July 2011: You’re carrying a cellular phone and a laptop computer for wireless Internet? What kind of dinosaur are you?!
The future of the phone for some users is not as a supplement to a laptop but as a replacement. Phones will become so powerful that you won’t need a laptop to enter long documents and view high-definition videos.
Enter the new Asus Eee PC 901 subnotebook computer, which contains the low-power Intel Atom microprocessor. Atom chips can run various flavors of Linux as well as Microsoft Windows. For typical tasks -- email, Web surfing, writing documents, downloading multimedia files -- the Atom will work fine.
Atom chipsets won’t be integrated into phones in the near future, but a new line of ARM-based chipsets will. They’ll perform about as well at Atoms, says Bob Morris, director of mobile computing for ARM.
ARM creates chipset architectures for numerous manufacturers, including cellular phone vendors. The ARM Cortex A8 is “almost identical” to the capabilities of the Atom, Morris says. It can operate at 600 GHz to 1 GHz or more. In essence, an Atom or Cortex A8 can perform similarly to a lower-end laptop computer of five years ago, he notes.
On another front, high-end graphics used to be for tricked-out desktop computers for games. But now we’re seeing graphics chipsets that can handle screen resolutions of 780p for cellular phones. Consumers are demanding graphics not just to play games, but also to zoom and pan and view videos in browsers.
We have begun to see phone LCDs with VGA resolution and contrast ratios of 2,000:1, such as a new Sharp handset in Japan. Within another three years, higher resolutions will filter down to mid-tier phones. The size of the screen, however, could be a problem compared to a subnotebook.
Displays in your contact lenses
Microprojectors, which display the screen’s contents on a wall, will be integrated into high-end phones during the next several years. Microvision Inc. (Nasdaq: MVIS) has been one of the pioneers, as are others, in devising a projector for the iPhone. Microvision also is working on displays built into eyeglasses. Researchers at the University of Washington are developing displays in contact lenses.
Skeptical? Not long ago you would have been considered a lunatic to wander around with earphones or, worse, headphones. But if you have the right type of job, you can get some displays for free. And I am convinced we will don eyeglass displays once they are sufficiently inexpensive and lightweight -- and don’t give you a headache!
The toughest part of using a phone as a laptop is entering text. Tiny Bluetooth plastic keyboards and roll-up keyboards aren’t optimal. Fold-out keyboards have promise; I sort of like that jack-of-all-trades device. Virtual keyboards that display on flat surfaces already exist, but there’s no typing feedback. We need some sort of feedback, the way some phones employ haptic touch screens that vibrate when you press an icon or key.
Alternatively, we could use voice recognition software. Computer speech-to-text software, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, has gotten much better.
Jott Networks Inc. and SpinVox Ltd. offer speech-to-text for notes. But the key is being able to quickly and easily enter large amounts of text. A new company, Audience has just introduced noise-canceling technology for cellular phones that could improve voice recognition.
Or perhaps we’ll simply employ nano technology to "morph" the phone into multiple shapes.
Maybe you’re thinking: So what? I can buy and carry multiple devices. But what about people who aren’t so fortunate? Many people around the world use cellular as their only connection to the Internet. If we could offer them a more computer-like experience, it would justify a great deal of research.
— Alan Reiter, President,
Wireless Internet & Mobile