At a glance, the technology surrounding cell phones has pretty much hit its limit. After all, most people use their phones for three things: calling and texting, taking pictures and video and running apps.
Sure, there is a little room for these things to improve. After all, improved efficiency could lead to better reception, better camera technology could lead to higher quality videos and pictures and more powerful processors could improve the speed of running apps. Barring an absolutely revolutionary technological advance, though, there is little room for improvement in any of these areas as long as they are packaged in a cell phone sized unit.
This doesn’t mean the device has reached its limit, though. On the contrary, we have only scratched the surface of what it can do because we have been limited to using the device mostly to communicate with each other. New uses that are in their infancy promise to turn a device that we use to speak to other people into a personal hub that streams data in both directions from our bodies to the world around us.
An example of this innovation is using the phone as a virtual key to unlock the doors on our homes and vehicles. Pin and tumbler locks have been pretty much the same since they were conceived. The day could come when they become a specialty item used by virtually no one.
When I was a little kid, Sports Illustrated ran a special where you would get a phone shaped like a tennis shoe with a subscription. Yeah, it was a little cheesy, but the idea of calling someone on a shoe did bring this weird sense of technological satisfaction. Now, imagine that your dog hides a shoe under the couch and the shoe calls you to let you know where it is. The idea of clothing with electric sensors and wireless technology could make this possible.
New ground is also being broken in the area of adding sensors to phones. These will be able to analyze air quality, keep track of a person’s health or allow someone to control the phone through a glance or thought.
Now, imagine living in this future where you are leaving a building and your phone tells you to slow down because your heart rate is getting dangerously high. You tell the phone you’re looking for the nearest exit and it networks with the building’s computers and gives you directions. Once you get to your car in the parking lot, it unlocks the door for you and starts the car on your command. It tunes the radio to a station playing the kind of music you’re in the mood for and sets the volume to your preference. Since you’re planning to make a roast when you get home, you tell it to preheat the oven and it calls your home network and makes that happen.
When we have devices that constantly monitor our health and desires and interface with computers all around us while ensuring that we are in a safe environment, will the relatively little interpersonal communication we use them for still justify calling them phones?