Tuesday, 2 June 2009

When can we expect to see nano phones hitting the market - and will the recession slow innovation down?

By Richard Goodwin

future sign

In the competitive market place of mobile phones, new technologies come out over night, change everything, and then become simply “ordinary” a week later.

The entire industry centres on a form of technological Darwinism, where only the strongest and most visible products survive. Despite this, is it possible to accurately make predictions about what the future holds for mobile phones?

In 2005, Nokia released its Communicator 888 concept phone. The device featured a liquid battery, was completely flexible and capable of morphing shape - showing what was potentially possible with nanotechnology.

But, has there been any progress since, and, if so, could nanotechnology become the next technology to revolutionise the mobile phone industry?

From dream to touchscreen

Not so long ago, touch screen phones were merely a pipe dream, now they account for 20 per cent of the entire mobile phone market – largely thanks to Apple’s groundbreaking iPhone, which illustrated profoundly the effect technology can have on an industry in a short period of time.

However, touch screen along with 3G capabilities, picture and video projectors, as well as social GPS are all small potatoes compared to what Nokia is supposedly cooking up.

The Finnish phone giant recently announced its plans to create a transformable mobile phone, by using nanotechnology to produce flexible electronic components that would allow the handset to morph between shapes, develop artificial intelligence, and even clean itself.

Known as Morph, the joint venture between Nokia and Cambridge University, seeks to build on the 888 concept, and eventually implement nanotechnology into mobile devices.

Dr. Bob Iannucci, chief technology officer (CTO), at Nokia said in a statement: "Nokia Research Centre is looking at ways to reinvent the form and function of mobile devices; the Morph concept shows what might be possible.”

What’s set for 2033?

Whether this technology is just an interesting theoretical discussion point, or an actual palpable technology remains to be seen - no one knows what the future holds, particularly in the world of technology. However, devices such as the iPhone and the hotly anticipated Palm Pre profoundly illustrate hwo the implementation of new technology can really shake-up a market, even during a recession.

Motorola, according to their spokesperson Amanda Kamin, is experimenting with ideas and concept for future mobile device. The 2033 concept takes a look 25 years into the future by considering how the world is changing, and how technology will develop around it.

The 2033 concept features an organic memory application, which would theoretically capture memories directly from your brain. Additionally, second sight, which augments your vision and is essentially a head mounted device, creates virtual reality applications, and infinite screen possibilities.

“While I can’t really comment on whether we’re doing anything towards incorporating nanotechnology into our research - I can say that we do pride ourselves on constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible,” said Kamin.

She added: “The 2033 concept is a clear example of our thinking out of the box.”

“We also developed touchscreen technology a few years before it became mainstream. Unfortunately, at the time it wasn’t viable within the current consumer market. But that serves as a good example of companies constantly trying things out before they make it into the commercial market,” Kamin added.

future sign

An obvious clue for future incarnations ofmobile phones is that smaller is definitely the future. Commenting on this relationship, and particularly the significance of nanotechnology, David Bishop, vice president of research at Nanoworld said: "Nanotechnology is all about small, light and cheap, and you're not in the cell phone business if you're not thinking small, light and cheap - the two are made for each other."

Does the recession matter?

However, Nick Jones, technology market analyst at GartnerGartner, does not share Bishop’s enthusiasm: “To be honest, we’re less likely to see these devices now more than ever, due to the current state of the economy.”

“The reduction of the market by 10 per cent has forced the phone companies to focus on mainstream, rather than speculative products.”

He added: “If I had to speculate I would put Apple in front of Nokia for something like this, as they cater to a more exclusive market. Nokia are mainstream, and very eager to hold on to their 42 per cent market share,” said Jones.

“Once firms like Intel have developed the technology, it is likely that it will trickle down to the mobile phone companies. However, this is still very far off into the future - science fiction, basically,” he added.

When will the future arrive?

Indeed, Nokia say it will be at least seven years before technology from the Morph will be integrated into high-end, off-the-shelf phones. However, the odds of it being actual nanotechnology are doubtful, particularly when you consider the present silicon paradigm is expected to last until 2020.

Motorola, according to Kamin, “concentrate on getting the technology exactly right before they release it, due to the fact that consumers needs and requirements change so rapidly,” concurring with Jones’ sentiment about manufacturers focusing on mainstream markets, as apposed to speculative and exclusive ones.

Additional boundaries to technology development, particularly nanotechnology, are the research costs, which are gigantic, and currently led by Intel.

But even when they develop something new, it doesn’t mean it’s hitting shelves. Intel’s recent development of 'graphene', which is a form of graphite that consists of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern, allows for rapid information transfer at a minuscule scale when compared to existing chip sizes, and serves to further bridge the gap between science fiction and reality. But it’s still a long way from being anything more than a prototype.

So unfortunately we can’t expect a nanotechnology-based mobile phone anytime soon, which is certainly a shame. However, what is clear is that mobile designers and researchers are clearly moving towards a new technological paradigm that will eventually see the light of day.

“While you do have to view these devices as essentially marketing tools - I do feel that in the next five years we’ll see a new definition of what constitutes a mobile phone,” said Jones.

For the latest mobile phone news and reviews, visit Know Your Mobile.

1 comment:

  1. Nokia's Morph looks like something i saw in a movie, I think it might have been Minority Report