There are many cell phone problems that represent huge commercial opportunities over the coming decade as their form and function are transformed beyond recognition. Mobility is highly prized. The elderly and disabled, who used to be confined to a care home, have their mobility vehicles. Some such vehicles break down to travel in the car but the cell phone is not yet part of that: it is just another gadget they cannot find when they need it and increasingly cannot use because it gets more fiddly, complicated and out of charge. Suggest one of the tiny new smart watches to them as a cell phone improvement and you will get a dusty answer. Yet many of them have plenty of money to spend. Some of the elderly have quad bike or other All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) heeding the poem of Dylan Thomas, "Do not go silent into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the light...".
Mobility involves indoors and out. Indeed we spend 85% of our time indoors. Most of that is in large buildings such as the shopping mall, leisure center, place of work or airport: indeed airports are the most visited buildings in the world.
Redesign for use in big buildings
In November 2013, Spectrum Thea's UK survey found that the amount of time people spend pottering about at home or sitting around has fallen by more than half in just five years. Apart from sleep, Britons spend an average of just 183 minutes in their homes every day, down from six hours in 2008. Because we spend our time mainly in big buildings, the new cell phone indoor positioning systems (IPS) will operate in 3D with great sophistication thanks to inertial navigation (dead reckoning) combined with WiFi location etc., making today's outdoor 2D satnav function look like something from the Flintstones. We need 3D indoors but not outdoors. There is business for new infrastructure, not just new chips in the phone. In September, Apple
added a new feature iBeacon that makes the iPhone emit a low power Bluetooth signal for indoor navigation.
Redesign for use in transport
Cell phone reception is notoriously poor in most of the trains and buses in the world. Improving both emitter and receiver are just some of the many things that will be fixed in future. From its own surveys and interviews, IDTechEx
identifies many other lucrative opportunities in its new report, Future Mobile Phone/Cell Phone Technology and Functions 2014-2024
. They boil down to eighteen basic demands. The majority are primarily satisfiable by improvement to the cell phone hardware and firmware and the rest primarily by new and improved systems/infrastructure, but obviously new apps will continue to facilitate the process. Clearly, there are increased business opportunities in cell phone hardware, these even attracting Google
and others not known for their interest in hardware in the past.
Many gaps in the market
To meet these needs, the phones themselves will need to become the ultimate multifunctional devices. They will incorporate many new technologies such as emitting localised sound, so we can dispense with earphones, having color video displays that are good in sunshine (we have found it hard to find credible development of this), and, particularly useful for a wide range of needs - large screens that unroll from a cell phone then snap back in when not needed (Samsung
Part of the fabric of society?
Cellphones merging into apparel will have many advantages such as the ability to manage medical diagnosis and even treatment such as warming or vibrating a weak muscle or working a prosthetic hand from brainwaves or nerve connection. This is introduced in the above broad-ranging report and dealt with in detail in the new IDTechEx report, Wearable Technology 2014-2024: Technologies, Markets, Forecasts
. The biggest orders will only be placed when the battery
problem is fixed with higher energy density batteries
, some flexible, others woven, and multiple energy harvesting
creating electricity from local light, infrared, vibration, rotating a crank handle, pulling a ripcord, tapping heat difference and other options. Achieving large-area and softness will first be achieved by flexible film electronics and electrics then stretchable then fiber electronics.
Key enabling technologies in hardware
Key enabling technologies in hardware for the cell phone of the future include flexible electronics for those roll-out screens and possibly phones that morph into watches, earrings and bracelets etc. using dielectric
elastomer and ionic electroactive polymers. By this, or unfolding or unwinding, many will become larger or smaller when desired as when emulating a desktop or when gathering a lot of electricity from sunshine. PragmatIC printed electronics
for cost-efficient interfacing between standard chips and simple devices such as lights and sensors is being trialled. Reducing the cost of existing components such as organic light emitting diodes
(OLEDs) and making them stretchable and ultra-thin has been demonstrated at Tokyo University. More sophisticated silicon chips will subsume functions such as NFC
and IPS. New sensors will increase the scope for sensor fusion, where, as in the human body, many primitive sensors are used together so the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Structural components, some 3D printed, are on the way. Inductive
charging where you simply drop your phone on the table at Starbucks is well progressed, again creating a new market for both infrastructure and cell phone components. For more see the IDTechEx report, Wireless Power Transmission for Consumer Electronics and Electric Vehicles 2014-2024