27 Comments

Summary:

In the two years since the term superphones first surfaced, we’ve seen a big change in the mobile handset landscape. Today’s phones are no less than technical marvels, but the future looks even brighter. What do you think superphones may look like in 2015?

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In September 2008, John SanGiovanni, co-founder of Zumobi came up with phrase “Superphone” and described what he thought were key ingredients of a superphone. In the two years since, many of the new Internet-centric phones have come closer or surpassed John’s ideal mix of features. Of course, the likes of Google have tried to jack the phrase superphone, positioning it as their work.

Back in 2008, John pointed out that from a hardware perspective, the superphones should have at least a 320-pixel display, hardware accelerated graphics, 3G connectivity and location-sensing technologies.  Today, all those features are standard.

So earlier today when we read this piece in Cellular News which cited Strategy Analytics’ claim that there will be 100 million superphones sold by 2015, I wondered what will be the superphone of tomorrow. Strategy Analytics says that superphone is a top-of-the-line smartphone with a super-sized display (over 4 inches) and a processor faster than 1 GHz.

I am not sure if that’s really the case. By 2012, folks like ARM are promising dual core processors running at 2.5 GHz. The evolution of displays as shown by the Retina Display means that the sheer size of the screen isn’t enough of a determinant. Instead, we should be looking at display size in combination with the screen resolution. Of course, we should expect these devices to support all sorts of major wireless networking standards, including whatever 4G technology takes hold. I’m betting these devices will have closer to a terabyte of memory inside and will also have the ability to interact with larger desktop and television displays.

But those are my ideas — what do you guys think is the “super phone” of tomorrow?

Related GigaOM Pro Research (sub req’d): For Phones, the Future Is Multiple Cores

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  1. How bout a camera cum projector at the back to project at 1080p onto a wall?
    Wireless data sharing/money transfer between 2 phones with a swipe gesture.
    Ruggedized unbreakable/unscratchable screens.
    Week long battery life.
    Free global calling :D
    Switch to go back and forth between e-ink and colored display
    Facial recognition based lock mechanism
    ……

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  2. mustafa al-niama Friday, September 10, 2010

    I think the “super phone” of future should incorporate:
    1. Nano technology as envisioned by Nokia,
    2. support for the White Space future wireless technology that enables the user to have free high speed internet connectivity for up to (100Mbps downstream and 50Mbps upstream),
    3. Built-in wall projectors,
    4. Built-in solar energy source,
    5. The phone works as a hot spot to boost the signal in the area where it is operating.

    ~Musti

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  3. There is no questions mobile gadgets will get faster and bigger capacity and so on., but what is the point since they don’t exist in a vacuum? What is the point of having a Ferrari stuck in traffic?

    The problems is that network operators can’t or are not going to be able to keep up with the pace of development of superphones in the short term. Innovation will hinge upon wireless broadband, market penetration and reasonable prices and that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

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  4. What? Google tried to jack Mr SanGiovanni’s phrase without giving him credit? That is bad web karma, Om.

    But on your point about future superphone features, this is something I”ve given a good deal of thought to. I think much will be driven by user demand and experience over the next few years:
    – better battery life
    – seamless transition from 3G/4G to WiFi, while always choosing the absolute lowest cost option per user specs
    – improved videocamera (though the Nokia N8 12mp is pretty damn impressive already)
    – ready-made NFC for mobile commerce, car keys, door keys
    – stronger security against malware, spam calls (spit), viruses, break-ins, etc.

    All for about $200, no contract required.

    Whoever gives us wireless power (over wifi, say, will be a billionaire)

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  5. Of course 4G, more memory and faster CPU, but the things I’d really like to see:
    * A decent camera, that’s at least as good as a low end compact camera.
    * A folding display that doubles the screen size when open. In other words, use it as a normal 4 inch phone most of the time, but open it up and you have a 7 inch tablet with much more space to do thing. That way, you don’t need to have both a phone and a tablet. Remember you saw this idea here first :-).
    * Support for full automatic backup for everything you have on your phone, so if you lose it or it gets damaged, you can just replace it with a new device and you’re ready to go.

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  6. I think the superphone of the future is one that acts more like a passport to you and how you live vs a app/feature rich device. Our kids will get bored cameras, screens, texts, etc over next 5 – 10 years.

    Before I give you my predictions on what a superphone will do, we must first ask what the network that will support a superphone will have to do.

