My first mobile phone was the Ericsson A1018s. I bought it at a gas station in 1999 when I was 11 years old. Some of its biggest features were changing the ringtone (there were 12 options) and caller ID — impressive, I know. You could also customize the device by getting a keyboard plate with a different color.
Technology has come a long way since. Today’s smartphones sport large touchscreen displays, impressive cameras, and high-tech features like 3D facial recognition. While phones were primarily used for making calls back in the day, now we use them for things like listening to music, browsing the web, playing games, and watching cat videos on YouTube.
If you told me back in 1999 what these devices would be capable of in around 20 years, I’d call you crazy — and I wouldn’t be alone. Back then, no one could have predicted the impact phones would have on our lives. It would have sounded like science fiction.
This got me thinking: what will smartphones of the future look like? What features will these devices have in 20, 30, or even 50 years that seem like science fiction today? Here’s what I’ve come up with.
Back in the day, the main way of using a phone was a physical keypad. This was eventually replaced by the touchscreens we use today. With services like Google Assistant and Samsung Bixby, we can now interact with our devices just by using our voices.
I think the next step in this evolution is mind control. The technology would allow you to perform every task you can do via touch or voice with your mind. You could open an app of choice, play a specific video on some futuristic version of YouTube, and even edit images with your thoughts. You could also send a text, control the screen brightness, or create a movie from the videos you’ve captured — you get the picture.
Using smartphones would be a lot faster with mind control. You’d no longer have to search for an app to open it or stretch your finger all the way to the top of the screen to tap it. You could perform any task in a heartbeat.
We’re still far, far away from something like this becoming a reality, but scientists are making progress in this field. As we reported last year, Facebook’s Building 8 division is developing technology to allow people to type with their minds. The typing speed targeted is 100 words per minute, which is about five times faster when compared to typing on our smartphones.
Scientists at MIT are also working on something similar with a device called AlterEgo, which lets the user converse with machines with only their thoughts. Here’s hoping any such technology in the future doesn’t require you wear a weird contraption on your head to use it.
Even though the idea of using a smartphone with your thoughts seems crazy now, it just may become a thing decades down the line. Fingers crossed!
Let’s face it: the battery life of the average smartphone sucks. Even if you have a high-end phone like the Mate 20 Pro with its massive 4,200mAh battery, you’re still only looking at around two days of average use. Once the device runs out of juice, you either have to plug it in for a couple of hours or place it on a wireless charging pad, if your phone supports it.
Things could be quite different in the future. A company called Energous is developing technology to charge devices over the air. Place your phone within three feet of the WattUp Mid Field transmitter and it will start charging right away. I love this idea, but let’s take it a step further.
With over-the-air charging, you'd never have to worry about running out of juice again.
Imagine a future where these transmitters are a lot more powerful and can charge devices over-the-air at great distances. They could be placed across countries, just like cell phone towers today, and would constantly charge your smartphone from afar, making sure it never runs out of juice. These charging transmitters would be so powerful, they’d keep your smartphone’s battery at 100 percent all the time. You’d never have to worry about battery life again and would get rid of all those pesky charging cables for good.
The technology wouldn’t be exclusive to smartphones either. It would constantly charge all your gadgets, from Chromebooks, to Bluetooth headphones, and smartwatches. It could even charge your electric car, which is what we’ll probably all be driving in the future.
The next big thing in display technology in the near future seems to be flexible displays. We recently saw the first foldable phone, the Royole FlexPai, and we expect many more from companies like Samsung, LG, and Huawei.
When I think about the next technological breakthrough in this area — decades away — I envision stretchable phones. Instead of unfolding a phone for more screen like with the FlexPai, you’d stretch it out to increase its size, sort of like a rubber band. All you’d have to do is pull the phone from two of its corners diagonally.
This type of design would let you quickly increase the size of the device when watching videos and make it smaller to fit in your pocket. For it to work, the vast majority of components would have to be stretchable, not just the display.
Obviously, there would be a limit to how far you can stretch a device. If that limit was 50 percent of the size of a phone, for example, it would mean you could transform a 6-inch display into a 9-inch one.
Work is already being done in the field of stretchable displays, but we’re a long way off from fully stretchable phones becoming a reality. Samsung announced a prototype of a stretchable display last year which can be dented up to 12mm without causing damage — shown in the image above. That display just bounces back to its original flat shape — similar to a trampoline — so it’s not really what I have in mind for the future.
Engineering researchers at Michigan State University have also developed the first stretchable integrated circuit and see a future for stretchable electronics.
“Our work could soon lead to printed displays that can easily be stretched to larger sizes, as well as wearable electronics and soft robotics applications,” said Chuan Wang, assistant professor at Michigan State University in a releases from the school.
In addition to making phones larger or smaller, stretchable displays would also add a new dimension to things like gaming and watching videos. Imagine playing a first-person shooter game and the display flexing out while someone is shooting at you — the experience could be a lot more immersive.
Phones come in a variety of colors and choosing the best one can often be a struggle. Black, silver, and white give off a more classic vibe, but they’re also boring. Red, green, or purple colorways stand out more, but can give devices a toyish, less professional look. With smartphones of the future, you may not have to choose anymore.
Imagine a phone with a completely transparent back made from a glass-like material that fully absorbs light. The device would have one or more LED lights inside, the color of which you could change in the settings of the phone (or maybe with your mind!). When you choose orange, the entire back cover would completely absorb the color of the light and look exactly the same, almost as if it were painted on.
You would be able to change the color of your smartphone as frequently as you’d like.
