10 Seriously Cool Predictions for the Future of Your Cell Phone

Only a fool or a particularly argumentative individual would deny that cellular technology has experienced a technological resurgence of legendary proportions as of late. Following the lead of the Blackberry, iPhone, and other trendy time-savers, other companies have scrambled to mimeograph their successes – resulting in a digital rush of state-of-the-art products that pique the interest, love, and loyalty of consumers around the world. It likely comes as no shock whatsoever to learn that experts and hobbyists alike enjoy weighing in on the new developments to come. The following represent a few that, as of 2010, seem to be the most realistic ones to find themselves fulfilled within the next few years.

1. Phenomenal Cosmic Power in an Itty-Bitty Living Space.

In an article dated 2007, the BBC predicted that cell phones would boast a dynamic intelligence that greets its owner with more than just beeps to wake him or her up. Programming in the route towards school or work would prompt it to check the traffic forecasts and adjust the morning’s alarm to account for any extra time. The newly awakened owner can read over any recommended paths to a specific destination that account for a number of different factors – including road conditions and construction, too! The phone may also sync with home alarm systems for additional protection and prevention or function as a surrogate credit card when run through a specialized scanner. Or, for something a little more lighthearted, may hook up with a television to download favorite (even recommended!) shows and convert them to podcast form for easy transport. As the BBC’s visuals so cleverly point out, cell phones hold the potential to become veritable Swiss Army knives for the digital age. More so than they already are, anyways.

2. Sayonara, Laptop-san!

Blogger, Google developer, and ardent technophile Don Dodge echoes many of the same sentiments that other cell phone aficionados have been touting for years. With bandwidth capabilities accelerating faster than Wally West on a caffeine bender, it comes as little surprise to professionals and hobbyists alike that smart phones may very well overtake laptops as the primary source of mobile computing. Given their (comparatively) miniscule size, they edge out their portable peers due to easier, smoother transport. Increased bandwidth also allows for more sophisticated gaming, allowing fans of more immersive experiences and top-notch graphics to enjoy the latest and greatest while on the go. For the more technical and business-minded, cell phones may serve as an ideal conduit for Cloud Computing – which Dodge earnestly believes marks the future of how humanity interacts with machinery. Other exciting prospects include cell phone browsers comprising the Web OS, better interfacing with Google Apps, and software companies budgeting more money to develop even more and varied applications.

3. More bang for the buck.

As with all consumer goods competing in a fluid and perpetually evolving field, those dealing in cell phone technology must do their best to lure in as many customers as possible if they hope to gain an edge over their rivals. Because of this, anyone curious about getting their hot little hands on an iPhone, Blackberry, or other smart phone may delight over perpetually changing plans and improved coverage. Mobile communications giants such as AT&T and Verizon captured to attention of many gadgeteers with their Epic Price Wars of 2010, where hacked prices made their wares more accessible to the budgeted masses. It doesn’t take a Harvard-trained economist to realize that cell phones will likely fall into the same pattern as all the other latest technological trends. The newer the item, the higher the price. However, savvy consumers unencumbered by social pressure may want to hold off and snap up phones 1 or 2 generations behind to bank a bit of coin – not to mention plummeting plan prices and better bargains to accompany them.

4. More lucrative opportunities for selling virtual goods.

Exchanging physical money for consumer items comprised of nothing but pixels has already entrenched itself in computer culture. One need only look at MMOs and other online games to witness how many people are willing to purchase digital goods for very real cash. As is, many smart phone users happily pay up for applications to increase their productivity, keep their lives organized, and simply streamline daily tasks. It stands to reason that improved internet accessibility and more sophisticated technology would pique the very same enthusiasm as, for example, World of Warcraft players who purchase in-game currency with the real thing – only in phones rather than laptops and desktops. Entrepreneurial types with a nice selection of competently constructed pixel products may be able to make a reasonable amount of money by marketing them to enthusiastic consumers. Best of all, dealing in such items involves no annoying or environmentally-unfriendly shipping costs!

5. A surge in prepaid plans.

With the current economic climate still shakier than a chilly little yip-yip dog after a bath, many consumers are understandably more than a little concerned about committing to a long and involved contract. Prepaid and “pay-as-you-go” plans have unsurprisingly gained a significant following in light of the collective financial woes, providing a viable option for those forced to scale back on their expenditures. Sprint’s President of Network Operations and Wholesale Steve Elfman anticipates that even when the economy manages to stabilize itself, these possibilities will retain – if not exceed – their current popularity. His company already attained considerable success with the various Boost Mobile plans, and they stand poised to continue offering the best possible coverage at an affordable, convenient price. Many providers, of course, already offer similar options. Elfman’s predictions revolve around a much larger wave of consumers opting for prepaid and short-term plans – perhaps even greatly (or, less likely, permanently) displacing their more extended counterparts.

