Friday, February 15, 2013

The Next Phone

This article and several others have revived rumors that Apple is working on a "smart watch".

I am not surprised. If nothing else, they need something new to sell to people to expand their ecosystem. Given the popularity of the TikTok Lunatik (every Apple employee I know has one), it's not surprising that Apple quickly changed the Nano's shape to block others from doing what Apple wanted for themselves.

But this goes beyond mere short-term commerce.

For several years, I have been articulating a vision of our next phones and computers. They won't be bricks you lug around in your hand or back pocket. The phone and computer will dissolve and become a part of our daily wear:

Glasses or sunglasses will contain modest, unobtrusive displays that allow you to see data overlaid on the rest of the world. Imagine how much better turn-by-turn navigation will be when you have a videogame-style arrow, "quest marker", and other information in front of you, instead of constantly glancing at your hand.

Eventually the glasses will incorporate hand and arm tracking the way the Kinect and Leap Motion do, and when combined with the visual overlay, you can have an imaginary floating keyboard or buttons wherever you need them, assuming you need that level of precision instead of just flicking your fingers back and forth to scroll.

A few years after that, there will be some kind of biofeedback improvements, where you will literally be able to "think" something to scroll, click, and so forth.

The glasses will also contain speakers or earbuds for audio, and possibly a bone conduction microphone.

You'll probably have something on your wrist. Wrist-wear is making a comeback, in the form of the Nike Fuelband, the Jawbone UP, and Fitbit's upcoming wrist version. Sony already has an Android-based SmartWatch. There's the Pebble.

These are very early versions, but they already let you keep your hands empty and free while retaining a touchscreen display of whatever size you want, and a display you can share with others (assuming they don't have networked FancyGlasses as well).

It's also possible for the watch/wrist item to contain a microphone and bone conduction speakers as well. I have never forgotten a phone prototype demo I saw back in the 90s where someone made the "hand phone" gesture of thumb in ear, pinky at mouth with a watch prototype, and it worked: bone conduction speaker provided weak but audible phone audio through the thumb, and the wrist element contained a microphone.

Today's challenges are largely around weight, battery life, and heat. Some exotic materials will help, and some neat technologies are emerging which could potentially allow these devices to leverage all the heat, electric energy, and kinetic motion your body produces to power these devices directly or indirectly.

Nobody really wants to hold a glass brick to their face all the time. There will still be hand-held displays of various sizes, but it will be the difference between walking down a street and walking down a street with your guidebook open, constantly looking up and down.

The devices themselves will also effortlessly sync with your TV, tablet, and PCs at home and work, as though they were part of those machines.

There will be lots of pushback from people at first, just like with SmartPhones. I am pretty sure there will even be a bunch of articles about "the good old days" when you could see who was being rude and checking their smartphone (because in the future you won't be able to tell) and also the days when you could forget your phone or put it in your pocket or face-down on the table. Now, it'll be on/in your face all the time.

But I think it's inevitable.


Unknown said...

Wow. Electra Woman & Dyna Girl!

Anu said...

EW and DG had some of the best wrist-tv-phones-blasters ever. Granted, Dick Tracy probably popularized the idea, but this is where I first saw it...