Dec 052012

I upgraded my Smart phone the other week, on Black Friday, actually. But the Apple store in the Meat Market district on Manhattan’s West Side was nearly empty (let’s face it, Apple doesn’t do major discounts for holidays). So far, I’m loving the new iPhone – faster processor, beautiful screen, LTE service – even if I sometimes chafe at Apple’s walled garden. Even the upgrade was dead simple: everything was already backed up to Apple’s iCloud service so all I had to do was download the hundred and twenty or so Apps that I have to the new device.

Disrupting the Smart Phone Ecosystem

But the entire process got me thinking about how many more Smart phones I’ll purchase before this technology is disrupted by new developments – especially the Google Glass project and Microsoft’s recent patents for augmented reality glasses. Neither of these are actually phones, but the general trend is clear. The ongoing miniaturization of technology can only mean that at some point there will be no need to carry around a bulky device such as an iPhone5 or Android phone.


Big Screen Smart Phones - from Apple iPhone on up to SamsungYes, bulk is relative. Just look back at the early versions of the cell phone (scroll down to see Martin Cooper’s early portable phone) which people thought was the height of mobility.

The current size that we now have is not the end of the road and the real issue is screen real estate (with Apple opting to keep it’s slim design and Samsung going for a larger display in the Galaxy Note model). There’s advantages to small and slim and benefits in having a larger screen. But you can’t go smaller than the iPhone and type on the screen or larger than the Galaxy and fit it in your pocket. The only way to resolve display size will be to put it closer to the eye, to make it essentially transparent so that you see the world through your phone’s screen but can shift focus to a proportionally large size screen. Google Glass is a little different approach in that you actually have to look a little to the left and up to see the screen.

One More Smart Phone To Go

Either way, it seems very plausible that we’ll be wearing our phones in the near future (before we reach the point where they are embedded under our skin). Looking at my new iPhone5, I figure I’ll probably buy one more Smart phone to replace it in a year and a half (perhaps right about the time Google Glass hits the stores), and then when I replace that one, it will be a device that I wear on my face. Coincidentally, Business Insider ran a short piece that parallels my thinking:

Both gadget concepts (Google Glass and Microsoft’s glasses patent) are very interesting. 

Lots of people disagree with me, including other BI (Business Insider) writers, but I think something like Google Glass or whatever Microsoft is working on could end up replacing the smart phone as the dominant way people access the Internet and connect to each other.

First off: something has to. Disruption is inevitable.

Secondly: The trend is obvious.

Computers have been getting smaller and closer to our faces since their very beginning.

First they were in big rooms, then they sat on desktops, then they sat on our laps, and now they’re in our palms. Next they’ll be on our faces.

(Eventually they’ll be in our brains.)

By the way, you can bet that if Microsoft and Google are working on computerized glasses, so is Apple and Jony Ive.

And that’s pretty exciting.

Here’s a diagram from Microsoft’s patent for a set of augmented reality glasses:

Microsoft Patent Diagram for Augmented Reality Glasses

Image from Business Insider


Some Day, Will You Die If You Don’t Answer Your Phone?

Paradoxically, shrinking the Smart phone down to a wearable device and eventually an implant carries out the vision of Martin Cooper, the Motorola researcher who made the first mobile call in NYC back some 35 years ago. Here’s a piece on Cooper’s vision from an article in The Age in 2008:

Inventor Martin Cooper holds one of the first mobile phones in this undated handout photo.“Our dream was that someday nobody would talk on a wired telephone. Everybody would talk on a wireless phone,” the 79-year-old electronic engineer told Reuters.

Cooper said he was so enthused after his first mobile call that he liked to joke that phone numbers would become so important that “when you were born you would get a phone number and if you didn’t answer it you would die.”

“The idea is that the phone number becomes part of you,” said Cooper, who is also waiting for the day when he merely thinks about calling a particular person and the phone will automatically dial the number.

While the popularity of mobile phones has skyrocketed, with more than 3 billion people owning cell phones now compared with only 300,000 in 1984, Cooper said in telephone interviews from California and New York that he sees much more room for wireless in industries ranging from health care to power.

“Thirty-five years later we’ve finally got the idea that people want to be free to communicate while they’re moving around but unfortunately we’ve just barely mastered that for voice,” he said.

In about 15 to 20 years, he expects people to have embedded wireless devices in their bodies to help diagnose and cure illness. “Just think of what a world it would be if we could measure the characteristics of your body when you get sick and transmit those directly to a doctor or a computer,” he said. “You could get diagnosed and cured instantly and wirelessly.”

Cooper dreamed big . . . and his dream is coming true. Give it another five years. And in the meantime, think about the possibilities (and the social-cultural issues) when our phones are first worn, and eventually, embedded under our skin.

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