6. The increased popularity of GPS.

Many smart phones these days boast GPS capabilities as competent as a Garmin or a Tom-Tom. For those without one, they must content themselves with purchasing both expensive mobile devices as well as a GPS system (if not subscription!). The increased availability and popularity of these important navigational tools on cell phones just make things so much easier – not to mention budget-friendly! – for the consumer. Rather than toting around 2 pieces of technology, they can streamline back down to 1. Most of the current generation of GPS applications available on phones sync up with Google Maps, which loads far faster than the time it takes for a dedicated machine to communicate with a satellite uplink. One can assume that users will begin demanding GPS applications as a standard feature in the near future for the sheer convenience factor as well as money saved on paying for a dedicated device.

7. Smart phones for everyone!

With such a high demand for smart phones from all major service providers, it comes as little surprise that they will eventually overtake – and subsequently replace – their clunky predecessors whose only additional feature involves snapping 3.1 megapixel pictures. In order to slap a smart phone into the hands of every man, woman, and child in America and edge out the competition, purveyors of the cellular drug will have to shill their wares at more affordable prices and with more reasonable plans if they hope to lure in customers. And with smart phones becoming a part of the mainstream rather than a privilege only afforded to those with the dollars to shell out, the applications market will experience an upsurge as users scramble to snap up the latest and greatest in games, organizational tools, and other bits of programming to simplify and streamline their lives. As stated above, many of the newer smart phone users would be more than happy to pay for these applications.

8. Mobile internet becomes the norm.

Morgan Stanley Internet Analyst Mary Meeker agrees with a goodly chunk of other industry professionals when she states that society’s growing reliance on mobile wifi rather than fixed points will lead to the former eventually overtaking the latter. She feels that with internet access becoming a standard feature of all newer makes and models of phones, users will connect with these devices far more frequently than laptops, desktops, and other machines that lock onto a stationary signal. While fixed internet currently reigns supreme, Meeker believes it will fall into second place sometime in 2013. Fortunately for laptop and desktop owners who prefer wider screens and friendlier ergonomics for long-term work, it won’t disappear entirely. Merely step politely out of its previous limelight and make room for the shinier, sleeker new whippersnapper desiring to take its place. Mobile internet is actually growing at a far more accelerated rate than its predecessors, too – as illustrated by the excellent graphs that the linked article provides.

9. More sophisticated bar code readers.

Some applications – generally for the iPhone – already turn mobile devices into impromptu bar code readers. However, the technology in American phones still hovers in a rather rudimentary state, with some of them still to buggy and unreliable to start phasing out the previous incarnation. Japanese devices, though, have already competently harnessed bar code scanning for numerous different functions that will hopefully begin drifting over the Pacific in due time. Users in Japan utilize their phones to scan bar codes and check out the latest train schedules without forming an impromptu mosh pit around the board. They are also able to interact with consumer goods, and many of the bar codes will direct users to different websites where they can read reviews and compare the best prices available. It stands to reason that Americans will someday soon be able to reap the benefits of the improved mobile scanner feature, and many application designers will find a plethora of creative ways to apply this technology.

10. Improved location-based services.

With a higher demand for GPS services on smart phones, consumers will likely demand more and better location-based applications. Some already exist to help them track down their friends and receive turn-by-turn directions to a specific destination, but a combination of improved technology and consumer desires will inevitably lead to a broad spectrum of applications catering to a number of different needs and wants. One potential business use that Computerworld’s Matt Hamblen points out echoes the same sentiment as friends hooking up for a bit of socialization. He notes that supervisors and any companies concerned with shipping can take advantage of location-based services to track their workers and packages for signs of compromised productivity. Advertisers can further personalize their offerings in a manner similar to those utilizing the annoyingly ubiquitous Facebook, customizing based not only on a consumer’s recorded preferences, but where they are in proximity to a specific business as well.

Time will tell whether or not these predictions come to fruition or fizzle away into obscurity, digital relics of a past ripe with speculation over the next technological trend that shaped the future. Until then, though, it is certainly fun to contemplate the myriad possibilities that may await smart and cell phone enthusiasts in the years ahead.

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