In just a few years, smartphones have taken over our lives – half of the UK population now owns one. We’re hooked on touchscreens, apps and smartphone smugness but there are still plenty of surprises in store.
Here’s a taster of the innovations you might carry in your pocket in years to come.
Touchscreens made phones more intuitive than ever, and the next generation of screens promises to revolutionise our habits yet again. Several companies are working on the first phones with flexible screens, expected to hit the shops by late 2012.
The innovation inside these bendy screens is OLEDs (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) - thin films of organic molecules that produce light when you run an electric current through them. Often less than a millimetre thick and offering a bright, crisp image with low power consumption, it’s not just flexibility that makes OLEDs a popular choice.
OLEDs could pave the way for bigger screens that fold away neatly, and new ways of controlling your phone by bending or twisting its screen.
Read about how OLEDs are also being used to treat skin cancer
It’s a simple trade off: the more processing power is packed into your smartphone, the faster its battery charge vanishes. A phone that powers itself sounds like a dream come true – and it might just happen.
Piezoelectric devices can convert mechanical movement into electric current. They rely on piezoelectric materials, which generate a tiny electric current when flexed or pressed. Microphones, amongst other things, use this effect to turn sound into an electrical signal.
The amount of power produced by piezoelectricity is usually miniscule, but at the nano scale, even the tiniest of movements can be harnessed. The latest research into nanomaterials promises ultra efficient systems that could power your phone using the vibrations of your voice or the tapping of your fingertips on a touchscreen.
Read about the future of power generation: Three alternative ways to charge your iPod
Near Field Communications
Near Field Communication (or NFC for short) chips already exist inside some smartphones and they’re predicted to get bigger and bigger in the next few years. As the name suggest, NFC allows contactless communication between two devices – a bit like Bluetooth, except that you don’t need to programme the devices to ‘speak’ to each other. The short range of NFC chips (about 4 cm) also means they can be used to transmit information securely.
NFC chips are used in transport passes in many cities worldwide (including London’s Oyster card), but adding them to phones opens new possibilities. Japan is leading the game when it comes to NFC technology, with Japanese consumers already using their phones as payment cards, hotel keys, airport boarding passes and more.