    What we see today from a network standpoint is chump change to what the network will do tomorrow. Kiran listed Global calling as a cool feature…well in the future global calling, global data pulls, or matter a fact, anything done on your phone where data is pulled/pushed from the network will all cost the same, no matter where you are on the planet. If it’s unlimited here, it’ll be unlimited there. No more hiding your data connection when traveling overseas because you’re no longer in your home network or limiting texting because of the $.20 higher transmit costs. The superphone will not know different networks, or global “roaming” pricing plans; it’ll just know you have service and it needs to give it to you.

    Since the superphone will only be as good as the network its attached to and since we are already seeing FIOS bandwidth to the handsets (Boston VZ LTE Trial) forget things like you having to swipe your phone to pay for stuff. With GeoLocal and all the other intelligence in the network, a phone and the network will know where you are. Its only a matter of time before Google “streetviews” the interior of stores/buildings, which means as you near a register with your wares, your phone will know your there and will ask you if you want to purchase what’s in your hands. Heck it might already know what you want and you just walk by the store and it buys it for you so when you’re walking back past the store, all you have to do is go in and pick up your bag of wares.

    As your passport to the worls, the phone will act as your personal liaison with your environments. If you stop off at Starbuck’s at 8 am everyday for a cup o joe, then as you leave your house at 7:45AM, your phone will place your normal order before for you because it knows your on the way.

    Maybe even call or receive a call from your doctor because your walking slower than usual.

    Phones and networks…so cool.

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  7. A few things I’d expect in a “superphone”
    Facial recognition & fingerprint identification
    Non-touch gesture recognition
    Multi-day battery
    3D screen & 3D video recording capabilities
    Projector, possibly integrated with “sense” recognition of projected images (ie. Typing via a projected keyboard)
    File transfer via Drag-drop from mobile to mobile/desktop screen.
    I’d also like to see flexible (bendable) devices with flexible screens.
    “Green” design (Hydrogen powered, recyclable, etc)

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  8. wishlist for 2020.

    credit card sized
    solar powered+charged, no charge-by-wire
    seamless cache+storage for all my books, media, connections, apps,
    HD screen to replace paper & plastic docs (credit cards, drivers license, passport, IDs)
    wireless connection to displays (TV, other screens) and speakers
    biometric recognition for personalization
    shatterproof

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  9. A few coming features of Superphones:

    1. Better cameras. Moore’s Law makes it inevitable.

    2. Much greater integration with the Cloud. The phone will be a package of sensors and displays, and the processing will move up to servers in the Cloud. For example, 3 photo exposures needed for HDR will be sent up for processing.

    3. Much greater integration with the car. This is an untapped area (for the most part) and the auto manufacturers are waking up to the opportunity.

    4. Biometric access control.

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  10. I think about this all the time… next year’s superphone will look something like this:

    NFC or Bluetooth 4.0 for mobile transactions
    4.0″ – 4.5″ screen; we’ve hit the max here, however…
    250ppi+ displays… Apple set the bar, everyone will respond
    Dual-core 1.2GHz proc (1.5GHz not until LATE 2011/early 2012)
    8MP or higher camera (doubt they can get 10MP into a handset)
    2MP front-facing camera (needs to be small for throughput of voice calls and size constraints)
    Slightly bigger batteries (2k MAh anyone?)
    1080p video recording
    It will be touchscreen-only, and no thicker than the EVO
    16GB of internal memory… (no memristors until at least 2012)
    HDMI-out
    KICKSTAND (what a weird thing, but people love it)
    Extra mics for noise cancellation
    Swype!
    Gingerbread that will upgrade to Honeycomb

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  11. It will become a semi-intelligent personal assistant that filters the world for you and negotiates low-level interactions to smooth your way:
    – Context-sensitive audio alerts will come to you through binaural wireless earbuds (that also filter harsh noises – like sunglasses for your ears – and play music when you want).
    – Voice control will let you manage all phone functions. Voice response will be designed to adjust to context, including locations, tasks and moods, and will start to take on therapeutic/motivational functions.
    – NFC will let you into your hotel rooms without talking to reception, then operate thermostat, TV, etc.; let you start your rental car and position seats/mirrors, then operate the stereo; let you pick products out of the store and just walk out with them while the phone recognizes what you have and arranges payment behind the scenes.

    Phones will be used more as data bridges to other display devices, including car stereos, TVs, monitors and keyboards. Most phone use will occur without looking at or touching the phones themselves.

    A week of battery life would be great. I wonder if, in the same way that the way the PC you want will always costs $2,000, we’ll always demand features that drive battery life to the just-sub-one-day pain threshold.

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  12. Simply put, Jarvis with interactive 3D holograms.

