The Future of Phones

Ding-a-Ling-a-Ling! What will the Future Bring?

By Charles Moffat - June 2010.

In the future our phones will be more like personal computers. We can email, download music, TV shows and movies... and there will be silly people who are bored enough to watch TV on such a small screen. There will be games, GPS, a variety of useful search functions, applications (aka apps) and new gadgets we have yet to fathom. Digital cameras and video is just the tip of the iceberg.

We already have the technology to send video of ourselves talking to other people (and see them talking in return), but not a lot of people have opted for this ability. Instead people seem to be more addicted to email and internet on their SmartPhones.

What I find interesting is the potential business advantages. Your phone is now your business card. You can swap websites and emails with new business contacts. They can check out your portfolio or services right on the spot...

The trick however is that most websites aren't designed to be viewed on such a tiny screen. As a website designer myself I know that very few companies think to make a cellphone friendly version of their website. Its just not considered necessary yet by most companies... but it will be eventually and the website designers who are good at phone-friendly website design will have a valuable niche market.

But back to phones again, or should I say SmartPhones. In the future we won't really have much of an option. They will ALL be SmartPhones.

Everything from the latest iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia and whatever Google decides to call their new SmartPhone. Google is set to become the heavy hitter because of their SmartPhone operating system named Android, which is expected to eventually capture 85% of market share. We shall have to wait and see.

But what about traditional phones?

My parents for example... they still have a ROTARY PHONE. You know, you stick your finger in the hole and dial around the circle to pick that number. Its rather slow, awkward and dates back to the 1970s. My mother refuses to get rid of it. Worse, she RENTS it. What an antiquated notion, renting a rotary phone. She says she rents it because then if it ever breaks down she gets free repairs.

I've argued she could just go out and buy a $20 phone and plug it into the wall. Way cheaper than paying $10 per month to rent a rotary phone. I don't think my parents' local phone company has realized they still offer that service and simply haven't updated their billing in decades.

For over a decade now people have been wanting to see a webcam phone that is mass sold on the market, but such a phone would require greater bandwidth than a phone line is able to provide. What we really need is cable-phones, like VOIP.

Voice Over Internet Phone

But the industry is lagging behind on that too. VOIP exists, but companies like Vonage have failed to meet market demand by offering the webcam phone as an option. Still I'd hazard a guess they will realize the potential eventually.

Imagine for example if you're running a business. Wouldn't it be better to be able to talk to clients directly, being able to see them instead of just imagine them? As long as they're dressed and presentable this sounds like a good idea.

Currently business phones run off an older system where people are essentially connecting to a computer network and then dialing an extension number. The whole system is usually stored onsite and is frequently a fire hazard. There are some new business phone companies out there however who offering a smarter solution. S.E.Telecom for example offers business phones using VOIP, which means people have the option to use webcam phones and because its VOIP it also means they can talk unlimited to anywhere in the world.

That is a big attraction for me to get a VOIP phone someday. The advantage of unlimited calling, anywhere in the world and all at one low price. (And because its a business phone I can claim it all as a business expense on my taxes.)

And should my business expand I don't have to worry about housing a phone network server on the company property, its all taken care via the VOIP modem instead.

Business SmartPhones

I also think there's a lot of potential in the future for business cellphones (and SmartPhones).

Lets take telemarketing or call centres as an example. What silly person wants to sit in a call centre all day answering tech support?

From my perspective wouldn't it be smarter to have the call centre mobile? Employees download a company app onto their SmartPhone. Whenever they want to work (any time of the day, regardless of what they're doing) they just turn on the app and answer questions from customers. The app tracks how often they answer calls, the calls are monitored for quality control, the employee can go jogging, visit the gym, the beach or the mall and be working at the same time, and best of all the call centre company saves on office space!

I believe there is also a lot of potential for work-at-home companies using such technology, the only trick to this is that people aren't yet used to the concept and it involves a lot of personal discipline. It is far too tempting for some people to take the day off and watch movies all day, go outside and do something else... but what if you could do both at the same time? Work, help clients and still be able to do all the fun things you want to? Go rollerblading and answer calls from Pizza Pizza customers who want to place an order. All you need is a headset and a SmartPhone with the app downloaded and away you go.

Its my belief that phone technology is going to revolutionize the service industry. It won't do squat for manufacturing or the farming/food industry, but I think we can do a lot better than talking to some poor tech support guy in New Delhi, I don't care how good his English is. When your laptop isn't working and you want directions to the nearest place to have it repaired that is covered by the warrantee it would help if the tech support guy was a local and knew his way around your chosen city.

And this is just one aspect of SmartPhones which could be adapted to serve businesses. The simple task of being able to email clients while out on the golf course was long ago discovered by BlackBerry users.

The Celebrity Factor

Barack Obama can't do without his BlackBerry. In fact, he is the first president in history who's been allowed to have a personal phone. Historically the White House has been very worried about security leaks and restricted the president's phone usage to regular phones which are closely monitored to make sure there is no security leaks.