This technology would allow you to switch between different colors as frequently as you’d like. The feature could also have a mode to change the color automatically on a daily basis. With a few LED lights inside properly positioned, you could also create gradient colors, like what the Huawei P20 Pro has.
This new glass-like material (as well as the display) would also be virtually unbreakable, so you wouldn’t have to worry about it cracking if you drop your phone. Unlike glass phones today, it would also be resistant to fingerprints.
OLED and E-ink in one
OLED displays are great for watching videos and playing games, but they aren’t the best for reading. E-ink displays like those in Amazon’s Kindle e-readers are a much better option. I’ve been using a Kindle Paperwhite for years now and love the fact my eyes don’t get strained after reading for a few hours. It also lets me read outside, under direct sunlight.
This is more or less impossible with OLED displays. Sure, features like night mode filter out blue light and can even turn the screen to monochrome, but even when enabled OLED displays still don’t come close to matching e-ink technology in terms of reading comfort.
The smartphones of the future I envision would combine OLED and e-ink technology into one, likely killing dedicated e-readers. With a simple tap in the settings, you could transform an OLED display into an e-ink screen for reading books, articles, and various documents without all that light shining into your face. An e-ink display is also a lot less power hungry, which could mean longer battery life.
Unfortunately, something like this is impossible at this point. Apple had a similar idea back in 2011 when it applied for a patent regarding a hybrid e-ink/OLED display, but we haven’t seen this technology hit the market yet. There are phones available today featuring both display technologies, but they don’t combine them into one.
The YotaPhone 3 features an AMOLED display on the front and an e-ink display on the back. Mobvoi’s TicWatch Pro wearable also which lets users switch between an LCD and OLED display for improved battery life, but even this doesn’t quite match the kind of futuristic hybrid display technology we could see in the coming decades.
Will there even be smartphones in the future?
Smartphones of the future may not be smartphones at all. These devices may take on a whole new form factor, which will enable us to perform the same tasks as smartphones do today — and more.
I see a future where smartphones in their current form get replaced by what look like regular glasses. Yes, I know we’ve already seen devices like Google Glass, which failed miserably. But the product I have in mind goes beyond Google’s pet project. It’s sort of like Google Glass on steroids.
My version of futuristic glasses would let you make calls, watch videos, listen to music...
My version of futuristic glasses would let you make and receive calls. When someone rings you, you’d see their name/image in front of your eyes. When you answer the call, you’d immediately hear the caller without having to use an earphone. The glasses would use bone conduction technology or something even more high-tech. They’d also be able to play music, offer turn-by-turn navigation, and read the emails and texts you’ve received. All these things could also be displayed in front of your eyes using AR technology.
Of course, the glasses would feature a camera on board. When you’d want to take a picture, a frame would show up in front of your eyes, showing exactly what the camera will capture. Say the word “Snap” in your head and the image will be taken.
Thanks to AR technology, the glasses would project a screen/image in front of you, allowing you to watch your favorite shows, play games, see the images you’ve captured with the camera, and browse the web. That means you wouldn’t have to buy a dedicated TV, which would save you money as well as space in your home.
With these glasses, you’d also be able to see 3D holograms of people. Just imagine sitting in your living room and watching Marilyn Monroe singing you Happy Birthday Mr. President. Or Fik-Shun dancing. Or porn. The experience would be extremely immersive.
A lot of companies are already working in the field of smart and connected glasses. In addition to Google, Intel showed off a pair of smart glasses this year, which project a stream of information in front of you (directions, notifications…). But unfortunately, the company has already given up on the technology. An Amazon-backed company called North is working on a similar idea with their glasses called Focals, which are expected to go on sale by the end of this year. Then there are mixed reality headsets like the Microsoft HoloLens, which brings holograms in front of your eyes — see how it works in the video below.
So the glasses I have in mind would combine smartphone capabilities with holograms and other features offered by today’s smart glasses. It’s an interesting idea, but let’s go crazy and take it a step further. Imagine these futuristic glasses being replaced by a small computer placed in your brain. You’d be able to receive calls by hearing the voice of the caller in your head, just like your thoughts. You’d listen to music the same way, hear GPS direction, and more.
Additionally, you’d be able to take pictures, watch videos, play games, and see holograms. But instead of the images being projected in front of you by the glasses, the computer in your head would project them through your eyes. Essentially, this computer would be capable of doing the exact same things as the smart glasses of the future, but it would be less intrusive. Well, kind of. It would have to be placed in your brain, but at least you wouldn’t have to put it on and off every five minutes. It would also be impossible to lose it or for someone to steal it.
It all sounds like science fiction. Something you’d expect to see in a cartoon like The Jetsons. But hey, perhaps it will become a real thing in the future. After all, work is already being done in this area.
Elon Musk founded a company called Neuralink last year, which is working in the field of “neural lace” technology. The idea is to implant tiny electrodes into the human brain to allow them to communicate directly with machines. The technology would also enable you to upload and download your thoughts — seriously. With that in mind, I feel like anything is possible in the future. However, the current development of the technology is still far behind my wild imagination.
I see a future where everything is connected and our smartphones – or whatever replaces it – can communicate seamlessly with virtually every device. As long as you have it with you, your front door will open once you get near it, you’ll be able to unlock your car and start the engine, and even go through the mechanical gate at the subway and airport if the ticket is saved on your phone. It’d be fantastic — at least until your phone gets stolen.
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So that’s it for my thoughts on what I’d like to see from mobile devices in the future. Now it’s your turn. Think about what features smartphones of the future could bring to the table and share them with us in the comments below!