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  13. I agree with WrlsFanatic

    I think that NFC will become the next camera or touch in terms of features. By this I mean that it will be included in the feature set of not just smart/super phones but the entire catalogue of phones that come out 2011/2012.

    Data wont change much. 4G will not be a huge upgrade from 3G in terms of speed for most simply because the smartphone market is still growing at a large rate. More phones = less bandwidth for everyone. That being said, you don’t really need a huge pipe to these things when it comes down to it (1 to 2Mbps is plenty)

    Maybe 64GB in the next iPhone

    One thing I would really love to see (again this goes to NFC) is the return of PAN devices (Personal area network devices include watches, personal jewellery, etc). We have all seen the new ipod nano, imagine it with bluetooth 4.0 that can interact with your phone for the extra tracks you have stored there, access to pandora or weather/stocks/twitter, maybe a heartbeat sensor or proximity sensor in case you leave your phone behind, transparent OLED in your glasses (HUD=FTW!)

    I would also add to my list a performance increase in battery/charging tech.

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  14. How about a long lasting battery that supports 1 full day of heavy Internet and voice usage and a week of low-moderate usage, in other words a low power screen that is e-ink like I.e. Read in bright sunlight as well as interior locations.

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  15. Here are a few other considerations to add to the excellent ones already made…

    In your article above which references other people’s predictions, and in the comments, I see a CONFUSION between listing a superphone’s hardware capabilities vs. what the superphone can DO. In future discussions it might be good to consider that distinction.

    For instance, Apple shys away from listing hardware capabilities, and it’s commercials only show you what the iPhone and iPad can DO, whereas the other platforms seem to love to list meaningless hardware capabilities.

    Anyway, I strongly believe the future superphone BOILS DOWN TO THIS…

    I coined a phrase a couple decades ago…

    “Simplicity allows us to rise to a higher level of accomplishment,
    given the same effort.”

    In other words, we live at the edge of our budget, whether it be time, money, or how much effort we’re willing to put towards something. If our superphones are going to do more, things must get simpler in an equal and opposite direction.

    So, simplification will advance superphones. In that regard…

    * voice control
    * easier syncing – to the cloud, the computer, the power sources
    * more internal special purpose devices, e.g. near field communication (NFC)

    And the simplification will be realized in SOFTWARE.

    Our phones are already doing too much. It’s interesting to make a general list of what we now DO with our superphones as part of this analytical exercise. Many of these combine and blend together, of course…

    * locate – myself, my car, phone, destination, friends, sex
    * tell me about – restaurants, businesses, history, birds
    * capture – photo, video, voice memo, favorite, notes
    * edit – photos, video, text
    * create – art, photos, voice memos, blog posts
    * manage – to dos, documents
    * socialize – further blending of Facebook, twitter, flickr, etc
    * play – games, games with friends
    * learn – language, reference works, how to
    * discover – stumbleUpon, Ping
    * read – newspapers, books, RSS feeds
    * share – my favorite music, books, tv, video, apps, scores
    * listen – music, podcasts
    * watch – video, baseball, podcasts, Netflix, TV, movies
    * follow – sports, friends, stocks, weather
    * track – my walk/run, health, children, power consumption, mpg
    * shop/buy – online, with app, soon with near-field communication
    * check in – hotel, airport, business visit
    * talk – voice, video chat, text, email, tweet
    * control – security, lights, car, TV, climate

    99% of what’s possible to do with our phones, and amazing things yet to come, can be done with EXISTING HARDWARE.

    Advances in the superphone’s OS are also at the heart of innovation, such as the iPhone’s Game Center and Windows Phone 7 Xbox Live capability. Or the ease at which developers can connect with other nearby people and play games using bluetooth and Bonjour networking (e.g. iOS GameKit).

    HARDWARE ADVANCES can be misleading. Really, how much of the future capability of a smartphone will depend on a 2.5Ghz quad-core processor in our pocket? However, GPS, wifi location, 3G networking, a compass, accelerometer, gyro and near-field communication are perhaps the more important foundations of real innovation in future smartphones.

    Approaches to superphone MARKETING is an interesting topic as well. Apple is interesting to consider because they’re so different from all the others and provlde an interesting contrast with respect to this discussion, at least for now. They don’t focus on the hardware, but instead their commercials teach everyone how to use an iPhone, how it’s helpful in what-if situations, how you can hold the iPad up to the sky and it will show you what you are looking at with augmented reality, or Yelp’s ability to let you stand in front of a business and point your phone at it and pan and it’ll tell you about the businesses you’re looking at.