But they made exceptions when Obama got into power when he refused to give up his BlackBerry, so company Research In Motion was contacted to make a special "extra secure" version of the BlackBerry just for the president. So far its been infallible.

And since then I've seen an amazing change... teenagers and young people, even little kids, are now carrying around BlackBerries. The BlackBerry market used to be limited to business folks and the geeky population, but in the last 2 years their market has expanded so now its considered one of the cool items to have.

And the same thing goes with Hollywood... I remember the first time I even saw a cellphone in a film, and then suddenly all the films were using cellphones. Now its practically a cliche that the cellphone service goes dead right before the zombies or aliens attack you.

Thus when new technology comes out its really more of a matter of whether that technology gets featured in a blockbuster film... and then we get to see the technology take off.

We saw cellphones (or the equivalent of them) in 1967 when Star Trek first appeared on television. It took us many years, but the flip phone was eventually a financial success. The question then becomes which gadgets do we expect to make it big over the next 10 to 20 years?

I think we will eventually hit a wall where cellphones will have so many gadgets we can't really do anything more with them. Sure, there will always be new apps coming out, but I think we will run out of actual gadgets to add it beyond just memory and computing power.

The Addiction Factor

I remember being a teenager and talking to girls on the phone for hours at a time. Todays teenagers are just as bad, but they're doing it on cellphones... or to save money, they're texting constantly.

I also know several people who are always buying a new cellphone every 3 to 6 months. They HAVE TO HAVE IT. If they don't they're constantly thinking about it because their addiction to gadgetry has reached a point where if they don't go out and buy the latest gadget they feel incomplete and empty.

I'd argue such people might be compensating for something else that is missing in their life. ie. They want to have children but can't, so instead they invest all their money in their gadgets to fill the emptiness they feel. Whatever the cause, the combination of shopping for tech toys and the "Nyah nyah! I got one and you don't!" is an excellent marketing strategy.

I remember a time when Nike shoes were the must have item. Now its cellphones. (See CrackBerry BlackBerries.) How times have changed.

In the future I think people will be so addicted to cellphones they won't be able to cope without them. They will become a bit like cyborgs, totally reliant on their gadgets. If you're familiar with Cyborgian Theory this is not a new concept. Its simply the idea that our gadgets and virtual identity become such a part of ourselves that we have difficulty cutting ourselves off from such things. We NEED to check our email. We NEED to Twitter or update our Facebook status. We NEED to find out the name of that flower that we can remember and its on the tip of our tongue.

I know a woman with a 4-year-old son who won't sleep at night until he can play a video game that is on her Nokia SmartPhone. If the batteries on the phone are dead its very difficult to get him to calm down and sleep. To some extent that makes him part cyborg already.

But what if in the future our phones were implanted into our skulls? We click our tongues or give some kind of mental or verbal command or twitch our neck muscles to operate it. It comes with a tiny keypad that fits on our arm like a keyboard-bracelet. People rush out to the buy the newest versions because they're considered fashion accessories.

And to extend that, what happens a hundred or a thousand years from now? Will we all be cyborgs?

The Future of Phones could very well be the end of humanity as we know it. We could become a race of people who are constantly connected, only shutting down to sleep or get some privacy.

The Obsoletism of Gadgets

I don't use voicemail any more. Oh technically I do if its an emergency or for work reasons, but otherwise if I am just phoning a friend and it goes to voicemail I never leave a message. If I want to send them a message I will text them.

And likewise I rarely check my messages. If someone phones me, my cellphone tells me I missed a call from so-and-so and then I just immediately call them back. No need to even check what their voicemail message was.

And I admit there's other things on my cellphone I simply don't use, like the calendar. I also have the option to download music but I never do. I have the option to surf online but I never do. Bluetooth? (For those that don't know Bluetooth is a device which allows your cellphone to be used as a modem to connect to the internet, so you could connect your laptop to your phone and thus gain access to the internet.) I've never used Bluetooth and probably never will.

When you consider that there are now mobile internet USB sticks for laptops, Bluetooth is now essentially obsolete. Completely unnecessary. (There is also Bluetooth earplugs which allow people to talk on their phones without actually holding their phone... which I argue makes you look like a crazy person talking to themselves.)

I predict that we might come to a point where downloading ringtones will become obsolete. Instead we will be able to record and use our own ringtones from any source we want. Why bother to pay for old ringtones when you can simply make your own?

At the rate cellphone technology is expanding we have to hit a wall eventually where we've done as much as we can do in terms of gadgets and the gadgets or apps that are no longer needed will be tossed to the side, filling landfills with cellphones waiting to be stripped of their valuable gold wiring.

And then there's the people who just get bored of their current phone and want a new one... silliness.

Futuristic Cellphone Designs

Below is samples of futuristic cellphone designs we may (or may not) see in the future.

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