Changes Coming to Smartphones

looking_glassLike many people I often wonder what the next big transformational technology will be. The most recent one was clearly the smartphone. I remember the day in 2007 when Joe, an early-adopter friend of mine got one of the first iPhones. My reaction that day was that it was a device that could make calls like my flip phone plus play a few games. It didn’t seem worth the extra cost at the time. But within a year or two thousands of applications were created and all of a sudden the smartphone became a handheld computer. And now smartphones have the vast majority of the cellphone market and have changed our lives for the better.

Like any new invention there have been some changes made to smartphones, but nothing earthshattering. Screens have gotten bigger, batteries have gotten better and the cameras take a better picture. But today’s iPhone is not a lot different than that first one in 1997. People have stopped getting excited about new releases of phones because it’s the same old thing, just a little better. But there are some more new changes coming to cell phones in the very near future that are worth looking at.

Lock-out Switch. Apple has patented a lockout switch that would disable texting capabilities for someone driving a vehicle. This is a badly needed change and today when you see somebody driving erratically you no longer think they might be drinking, but texting. I see this every day and the world will be a lot safer if this is deployed.

The technology works by detecting if the phone is being used by a driver and not a passenger of the vehicle. Apple would create zones within a vehicle in order to distinguish drivers from passengers. There are already apps that parents can deploy that will disable texting when a car is moving, but making it automatic and built into the chip set is the only foolproof way to stop texting and driving. It’s already illegal in almost every state, but it’s incredibly hard to police.

Mobile Payments. The US lags behind Europe and Asia in the ability to use cellphones to make mobile payments. In Japan you have been able to walk up to a vending machine and pay with a cellphone for well over a decade. The major reason for the hold-up here is that the major cell phone carriers, AT&T and Verizon have been blocking mobile wallets because they felt that they needed enhancements to the SIM cards to securely store payment data.

But at the end of last year there were a few breakthroughs. Selected android phones now support Isis, a mobile wallet solution. Sprint now supports Google Wallet. Starbucks has launched an in-store only application. Apple says that their next generation iPhone will come with Apple’s iWallet.

Until now the banks, with ATM cards and the credit card companies have had a virtual monopoly on taking payments. But the cost of entry into taking mobile payments is low and doesn’t even require a tie-in to a credit card. You can expect large stores like Walmart and Costco to launch their own payment applications. With the mobile application genie now out of the bottle we can expect payments using smartphones to be routine within a few years.

New Phones. There are several big changes coming to phones. One of the coolest ones is flexible phones and Samsung says they will be introducing a flexible smartphone in 2015. Picture a phone that will easily bend in your pocket to match your movements. This technology is enabled using organic LEDs. These phones can be bent and twisted without losing electronic integrity. The biggest promise with flexible phones is that we won’t be always frightened to death of the expense mistake of dropping and breaking our smartphone. Flexible phones promise to be lighter and tougher than the current square boxes.

Then there are transparent phones. Polyton from Taiwan demonstrated a prototype of a completely transparent cell phone. It’s made from OLEDs using switchable glass technology that uses liquid crystal molecules to form the display. When not in use the phone is transparent, but the crystals align to create images and text when in use.

These two technologies together can bring about a future generations of phones that will be different than today’s phones. I find it somewhat humorous that in the big patents battle between Apple and Samsung that one of the claims that Apple made was that Samsung stole the shape of their phone. I mean what else are you going to shape it like other than a rectangle? But in the future that might be the one thing that phones are not shaped like, assuming we can see them at all.

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