Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Next Cell Phones

Business Week has a great article on their website about what the next generation of cell phone will look like. Their big ideas:

  • Cell phones will be a key fashion accessory
  • People will choose phones that cater to their personal interests
  • Niche (read: Long-Tail ) phones will become more prevalent
  • "Communications Device" will replace "Cell Phones"

The big change the article predicts, however, is that new phones will be designed for a better user experience. And that can't come at a better time. With a few exceptions (like Treo/Blackberry), most of today's mobile devices are built on the same idea as a normal telephone. There's a dialing pad and a screen to see what you're working on. Additional features, like a camera and web browser, were built on top of that. As we get closer to "Wireless 2.0 ," however, new available features and usage will outstrip the current design, which could take many forms:

On Aug. 21, designer Pilotfish and sensor maker Synaptics are releasing a prototype of a cell phone, and the funny thing is, it doesn't have any buttons. Instead, the Onyx device understands signs and gestures, thanks to the sensitive touch pad covering most of its surface. It opens and closes applications when swiped by one or two fingers. The phone recognizes shapes and body parts. Lift Onyx to your cheek and it will pick up a call. "The goal of this concept was to show people a completely different way of designing and making a phone," says Mariel Vantatenhove, senior product line director at Synaptics . "We think that the market is ready for some sort of change."

New technologies drive many of the new designs. One example: Synaptics ClearPad, a new type of touch screen that will become commercially available later this year. Unlike today's touch screens, which aren't entirely transparent and often not very sensitive—we've all had to endlessly tap one with a stylus to get a response—ClearPad is clear, so it can be used as a sensitive overlay to a cell-phone display. Another innovation likely to change the cell-phone's appearance: flexible displays. An electronic ink screen prototype, developed by Koninklijke Philips Electronics and startup E-Ink, is thin and flexible like paper so it can be worn wrapped around a cell phone. Users can unwrap it to view a map on a larger screen. Eventually, the display could be used to watch video.

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