Future phones: no small talk

Future phones: no small talk
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First Published: Tue, Jun 02 2009. 02 15 PM IST

Updated: Tue, Jun 02 2009. 09 25 PM IST
Remember those tiny monochrome screens, the ungainly protruding aerials on a brick-like device that could barely fit into your pocket? Your cellphones in those days were only good for one thing: They let you talk to people. And today? Almost as commonplace as a wallet, these spiffy little “pocket computers” have evolved into the Swiss army knife equivalent of consumer electronics. Any standard device today comes loaded with at least a camera, calendar, Web browser, organizer, timer, stopwatch, radio, instant text messenger and a video camera. They are smaller, sleeker, smarter and of course, more versatile. It is no less than a generational leap.
Stretching the limits of form and function, tomorrow’s cellphones promise to be even more indispensable. Soon, keypads will give way to technology that can respond to your voice, even gestures. How about speaking to your phone rather than using the keypad? Maybe you’d do better to just wave your fingers at it.
Nokia is developing a futuristic phone, Morph, which—yes—can double up as a bracelet. Samsung is developing a phone that can interpret hand gestures to make a call. Want more? Researchers in the US are reportedly working on a model that is charged every time you shake, move, bend or even rub it against your body. It’s all happening faster than the speed your PC boasted just five years ago. Let’s look at a few ways in which tomorrow’s cellphones will make life easy for us.
No wallet? Got phone
Banking on your phone will soon become a reality in India too. The idea is to replace your wallet with a smart chip in your phone that carries all your banking information, from account to debit and credit card numbers, your driving licence, passport and even investment details. Silicon Valley veteran Sanjay Swami, founder of Bangalore-based mChek, foresees a future when our cellphones will be enabled to perform transactions such as share trading, withdrawing money from ATMs and making payments at restaurants and movie halls. MChek has tied up with Airtel customers holding a Visa or MasterCard to enable them to make payments on select e-commerce portals such as Yatra.com through SMSes. He says: “It promises to transform society and will probably be on our phones much sooner than we imagine. There is no end to the possibilities your phones will enable you for in the future.”
A magic wand
The beginning of the end of the stand-alone universal remote is just round the corner. A number of branded toasters, video recorders and even microwave ovens today are Bluetooth-enabled. Your cellphone can make these talk to each other. Melloware’s Intelliphone remote (Melloware.com) works with an iPhone to control Windows Media Center PCs. You can move the cursor on the PC’s display by using the iPhone’s touch screen, and a Qwerty keyboard obviates the need for a separate wireless keyboard.
Tomorrow’s phones promise to be an integral part of your smart home, helping you with tasks as simple as operating the garage door or switching off the lights.
A camera and a scanner
Very soon, your cellphone camera will also double up as a scanner to read bar codes of products in stores. It will verify authentic products and also give you price comparisons across brands. High-end Nokia phones and the iPhone already have such image recognition technology.
The power of projection
How about a phone that projects its screen on the keyboard or on to a table or a surface so that you can navigate using the virtual interface? Developers are already working on embedded micro-projections to help us do these things.
An alert phone
Watch out for phones armed with an arsenal of sensors that give you a world of information at your fingertips. Soon, the phone will double up as a navigator, helping you with the best routes to office, alerting you about traffic jams and even the best place to park outside a mall. With all these sensors, which can talk to millions of other phones, you have an incredible snapshot of the world around you in real time.
Social networking
Tomorrow’s phones also promise to take social networking to new levels. Soon your phone will be your means to publishing pictures, emails, text and blogs. And when everyone else is doing the same, there will be millions of people from all corners of the planet sharing their experiences and information in real time. Says Shiv K. Bakshi, director, mobility research, IDC, a US-based market analysis firm: “There is no device in the world or a platform like the mobile phone. Tomorrow, everything that can be digitized will be on the phone. Very soon, instead of downloading pre-packaged pictures, you can simply click your own picture and share it with your own little circle of friends. So instead of being just a passive consumer of pre-packaged content, you are going to be an active creator of content.”
THE PHONES WE TALKED ABOUT
It’s 5sq. cm in size and just about a centimetre thick—you won’t even realize you have the Packet Phone in your pocket. Turkey-based Emir Rifat Isik says the inspiration for the design came from cardboard boxes. The design is very simple: Fold open the top and bottom squares and it turns into a traditional flip phone with a speaker and a screen at the top, a microphone at the bottom, and a dial pad in the middle. Once you open all the folds, it looks like a smartphone, ready to let you surf the Web or write emails. It has a split keyboard at the sides and a pointer at the centre. “In terms of packaging, I suppose there can be many different approaches, just like the phone,” says Isik.
Italy-based futuristic gadget designer Massimo Marrazzo’s Handphone has a ring-shaped microphone and speaker that slips into your fingers, and the circular phone controller and radio sit on the back of your hand. Says Marrazzo: “The gesture of shaking the thumb and little finger to call is natural for people. So the shape ensures you can have the phone always ready to use, and by putting microphone and speaker very close to your ear and mouth, you can use it in noisy places. You can continue to hold objects or use a pen.” The 75-100g phone comes with a 65K colour touch screen, is Bluetooth-enabled and is made of durable high-quality plastic that’s available in different colours.
Lisbon-based designer Ricardo Baiao’s Atlas Kinetic concept phone will not run out of power as long as you use it. The device draws power and is recharged every time you move it. The Atlas Kinetic comes with a series of built-in weights, rotors and springs that generate power every time it is shaken or moved. The downside: It can only be used for making phone calls. Baiao claims that the phone will get “charged when its devices/systems are combined with clothes or any other daily use equipment”.
As its name suggests, this cellphone can morph into a bracelet. But there’s more to the Morph. Its electronics are expected to be so small that they would be invisible to the naked eye. It can even clean itself. Says Tapani Ryhanen, laboratory director, Nokia Research Centre: “Nanostructured surfaces such as Nanoflowers naturally repel water, dirt and even fingerprints, utilizing effects also seen in natural systems.” The Morph will also help you live healthier. “Nanosensors would examine the environment around you in completely new ways, from analysing air pollution to gaining insight into biochemical traces and processes. New capabilities might be as complex as helping us monitor evolving conditions in the quality of our surroundings, or as simple as knowing if the fruit we are about to enjoy should be washed before we eat it,” says Ryhanen.
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Ashish Bhatia
FastMac iV for enhanced hours of talktime
If you are an over-the-top iPhone user but are constantly moping about its battery life, buy an appendage called the FastMac iV ($80). A 2.4x5.3x.5 inch slip-on, this 3100mAh battery can bestow an iPhone with nearly 24 hours of talktime, 72 hours of audio playback, 21 hours of video, or 30 days of standby time. The FastMac iV also provides the phone’s camera with a flash for low-light shoots and a flashlight torch for emergencies.
And that’s not all: Its USB port can be deployed efficiently to re-charge other devices as well.
Ashish Bhatia
Click smartly with Pentax-K-7
Pentax has launched a 14.6-megapixel camera called K-7 ($1,300, body only) and it has a magnesium alloy body that is also dust-resistant and waterproof. The high-definition video capture is at 720 pixels (1280x720 resolution at 30 frames per second). It has an intriguing new in-camera feature called HDR that combines the best exposures of three shots into one image. The K-7 has a continuous shooting speed of 5.2 frames per second and a new 100% field-of-view viewfinder. Pentax says the K-7 delivers 740 shots on a charge.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
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First Published: Tue, Jun 02 2009. 02 15 PM IST