Apple’s highly anticipated new iPhone 5 unveiled on Wednesday, is faster, lighter and thinner, with a taller screen than its predecessor, but experts say it offers only a glimpse into what might be available to consumers in the future.
“It is the phone that’s changed phones forever, and each and every year we introduce new versions with new features. Each time setting the gold standard,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook as he rolled out his latest creation.
Even when it debuted in 2007 the iPhone was more of a highly functional computer than just a phone.
In the future, experts predict highly specialized mini-computers could replace phones completely.
“The first computer was built in 1948 and took up an entire room,” said Patrick Tucker of the World Futurist Society.
“Extend that line just a little bit further and 20 years from now, you arrive at the point where you are integrating computation in a much more intimate form,” he said.
Tucker says phones of the future will be in the form of something you implant in your body.
In a study released earlier this year by SecurEnvoy, a company specializing in digital passwords, researchers found
66 percent of people are afraid to be without their phones.
And with millions of people worldwide already being implanted with eye lenses and pacemakers, Tucker believes the so-called “ick factor” associated with implants will eventually wear off.
“We are going to be incorporating more and more devices into our biological functioning,” Tucker says.
This summer a group of researchers from Autodesk, a California technology firm that specializes in human-computer interaction, surgically implanted seven devices including speakers, LED’s, and various sensors under the skin in the arms of a few test subjects.
“Our study was really looking at the feasibility of any interactive device,” said Tovi Grossman one of the researchers who worked on the project.
During the four month study, Grossman said all of the devices implanted were fully functional, including wireless
communication via Bluetooth. Even the LED light that is often used by cellular phone companies to indicate a new message has been received was visible through the skin.
Grossman and his colleagues believe this technology will catch on in the future. “The minimization of technology and the dependency people have on their mobile devices lends itself to the idea of mobile devices becoming a part of ourselves,” he said.
“We love having the iPhone,” said Tucker. “We don’t really seem to care all that much about the data that is constantly collecting on us.”
From checking in and leaving tips about the restaurant you just visited with Foursquare to geotagging updates on Twitter, more and more smartphone users now share more personal information than ever before.
A recent Nielsen study found more than half of Americans own smartphones. Smartphone usage in countries like China and India have reached an all-time high and the World Bank reported three-quarters of the world’s inhabitants now have access to some form of mobile phone.
That increased use of these devices and the cultural shift that makes sharing more socially acceptable leaves designers and developers seemingly limitless creative space when it comes to designs.
Scanning social media sites like YouTube and Twitter unveil a variety of prototypes of future mobile devices including holograms, more robust voice recognition ability, and advanced artificial intelligence that predicts the user’s needs based on current routines and activities.
“You walk into a Best Buy or Macy’s and it uses a combination of social graphs, geolocation, and feeds you unique ads and sales based on what you’ve purchased before.” explained Phil Gallo Managing Director Domain7, an internet marketing company that specializes in the mobile web.
Another prediction on the future of phones is the concept of using a smartphone to replace your wallet.
Near field communications or NFC is a secure radio technology that allows devices to trade information when they are close to one another. This technology isn’t new, many Android phones already have the capability, but experts say its use will become commonplace within the next few decades.
“NFC will catch when consumers can easily pay for things like groceries and other everyday items with their phone,” said Phillip Goldstein, editor of FierceWireless, an online trade publication covering the wireless industry.
Mobile phone giants ATT, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless recently teamed up to form a mobile wallet of their own called Isis. They’re currently testing the application in two U.S. cities Salt Lake City, Utah and Austin, Texas, with popular retailers like McDonald’s and The Home Depot accepting Isis payments in their stores.
At the Apple press conference there was no mention of the iPhone 5 having NFC capabilities. However, futurists and tech experts like Goldstein say it’s not a question of if they will add the functionality, but when.
“It’s a very difficult task though because every player wants a piece of the pie. That includes wireless carriers, handset makers, banks, credit card companies and merchants,” said Goldstein. “Apple will likely only add NFC when the market has become more mature,” he said.
If the thought of having an implant, or some other mobile device know who you are, where you’ve been and what you want freaks you out, there is something you can do to alter the outcome.
“The actions you take in the present can affect the future 20, 30 years out,” says Tucker of the Futurist society. With our predictions, he says, “we are trying to help people understand the trends that take place now can affect the future.