    And HYPE is worth considering in this discussion, as well. I just read a great quote in a recent New Yorker yesterday in an article talking about the hyped promise of sequencing the human genome, and now a decade after having actually done that it’s yielded almost none of the “promise.”

    “You know about the First Law of Technology —
    A technological advance of a major sort almost always
    is overestimated in the short run for its consequences —
    and underestimated in the long run.”

    This is demonstrated, I think, in yesterday’s GigaOm article written by Stacy Higginbotham about the exciting promise of multi-processor chips in smartphones, parroting the marketing hype about ARM’s multiprocessor Eagle design and the virtualization companies ready to pounce on it. It mentions the amazing capability to “virtualize” and run multiple OSes on our mobile devices which sounds like something super cool. But in reality it will likely be a horrible thing, only usable by a subset of geeks or corporate employees trained to handle the flaws, incompatibilities and added complexity it will bring, really just serving as a path of least resistance to taking advantage of corporate legacy software. That’s not an exciting advancement to me, it’s something else I’m too polite to say here.

    And finally, the MARKET DYNAMICS of the big players in the mobile industry will both accelerate and thwart progress. Case in point, that amazing virtualization capability of future smartphone ARM multiprocessor chips will never include Apple’s iOS, which like the Mac OS will never be allowed to run in a virtual environment on non-Apple hardware. Apple makes its money on its own hardware. And while a corporation CAN now write and deploy an iPhone/iPad app that will run other OSes virtualized on Apple hardware, such capability will never make it into the public sphere on the App Store. Besides, on my iPad I currently can and do use Windows 7 using iTeleport. You don’t need to natively virtualize an OS. Virtualize it elsewhere and just connect to the “screen.”

    Add to that the incessant lawsuits such as Apple vs. HTC, and Oracle vs. Google.

    And notice how quickly THINGS CHANGE… Apple had denied third-party development environments targeting iOS apps, such as Adobe Packager for iPhone, RunRev Ltd’s Revolution, Appcelerator Titanium, etc (re: section 3.3.1 of its Developer Agreement) because it will impede Apple’s ability to maintain it’s innovative edge when those third-party environments are slow to employ and pass along iOS innovations and thus causing those apps to break or lag behind. (Plus, Apple hates being dependent on outsiders.)

    But again, the market changes so quickly. I think that Apple has realized that now with a quarter of a million apps on it’s App Store, there are so many that any apps hobbled by the sluggishness of third-party environments not being able to keep up will just be lost in the “noise” of all the unseen apps anyway, and it’s moot at this point. So yesterday Apple relaxed its restrictions, but at the same time did that thing with their two fingers letting people know that they’re watching you.

    The CONCLUSION is that the future is rich with possibilities using existing hardware.

    Check back next week. :-)

    Mark Hernandez
    Information Workshop

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    1. Thanks Mark,
      here I thought we will get another bla,bla, list of hw.
      The future is in SW, and SW which already exists in a niche for that time frame.

      So I would only add. We will go from absolutes to relatives. Since things we do are most of the time relative to each other, so instead of just looking at restaurant reviews on an app. The system can suggest going before or after to a shop near by to check out something from your todo list or something you have shown interest in before and you maybe have some time left on you calendar to do so.
      This will not be a hard absolute todo it’s more a conversational reminder.
      The whole system will work that way, since it’s smarter to work in relatives than absolutes. Seems to me some modern system designers are stuck in the equivalent of blocked learning. See:

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      1. Forgot to mention that Google instant is just one example of a relative system at work. All predictions are relatives.
        Also context is relative, just if you want to build the next AI system on absolutes. I for one use TTL (Time To Live) as “true” instead of “1”, since it carries an implicit relative instead of a forced “true”.

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  16. We will have built in payment systems that act like Mastercards tap and go. Given enough time, wireless and storage speeds, I can forsee a time when our “user preferences” can be carried around with us, so any computer can feel like home and our files can follow us around. I also like the idea of location aware push apps; malls telling me they’d like to send me store coupons, amusement parks asking to send me park maps and branded entertainment while I wait in line ups, train schedule informations at train stations. I shouldnt have to know about — or search out — apps pertaining to where I am.

    I also like the option of sharing information about where I am. A button I can hit to call a cab to exactly where I’m standing for instance. Or a way to alert my wife to my exact whereabouts.

