Since the introduction of the iPhone, the cell phone market in the United States has started to shift. Before the iPhone, most smartphone owners in the United States were enterprise users. That means they owned a smartphone for business purposes. They'd check e-mail and browse the Web, often while driving, weaving in and out of traffic, and scaring the rest of us.
But the iPhone helped introduce the general consumer to smartphones. Its sleek design and intuitive interface appealed to a wide audience. It didn't hurt that Apple partnered with AT&T, the second-largest cell phone carrier in the United States, for distribution. Soon lots of people were exploring advanced phone features while attempting to navigate through city traffic. Isn't progress wonderful?
In many ways, the iPhone was a game-changing device. It proved that customers in the United States were ready to join the smartphone customer base. Meanwhile, users in Europe and Asia quietly chuckled while they used their own phones to watch television or control their bank accounts.
Today, it seems like it's only a matter of time before the newest smartphone to hit the market is branded as a potential iPhone-killer. The iPhone continues to sell well with each new generation of hardware, but other big names are getting into the game and we may yet see some serious competition rise in the consumer market.
With that in mind, it's time to gaze into the technological crystal ball and take a look at what the future of cell phones will be. Rather than focus on prototypes or unreleased handsets, our list, in no particular order, covers a few phones that manufacturers may one day put in the hands of consumers -- but hopefully not while they're driving.
The Super Smartphone
Back in the good old days of 2007, you might describe a smartphone as a type of handheld computer. But since then, these devices have enabled a shift in the way people access everything from the Web to their bank accounts. Mobile computing is the new platform, and in many ways, the smartphone has started to pull ahead of traditional computers.
Consider that most smartphones contain sensors that traditional computers lack. Gyroscopes, accelerometers, proximity sensors and cameras are stock features on a typical smartphone. The gadget gives us opportunities to experience the world around us in a new way. For example, users can take advantage of augmented reality applications that let them use the cameras in their phones to see graphical information about the world around them, much as a pilot would with a heads-up display.
Future smartphones will have even more sensors in them. For example, they could detect ambient temperature and other environmental conditions, giving us the chance to have a personalized weather forecast for our immediate area. Apps for such phones might be able to offer up information to us before we've even realized we need it.
The evolution of the smartphone to the super smartphone will likely be gradual. It's the sort of thing you recognize once it has already happened. Unless, of course, you already have a super smartphone -- it might tell you when we can expect the transition.
The Facebook Phone
Rumors of a Facebook phone have been around for a couple of years. It makes sense -- Facebook's approach to the Web is to channel all our experiences through its own social network. As we use more mobile devices to interact with the Web, it follows that Facebook has an incentive to get into that market.
But so far, we've only seen a few phones that have dedicated interaction with Facebook's services. Most smartphones can run an application that gives users access to profiles, photos and other Facebook staples. Many phones allow you to upload images or video directly from your phone to your account. Still, there's no actual Facebook-branded phone on the market.
That may change. Rumor has it that the company is partnering with handset manufacturer HTC to create a smartphone that has deep Facebook feature integration built into it. It may run on a heavily altered version of Google's Android operating system. Will this phone get lots of "Like" responses from Facebook fans, or will it disappear soon after it debuts?
The Nintendo Phone
Could the company behind Mario, Link and Donkey Kong be working on a smartphone? It would make sense -- Nintendo's market includes casual gamers. These are people who often enjoy playing relatively simple, compelling games. They may only play for a few minutes at a time and aren't necessarily hardcore about getting every achievement and blasting every enemy in sight.
The smartphone market in general, and Apple in particular, has shown that there's a big market in casual games for phones. Some industry analysts have suggested that the shift of casual gaming to smartphones might hurt Nintendo if the company doesn't join in.
A Nintendo smartphone could give people access to some of the most beloved characters in video games on a new platform. And given that Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata said that there are no plans to allow Nintendo titles to appear on smartphones like the iPhone or an Android phone, it might be the only way we'll ever put a call on hold to see if the Princess is in the castle.
In 2011, Amazon caught the attention of the tech world when it unveiled the Kindle Fire. While the tablet isn't the sleekest, fastest or most powerful device on the market, it does have the benefit of Amazon's enormous library of resources behind it. Those resources include mountains of content and a cloud computing infrastructure that's the envy of many tech companies. So why not create a phone?
