The future of the phone – crazy concepts that will blow your mind

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This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

Smartphones are boring! There, I’ve said it. For the past five years, no – scratch that, for the past ten years smartphones have evolved very little, both design-wise and feature-wise. Yeah, everything got better, that’s true but the core function of the phone remains pretty much the same. One of my colleagues said the other day that the design of the smartphone is so perfect that it doesn’t need to change. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I really doubt it, given the rate of technological progress we’re currently at. But let’s not lament the stale design and boring features of the modern phone. There are some crazy phone concepts some of which are already patented and others even dwell in labs, waiting patiently to conquer the world. Let’s check them out instead and see what the future of the phone looks like. Sure, it’s massive speculation and there’s no guarantee that any of these cool designs will see the light of day but the science-fiction fan in me wants to speculate and dream. Leaving the overly dramatic introduction behind us, let’s dive in.

What about foldable phones?

Yeah, I feel that we need to address this one first. Flexible screens were meant to fuel the next phone revolution and give us crazy phones with crazy shapes and features. What flexible screens actually did was produce overpriced and underperforming hinge phones with the same boring rectangular design. Don’t get me wrong, I still think that flexible screens will play a major role in the phones of the future, just not in their current iteration.

The Bracelet

Let’s start small. This design is actually in production, although there’s much to be desired from its execution. The ZTE Nubia alpha made its debut in 2019 with a 4-inch flexible screen that allowed users to seamlessly transform the gadget from a wristband to a very strange elongated phone (sort of). It’s a cool concept and kudos to ZTE for having the balls to put it in production but it wasn’t very good, to be honest.

There are other similar concepts all over the web and of course the patent offices. If done right, I really think that this could offer an alternative to the conventional smartphone. A hybrid between a smartwatch and a smartphone, this design bears some potential. Imagine wearing your phone on the wrist instead of in your pocket – all notifications will be right in front of you, all the features will be there (unlike regular smartwatches), and when somebody calls, you’ll be able to just unwrap the thing and use it next to your ear like a normal smartphone.

Probability to see this design in reality: Moderate to High

The Projection phone

Speaking of bracelets, here’s an interesting concept from 2014 called the Cicret Phone. It ditches the screen altogether and instead relies on a projector and some clever laser detection tech to put a smartphone on your hand, literally. The surprising thing is that this idea has some adoption in laser projection keyboards – you can actually buy one of these and it works, more or less.

Of course, in order to project a display on your hand or palm, you need a powerful projection tech which has to be also very light. The touch tracking technology has to be top-notch to make this a usable device and not a massive frustration machine. And judging by the fate of the aforementioned Cicret Phone concept, we’re not there yet. There are tons of technical roadblocks before such a design but its cool-factor is through the roof. Sadly, we probably won’t see it happening anytime soon.

Probability to see this design in reality: Low

The Transparent phone

Any fans of The Expanse series reading this? I’m sure you’ve recognized Miller’s phone terminal in the picture above. You may think that such a design is too far-fetched but in reality, there’s a patent filed by LG way back in 2015 and it is for “a transparent foldable smartphone”. That’s not so surprising, given the fact that LG has been working on transparent OLEDs for quite some time.

I can’t think of any practical reason to make a phone transparent. It’s really cool and practically invisible but the transparency will hurt display brightness and legibility, and all other components must be made transparent too, and I’m not sure it’s possible at the moment. Then again, if we’re speaking about a phone with just a transparent display, that’s a much more plausible scenario.

Probability to see this design in reality: Moderate

The Parchment Scroll

Here’s another take on phones using flexible screens and it’s much more feasible. What if instead of your boring rectangular slab you had a cylindrical wand with a display rolling out of it? The practicality of such a design is questionable, I agree but it kinda throws us back to Medieval times when the town crier would stand tall and unroll an important scroll to share the latest decree with the masses.

Furthermore, this design is not only plausible but it actually made it into a working prototype in 2018. The MagicScroll phone is a brainchild of Researchers from Queen’s University in Ontario. This prototype device is similar to a parchment scroll and features a 7.5-inch, flexible, 2160 x 1920, OLED display, and a 3D-printed cylindrical body. As a matter of fact, LG has already patented a similar design and trademarked it, so the probability rating for this one is high.

Probability to see this design in reality: Moderate to High

The Contact lens phone

When I was a kid I thought that by the year 2000 we would all have a cyborg-like vision. You know, like the Terminator from the classic movie franchise. Wouldn’t it be cool to ditch the phone altogether and replace it with a smart contact lens? Sounds like science fiction, right? Well, not entirely because researchers at Ghent University in Belgium have demonstrated a working prototype of a smart lens display back in 2014!

Meanwhile, Google managed to put a camera in a contact lens the same year, when trying to find an evolution path for its Google Glass (now pretty much scraped) project. Actually, bionic contact lenses have been in development since the 90s, and various labs have come with prototypes and even tested them on rabbits (the bunnies are okay, don’t worry). So, this technology is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Will we see smart lenses that are able to replace our smartphones in the next 5 years or so? Probably not. But, let’s say, ten years from now, who knows?

Probability to see this design in reality: Low to Moderate

Which one would you like to see in your hands (or on your eyes) in the next 5 years? Vote in our poll or share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below.

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