What does the smartphone of the future look like?

Take a look at the early brick-like “car phones” that kicked off the mobile craze and compare them to our svelte, touchscreen smartphones. They’ve come a long way in a relatively short time. The power and functionality packed into current smartphones was sci-fi speculation just a few decades ago. So, what are the smartphones of the future going to look like? Will they be recognisable as smartphones at all? One thing’s for sure, they’ll make our current devices look embarrassingly dated.

In this article we’re going to take a look at some potential developments and interesting concepts for the smartphone of the future.

Flexible friends

We took a look at the development of flexible displays a while back. All of the major manufacturers are working on them. The first application is simply about making our smartphones tougher, as flexible displays will be very hard to break, but it won’t be long before we can create fully flexible devices with working touchscreens. A device the size of a current smartphone could fold out to give you a 10-inch display and serve as a tablet, as illustrated by this LG Paper Touch concept.

LG_Paper_Touch

Maybe the design could curve around your wrist like a smart watch, as illustrated by this Philips “fluid smartphone” concept.

Philips_Fluid_Concept

Pushing the portability angle we could see something like this clever Samsung One Pen concept, where the flexible screen rolls away into a pen-sized device.

Samsung_One_Pen

This “Mobile Script” concept shows off another way that you might combine a smartphone with a tablet. A larger screen can be pulled out from the tall mobile handset when you need it.

Mobile_Script

Transparent touchscreens

The idea of transparent smartphones has been around in concept form for quite a while. It wouldn’t really add a great deal in terms of function, beyond being able to see in front of you while you walk down the street glued to your phone, but it would look cool. Much like flexible displays, the real challenge is how you deal with the other components that make up a smartphone. Most designs include an opaque section which would presumably house the workings. This transparent iPhone touchscreen is from a concept ad.

Transparent_iPhone

Here’s a prototype that glass specialist Polytron made. You can see the batteries and the micro-SD card in the lower section of the phone. More than likely this section would be opaque in a real device and the designers would have to cram everything non-transparent into it.

Polytron_Concept

Projected onto you

Another idea that crops up in a lot of concepts concerns the user interface being projected onto your hand or your arm. This fits in with the wearable tech trend – you could have a small bracelet or something as part of your clothing that projects your phone functions. Obvious advantages of this include the fact that we are extremely accurate at touching specific areas of our own body, and it would make for much more portable designs. There are already quite a few smartphones with projectors built-in, so this doesn’t seem like a huge leap, but you’d need a rolled up screen or a blank bit of wall if you wanted to watch video. This concept for a Samsung device is something you’d wear on your wrist and it would project onto the palm of your hand.

Samsung_Finger_Touching_Concept

This iPhone “Next G” concept is pretty similar, as a wrist device projects the familiar iPhone interface onto the palm of your hand.

iPhone_Next_G

The Skinput project uses a pico-projector in an arm band that projects onto your arm and bio-acoustic sensing is able to localize finger taps on the skin, so it works like a touchscreen.

Using a mobile phone in Paris

The UFO Phone combines flexibility with the projector functionality. It can fold out to project a detailed user interface onto your desktop or attach to the wall to create a large movie display, and there’s a flexible display on the device itself, which can be folded into a standard smartphone form factor.

UFO_Phone

We’ll definitely see some movement on the flexible display front in the next couple of years. Transparent touchscreens are in the works as well. New developments like Google Glass use mini-projectors, so that’s another area where we can expect to see more ideas in the not too distant future.  What do you think the smartphone of the future will look like?

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Image credits: Philips Fluid Smartphone, LG Paper Touch, Samsung One Pen, Mobile Script, Transparent iPhone, Polytron Transparent Phone, Samsung Finger Touching, iPhone Next G Concept, Skinput, UFO Smartphone Concept.

About Simon Hill

Simon is an experienced tech writer with a background in games development. He has been covering the world of mobile technology for several years now and writes for a variety of popular websites.
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