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  17. I’d try to add something to previous posts:

    SOFTWARE:
    – OS: Open Source (beyond Google/Android control), probably Linux or BSD variant.
    – Browser: based on the best engines (currently webkit + a fast javascript)
    – Browser Plugins: Including Silverlight, Flash or whatever the user wants and a third party offers.
    – Voice recognition and good Text2Speech to [browse sites] when you’re cooking, walking, etc without looking at the screen or pushing buttons.
    – A simple development environment in the mobile for scripting.
    – A personal wiki (WYSIWYG).
    – Possibility to add new drivers or connectors for multiple protocols (exchange, imap, pop3, etc)
    – Mesh networking.
    – Filesystem encryption.
    – Posibility for desktop productivity using external monitors
    and keyboards, also external memory [and cpu?] virtualization would be nice to extend beyond the mobile capacity.

    HARDWARE
    – Open specification for connecting external accessories (external keyboards, medical equipment, lego mindstorms). Probably the USB below.
    – USB host for connecting HDs, Printers, etc
    – Dual Monitor.
    – The stuff included in the other posts (good cameras, multitouch, hdmi)
    – A bizarre handle to recharge (like One Laptop per Child) batteries.

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  18. 4G connectivity and a terabyte of storage seems like an oxymoron. When’s the last time you watched a movie on your phone? I think the only thing you’d do with a terabyte superphone is pay a lot.

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  19. In my humble opinion, “super phone”is not just the upgraded hardware,but could be Internet-centric device,which will change people’s life,connective ways,and other likes. However, my future super phone is a device without screen but having a project point which can project a preset space on air. Also you can touch the projected screen and use the virtual keyboard or other things like that.

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  20. I think gps technology will be better integrated into all phones
    Examples
    When making appointments in calendars it will take your previous location and your following location and average in travel time immediately
    When travelling to your house GPS will recognize that you have entered your house and redirect calls to your home phone.
    Bluetooth technology will become more versatile as well as very intuitive to understanding language.
    Noise cancelling will be standard on all superphones.
    Superphones will be extremely durable water, dust and shock resistant.
    All things that your superphone has access to will be read to you if you ask for it
    Wirelessly syncs with all other electronics example… all music will slowly sync to your car while you are sleeping and your phone is charging
    All Phones will use the touchstone technology for the Palm devices and sync with all email, social networks and instant messaging.
    Tabbed browsing for the web-kit browsers and better multi-tasking I still think that Apple’s Multitasking sucks and so does Android (though I love both of them I need better multitasking).
    A 1080p projection would be nice but I cannot see that on a phone to soon in the future since modern hi-def projectors need a lot of cooling to stay adequate and I have yet to see a concept even small enough to not be a burden to carry so 1080p HDMI plug would suffice.

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  21. Good article, great thoughts, but I think we are still thinking small when we think only of a hardware spec list to define what a “superphone” is. Phones are still really all about communication and basic utility. Consumers don’t buy phones from spec sheets, they buy them for what they can do for their lives.

    Strictly as a consumer, and as a user of today’s superphone (iPhone 4), I’d like to see tomorrows model include the ability to be dropped in a toilet and survive, or perhaps the simple ability to be used (at all!) outside on a rainy day. These are huge flaws in the utility of the average smartphone but don’t seem to ever be addressed.

    I’d also like to see it acquire the toughness to survive a simple three foot drop without making a chunk of the “superhard special-alloy steel” just fall off of it like it was made of soft cheese (true story!).

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  22. From a language perspective, megaphone would be waaay better than a superphone. But I guess not even Google would be jacking that word.

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  23. all future phones should have a pop-up message
    every 20 minutes that reminds the user to look away
    from their phone and appreciate where they are and
    the people they’re with.

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  24. It is not wise to predict future technologies in terms of hardware specs. Hardware can change drastically in short timeframes. It is better to talk about user functionality and features. My prediction is that the phones of the future will replace the following items – personal computers, core entertainment systems, wallets and will include all forms of communication. Computer terminals will turn into dumb monitors, keyboards and docking stations where you dock your phone and start working. Same thing with entertainment systems – you dock your phone and stream content to TV screens and speakers. Phones will replace everything in your wallet – cash, credit cards, driver’s license, library cards, business cards, etc. And of course, phones will include voice calls for free or almost from anywhere to anywhere, video calls, text chats, etc.

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  25. Presence.
    When you walk into a movie theater, your phone automatically reverts to silent mode.
    When you are in a meeting, it automatically switches to meeting mode, allowing only certain groups of people to call through and give all of the other callers a voice message saying that you are in a meeting.
    Your phone should automatically switch to different modes due to the environment or situation you are in. This could be based upon your schedule but it would be better if it were based upon a sensor in the environment; a movie theater sensor that tells your phone to switch.
    This has been under development for over 10 years now but no one has come up with a workable solution.

    Peter

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