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Photos: Five mobiles of the future unveiled

New forms, new functions: a whole different mobile world
By Natasha Lomas, Contributor on
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1 of 6 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

New forms, new functions: a whole different mobile world

In the beginning...

The inventor of the first commercial mobile phone - the brick-like Motorola DynaTAC 8000X (pictured above) - probably had an inkling the device would one day become as light and sleek as the Razr below. But did he dream it might end up looking more like a sheet of stained glass? Or be as bendy as a pack of origami card? Probably not - yet tech companies' R&D labs are already experimenting with such sci-fi-esque devices, although they remain largely on the drawing board for now.

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So what will tomorrow's mobiles look like and what fancy features might they have? Find out over the next five pages as silicon.com rounds up some of the characteristics that could feature on the next generation of devices.

Photo credit (top): Motorola; (above): Chris Beaumont/CBS Interactive

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2 of 6 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Changeable

Tomorrow's crop of handsets look to be a flexible and foldable bunch.

Meet the changeable phone: Nokia's Morph concept - a collaboration between the Nokia Research Center and the Cambridge Nanoscience Centre.

As its name suggests, the idea behind Morph is a phone that can change shape depending on need. The Morph can fold down from a slender tablet into a traditional candybar (both shown above) and even a bangle-style wristwatch (see below).

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How might such a flexible form be achieved? It's all down to nanotechnology, engineering materials so they gain radically different properties - in this instance becoming more flexible and stretchable yet still strong. Nokia suggests fibril proteins could be woven into a 3D mesh to reinforce a thin elastic structure. It also reckons integrated electronics could be made of the same stuff too, opening up the possibility of not just a flexible case but of a whole shape-shifting mobile.

Click here to watch Nokia's Morph concept video to see how such a device might work.

Image credit (top): CBS Interactive/Nokia; (above): Nokia

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3 of 6 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Wearable

Another future mobile comes courtesy of MIT Media Lab that demonstrated a wearable device called SixthSense earlier this year.

This concept device breaks out several of the components you might find inside a mobile today - such as a camera and a tiny projector - and attaches them on a long pendant worn around the neck, shown above on MIT Media Lab researcher Pranav Mistry.

Wearing the device in this way enables it to 'see' what the user has in front of him or her. The projector can then project data onto the surfaces or objects in front of the user - meaning the device has no physical screen but uses anything to hand, including Mistry's own hand (show above), or a blank piece of newspaper (pictured below).

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Coloured markers worn on the user's fingers substitute for a traditional keyboard or touchscreen by enabling the device to recognise finger movements as input commands - so the user can press the projected keys as seen in the above example.

Click here to watch a video in which Pattie Maes, associate professor at MIT, introduces the research.

Photo credit (top, above): MIT Media Lab

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4 of 6 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Invisible

Chipmaker ARM looks to experimenting with form factor too - with this concept demo showing off a paper-thin mobile device that has a transparent, flexible touchscreen.

Coupled with GPS and what ARM dubs 'location-aware visualisation' the company envisages such a device being used to help architects visualise how a future city would look by holding it up to a location's existing skyline.

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As with Nokia's Morph, ARM's mobile computer is envisaged having the ability to change its shape - from a handheld tablet format to more of a traditional laptop-style device. Nanotechnology is also likely to help a variety of typically opaque materials - and electronics - become transparent.

Today's mobiles are taking the first tentative steps towards transparency: earlier this year mobile maker LG unveiled the LG-GD900 (see below) - a handset with a transparent touch-sensitive keypad.

Image credit (top): ARM; (above): LG

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5 of 6 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Sensitive

Nanomaterials and techniques could also enable future mobiles to be more sensitive to their environment - by being able to sniff out pollutants or chemical traces in the user's environment. For instance, Nokia's Morph concept shows the user scanning an apple to check it's clean enough to eat.

Nokia also reckons nanoengineering will enable additional properties in future mobiles, such as the ability for devices to be self-cleaning and also able to power themselves by harnessing solar energy.

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Another sense-friendly device is this Ericsson concept pictured above: one of three future mobiles known as 'smart take aparts' that were designed in conjunction with students at Linköping University in Sweden last year as part of a project exploring mobile hardware in 2020. This concept is called the Harmonizer and one of its features is the ability to record and send scents (as seen below).

While sending smells may seem bizarre enough - despite the Japanese aroma-phone - the same part of the device doubles up as the scent transmitter, worn on the nose of the person receiving the scent.

Click here to watch a video of the Harmonizer in action.

Photo credit (top): Ericsson; (above): Linköping University/Ericsson

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6 of 6 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Virtual

Pictured above is one of mobile maker Motorola's ideas of how a future phone might look - not so much handset as nose-clamp.

The concept is called 2nd Sight and anticipates how mobiles might usher in an augmented reality era where virtual and real mingle. Motorola's concept device is worn on the bridge of the nose and acts like a pair of smart spectacles, overlaying virtual graphics such as avatars and other data (as seen above) on top of the wearer's field of vision.

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A second concept device, this time from Ericsson, takes this one step further. The Exciter (another of its 'smart take aparts') allows users to teleport a 3D hologram of themselves to another location so they can virtually participate in goings-on elsewhere. An example might be the ability to join a party that is taking place elsewhere (as seen below). A mash-up too far? Check out the video and decide whether your future mobile will be packing holographic telepresence or not.

Photo credit (top): Motorola; (above): Ericsson

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