We all expect the cellphone to get smaller while packing in an ever broadening array of functions. The real question is what it’ll look like—inside and outin several years. To find the answer, we investigated dozens of on-the-brink technologies, picking the brains of cellphone product engineers, industry analysts and lab researchers. They told us of cameras that zoom, screens that play Star Wars, and micro fuel cells that deliver days of continuous operation. Some of these breakthroughs are showing up â€ la carte in today’s mobiles, but to picture how they’ll fit together in one slick device, we enlisted the help of Ecco Design (eccoid.com), an industrial design firm that develops consumer electronics for the likes of Apple, LG, Motorola, Sharp and Siemens. Here’s what we came up with and how it will work.
Within five years, phones with multiple miniature antennas will seamlessly roam all networks: cellular, Wi-Fi, ultra wideband and whatever’s yet to come. An Intel prototype selects the best option based on network speed and your application. Another approach would use a software-defined radio, which would reconfigure itself to tune in multiple frequencies with a single antenna, dramatically lowering the cost and bulk of a multiband phone.
By 2008 we’ll be storing eight gigabytes on our cellphone’s 0.85-inch hard drive. The key: Toshiba’s magnetic recording technology, which aligns magnets from top to bottom rather than end-to-end, saving space. With storage on track to increase 30 to 40 percent each year, expect to be filling 60 gigs with high-def movies, thousands of songs and 10-megapixel pics within eight years.
The do-everything cellphone needs a do-everything chip. Texas Instruments and Qualcomm will have single chips running basic cellphones in 2006. By 2010, single-chip phones will surpass today’s most advanced multi-chip models, adding WiMax and TV tuners.
Manufacturers are looking to fuel cells, which would provide about five times the talk time per cycle
of today’s lithium-ion batteries. Hitachi, Toshiba and Fujitsu are working on methanol-based versions for chargers and PDAs by next year. And Nippon Telegraph and Telephone is developing an even more powerful hydrogen fuel cell. Expect it in three years ifand it’s a huge ifthey can devise a small, safe way to store pressurized hydrogen.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.