The Rapidly Approaching Smartphone Experience of the Future

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This week The Verge produced a video with YouTuber Marques K. Brownlee—aka MKBHD—called The Dream Smartphone (2014), in which young Marques cherry-picks hardware features from current flagships and imagines them on a single device. A franken-phone, if you will.

Way to aim low.

I consider myself a fan of both MKBHD and The Verge, but I find such silly fanboy indulgence far less interesting than the rapidly approaching future of mobile devices. Technology always moves fast, but I think we’re on the cusp of some major innovations in products and services. Smarter people than me have already laid out the pieces; today I’m going to assemble them for you here.

Hardware

Folding Display

The consensus seems to be that the next big innovation in smartphone hardware is bendable, even foldable screens. It makes a lot of sense. Yes, phones are quickly becoming phablets (at least at the high end) but there’s got to be a ceiling on screen size at some point—I just don’t see a 7 or 8 inch tablet with a SIM card being anyone’s primary mobile device anytime soon.

One solution to the size problem would be 4 inch device that folds out to an 8 inch display, maybe even more. Here’s a video demonstrating what that might look like:

Unbelievable as this seems it may not be that far off: Samsung apparently produced a foldable AMOLED prototype for CES last January. To see the progress that other companies are making on flexible displays check out this entry on Wikipedia.

Software

AI (the Kubrick-Spielberg joint)

No, there’s no Haley Joel Osment in your future (hopefully), but some form of artificial intelligence is likely the next big step in mobile software.  The benefit to the user will be that when they pull their device out of their pocket that device will already have a pretty good idea of what the user wants to do. A very early stab at this is the Aviate Launcher for Android that I wrote about last fall.

But a truly predictive mobile device would have to know a lot about you: the locations you frequent, your spending habits, people you want to hang out with, or not. This will require evermore data from evermore sensors on your phone and accessories. But who will aggregate all this data and use it to transform our mobile experience? An obvious answer would be Google. Some think it will be Samsung. If the data is made open and accessible it could be anyone. Now wouldn’t that be something…

Plans

Apple SIM

Speaking of data, in the future our carriers will gouge us even more for Internet connectivity. It’s inevitable, right? Well, not necessarily. Off the top of my head I can think of at least two ways in which the provider status quo might be disrupted.

The first would be a device with a subsidized data plan, not unlike what AT&T offers today. In the days before Amazon announced their Fire Phone it was widely believed that it would début with low or no-cost data. And why not? Amazon would already have you locked into a Prime subscription, locked in to their app store and be tracking your usage, so why not give you something of further value beyond free apps, or even a free device? It’s not like they’re making any money anyway.

Another form of disruption might arrive with the next evolution of the humble SIM card. The first step was hacking it like Know Roaming did to give users the affordable roaming service that their carrier wouldn’t. Then came the Apple SIM, followed immediately by carriers who refused in part or in whole to support it. I still don’t think Apple is the best choice to be a middle man between carriers and consumers, but I do think it’s the right idea.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a future where you power up your phone each and every morning to see carriers falling over themselves to provide you with cheap, fast and unlimited data for the day?