example, once everyone is easily connected through a smartphone portal, you can walk into a room and search for people who like soccer or Peter Jackson films. New marketing paradigms will emerge as well as companies sell their wares to a target audience. This Minority Report-style marketing will explode, offering services and deals to customers as they walk into Starbucks based on a specific purchase history.
And what is the ultimate conclusion? Once these faster, more location-aware, service oriented phones emerge, the PC will quickly become secondary. As such, the smartphone of 2015 and beyond won’t just be an essential traveling companion – it may be your one-stop connection to the computing world at large.