The deconstructed phone
Posted on September 14, 2017
4 min read
With the launch of Telstra One Number, marking an exciting new era for eSim technology in Australia, Telstra’s Chief Scientist Hugh Bradlow reflects on the future of smartphone technology.
It is now 10 years since the first widely-popular smartphone transformed mobile phones and moved the world from handheld devices that did calls and messaging, to pocket computers that do mobile internet. This provokes the question “what do we expect the mobile phone to look like in 2027?” Will it still be a slab of glass with a touchscreen and cameras?
The answer is that it is more likely that the phone will have ‘deconstructed’.
So what do I mean by deconstructed? To understand that, you need to look at the components of the phone and how they might evolve.
Let’s start with the screen. In 10 years, the streets of our cities have changed from people walking with their heads up and something held to their ear, to people walking with their heads down and staring at a screen. I think we will soon get our heads back up again thanks to new heads-up display (HUD) technologies.
People will be able to get glasses that allow them to look at the real world around them but also integrate the digital world through display technology that projects the screen directly onto their eyes.
We have already seen a number of attempts at this technology such as Google Glass, but we can expect the technology to become increasingly refined. Instead of clunky prisms attached to the glasses, they will have digital light processors hidden in their frames that direct the light into an almost invisible Fresnel lens in the glass which in turn redirects the light to the eyeball.
It is also likely that the light and lens system may have ‘Foveated Rendering’ which increases the resolution in the part of the screen that the eye is looking at, thereby improving the visual experience without loading the processor and battery. This requires eye-tracking which, in any event, will be a useful technology because it will be handy for the input system (effectively enabling the cursor to follow where you are looking).
If the screen is in the glasses, how do you implement the equivalent of the touch screen? The answer lies in the augmented reality system that will also be built into the glasses. It will consist of stereoscopic cameras and depth sensors.
Not only will this technology support true augmented or “merged” reality, but it will also enable gesture recognition by moving your hands in front of you. So, while people will lift their heads when walking down the street, they will be making funny gestures in front of themselves.
However, there is more to a phone than the screen, input and cameras. There is also the ‘core’, namely the communications technologies and the batteries. While it is possible that the glasses will have their own communications technologies in the future, initially battery life is likely to preclude that.
Without the requirement for user input/output, the core of the phone is likely to be in some form of wearable – a watch, a pendant, or even in your handbag (or the handbag itself). It will probably also do health measurements (assuming it is close to the body).
While it is clear is that the phone is being deconstructed from a monolithic slab of glass and electronics to a number of bits all working in unison, not all parts will need to be present at the same time and different situations will determine which bits we would have on our person.
However, we are still missing one critical element because the one thing that won’t change is, whichever bits we have with us at any time, we are still the same person and want to be reached in the same way.
To avoid the necessity of having multiple phone numbers and the confusion that creates, Telstra is introducing the capability to have a single phone number that works across multiple devices. If someone calls and you only have your watch and earphones, but your phone is at home, it will ring both simultaneously and allow you to answer on either. The Telstra One Number service is the perfect complement to the brave new future of deconstructed phones.
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