Amazon has already dipped its corporate toe in the smartphone market with the Amazon Appstore, a marketplace for Android apps. Considering the company's access to content like movies, music and books, it's easy to imagine Amazon launching a smartphone that can take advantage of tight integration with everything else Amazon has to offer.
It's not hard to imagine a phone that lets you buy everything from music to a full stereo system using Amazon as the retailer. There might even be a dedicated button just for making purchases. If Amazon does launch a smartphone, expect to see numerous articles and blog posts that dive into how impulse shopping has hit an all-time high.
Venture capitalist John Stanton revealed an interesting bit of information at a seminar in 2011: Steve Jobs originally wanted to launch the iPhone on its own network and eschew the traditional partnerships with established cell phone carriers [source: Gadget Lab]. This would let Apple create a device without making compromises to any other entity. An iPhone owner wouldn't have to worry about features being omitted or cut back because of a disagreement between Apple and another company.
According to Stanton, Jobs explored the possibility of creating a smartphone network using existing WiFi networks. Ultimately, Jobs concluded such a path wasn't viable. But what if Apple were to try again?
A carrier-free iPhone might include functions that some cell phone carriers prefer remain absent from phones, such as tethering the smartphone to other devices to act as a sort of WiFi modem. But such a business model would require careful work on Apple's part. The company would have to create billing procedures and prices. Without the support of carriers, customers might be faced with a smartphone that costs much more money. And the shift away from traditional carriers could have massive economic consequences further down the road.
Could we see a carrier-free phone in the future? Is Apple willing to risk burning bridges with traditional carriers launching such a product should it prove to be feasible? Or is that the sort of move we'd only expect from a giant like Google? We'll have to wait and see.
Learn more about five ways to donate your old cell phone or smartphone to charities that recycle or refurbish old phones.
More Great Links
- Bonnington, Christina. "Steve Jobs Wanted iPhone On Its Own Network, Carrier-Free." Gadget Lab, Wired. Nov. 15, 2011. (Dec. 1, 2011) http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/11/steve-jobs-iphone-no-carrier/
- Buckely, Sean. "Nintendo's eShop plans: premium DLC, game demos, smartphone shopping, relevancy." Engadget. Oct. 28, 2011. (Dec. 2, 2011) http://www.engadget.com/2011/10/28/nintendos-eshop-plans-premium-dlc-game-demos-smartphone-shop/
- Cheng, Roger. "Android super smartphones: Too much of a good thing?" CNET. Oct. 19, 2011. (Dec. 2, 2011) http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-20122716-94/android-super-smartphones-too-much-of-a-good-thing/
- Choney, Suzanne. "The rise of the super-smartphone." MSNBC. March 18, 2010. (Dec. 2, 2011) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35911724/ns/technology_and_science-wireless/t/rise-super-smartphone/#.TuJ4J5ua9GU
- Earley, Dustin. "Game over: Smartphone game revenue leaves Nintendo and Sony in the dust." Android and Me. Nov. 9, 2011. (Dec. 2, 2011) http://androidandme.com/2011/11/news/game-over-smartphone-game-revenue-leaves-nintendo-and-sony-in-the-dust/
- Gannes, Liz and Fried, Ina. "The Facebook Phone: It's Finally Real and It's Name is Buffy." All Things D. Nov.15, 2011. (Dec. 2, 2011) http://allthingsd.com/20111121/the-facebook-phone-its-finally-real-and-its-name-is-buffy/
- Haselton, Todd. "An Amazon Smartphone? It Could Happen Next Year, Analysts Say." Fox News. Nov. 17, 2011. (Dec. 1, 2011) http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/11/17/amazon-smartphone-it-could-happen-next-year-analyst-says/
- Leckness, Chris. "Xbox Companion for Windows Phone and Xbox Dashboard Update." Gotta Be Mobile. Dec. 9, 2011. (Dec. 9, 2011) http://www.gottabemobile.com/2011/12/09/xbox-companion-for-windows-phone-and-xbox-dashboard-update-video/
- Lowensohn, Josh. "Nintendo CEO re-affirms no smartphone games plan." CNET. Sept. 15, 2011. (Dec. 2, 2011) http://news.cnet.com/8301-27076_3-20106888-248/nintendo-ceo-re-affirms-no-smartphone-games-plan/