smartphone-replacedAt TomorrowToday Global, we don’t normally get involved in consumer trends or short-term predictions, especially about technology. We’re perfectly happy to wait for the next iPhone or Android update to be released and then do an assessment of its specifications. Our focus is typically on disruptive change and the forces changing whole countries or regions, and the impact these have on the “operating systems” of organisations, and the changes these will have on orthodoxies. So, yes, more high level and strategic than operational.

But recently at an event I was asked what I thought my phone would be able to do in 2016 that it couldn’t do now.  The context of the question was a session I had just completed that focused on information as a key resource for businesses.  I am convinced that companies have still not understood what it means that information is now a commodity for them – even those companies that talk about big data and predictive analytics all the time. The shift from physical products to services took many decades for some companies to understand. The shift to information as a resource, as an asset and as a system will take just as long for some.

[bctt tweet=”Companies have still not understood what it means that information is now a commodity for them”]

At the heart of this shift in the role of information in our lives are the practical concepts such as the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Predictive Analytics, the Sharing Economy, the Apps-based Ecosystem, the Smart Device, etc.  Driving each of these is the supercomputer we each have in the palm of our hands – never less than an arms length away from us at all times. These are not smartphones. They are hardly phones at all. They are smart devices that connect us to the digital heartbeat of the planet.  And they connect an increasing amount of that planet to us, giving us not only access and information, but also connection and control.

A while ago I sat down to try and make a list of all the things my smartphone had allowed me to do away with. I got to 70 items and stopped – not because I was finished, but because I was stunned. My list included: alarm clock, radio, yellow pages and other directories, my diary, flashlight, camera, map book and then GPS device as well, fax machine, heart monitor, voice recorder, spirit level, hammer (OK, I only tried that one once), scanner, compass, sleep monitor, Nintendo DS, wrist watch, photo album, books, my Kindle, guitar tuner, remote control and more.  And then I thought again of the question from that conference: what will our smartphones be able to do in 2016 that they can’t do now?

At the risk of stepping into consumer product forecasts, here are some suggestions. I realise that some of these exist in early form already and that I am merely proposing an improvement (it is just two years ahead) and that by the time you read this, these might be history already:

Voice recognition and control – already a feature of smartphones, voice activation is going to be a lot more integrated than it is now. We will be using voice prompts as much as the keyboard by 2018. Voice pattern recognition could be used as a security feature.

Real-time Language Translation – already available in app format, and via Skype, this will be a standard OS feature within two years.

Gesture control – beyond voice and touch interfaces, the phones will track our facial and body movements for inputs.

Context-awareness – our phones are already jampacked with sensors – gyro, ambient light, accelerometer, barometer, finger scanner, etc. By 2018, multiple cameras and microphones will be able to map 3d space, and have more accurate distance monitors and noise cancellation. This context awareness will allow the phone to know where it is (in the house, in the car, at the movies) and anticipate functionality that may be required.

Facial recognition – this will be integrated into many applications, but most importantly will likely be part of much more sophisticated security systems. The most obvious starting point is retinal scanning.

Phone as security device – our devices themselves become a password replacement for some services and other devices.

Much better cameras – nobody really needs more than 20 megapixels. But we could all do with better image stabilisation, improved optical zooming, enhanced low light sensitivity, and accurate autofocus.

Battery power – all of these features will chew through battery power. Within the next two years it is conceivable that we’ll see major breakthroughs in battery technology in the near future.

Bendable screens – the biggest benefit here might be durability than functionality, but new wonder materials are going to make interesting design options available soon.

Waterproof – will become an entry level requirement.

Holographic displays – this is probably more of a dream than reality by 2018, but virtual reality is going to be so huge that mobile phones will move quickly to keep up. 

NFC – near field communications become ubiquitous and our phones become access keys for multiple objects, from cars to hotel rooms.

Digital ecosystem integration – the mobile device will be the hub of all your electronics, from your laptop to your car, from your fridge to your heating system.  Internet of Things integration will be standard in all smart devices, and we’ll have open systems to command nearby IoT tech.

Credit card – payments will be integrated with our devices, with the actual financial processing probably being provided by the phone companies rather than banks.

Virtual Personal Assistants – Google Now, Apple’s Siri, and other options will be much more powerful and built into the standard OS. Our phones won’t just answer the questions we ask, they’ll attempt to predict our questions before we even ask them.

Real-time medical analysis and advice – Apple is definitely making a play to become a leading healthcare operator. It’s an obvious place for all smart devices to be.

An app for that – app development will be even easier, and we’ll be flooded with thousands of apps that assist us with every aspect of our lives. There will probably be a need for an app concierge who can help us choose which apps we need, and help us use them efficiently.

Those are our thoughts at TomorrowToday Global.  What do you think we’ll see in our phones by 2018? And what would you like to see if anything was possible?

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