What will our phones look like in 2014? How about in 2020? We've been speaking to the man in the know to find out. Get ready for a flexible future...
We’ve been peering into the future. Patrick Harrison-Harvey is Vodafone’s resident future phone guru, being the man who gets to look at all of tomorrow’s handsets today. He’s already revealed the thinking and the trends that’ll dictate the next year of phone designs, but what about after that?
That’s what we intend to find out…
Bend it, flex it, anyway you want it
“The next big thing to come in,” says Patrick, “will be proper foldable screens. The industry is already talking about it, and the technology for the screens is there, but it’s not in mass production yet. It’s just about making the technology and the material they’re using mainstream.”
Flexible screens? We’re intrigued. So how will that affect the look and feel of our precious handsets? Patrick explains that it’ll be a pretty fundamental shift, but one that filters onto the shelves in stages:
“There’ll probably be a phased approach to this, in that you won’t wake up one morning and see devices with fully flexible screens that completely change the way phones are used.
“I think what we will see, though, are devices in the future that negate the need to get a phablet because you’ll have a phone that looks like a current one, but with a screen that folds outwards to double the size. There are videos of that already online,” says Patrick, referring to concepts like this futuristic one from Samsung:
But, unfortunately, there some limitations: “You can’t do a fully foldable device yet because you can’t fold a battery, so you’ve got to have a physical part of it and an extra bit of screen that folds out. So, closed, you’d have a normal phone, but then when you open it you’d have a large-screen phablet experience.
“Once you have that, the phone can start to recognise different gestures. You could bend it to go to your home screen, for instance, or fold it to turn the page on your e-book.”
New materials, new design
“It’ll need to be one screen that works on either side,” Patrick says, “and without a join in the middle. Theoretically that all works now, it’s just about getting the costs down enough to make it a mass market product.”
And to do that, manufacturers are apparently turning to futuristic materials. Patrick tells us that the next evolution in manufacturing will come from space-age substances still currently in the lab. “The new material that everyone’s talking about is graphene. Which is carbon fibre that’s only one atom thick.”
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We’re pretty excited by all this, but with work on the atom-thick graphene still in its infancy and a lot to be done to get things affordable, how long until we can all pocket these super-cool folding phones? 20 years? 10 years? Nope… they’re not as far off as you might think:
“I’d say we’re about two years away from a bendable screen becoming a mainstream device, and with foldable screens following on from these in the next five years,” explains Patrick.
Looking further afield
Two years will fly by, but what’s coming after that? Patrick sees the flexible screen thing running and running, and – eventually – every single part inside our phones will learn the same tricks…
“Manufacturers will have to change how they make the processors, to allow for flex,” he explains, “as well as a change in battery technology. Maybe wireless electricity become the norm, and be all around us. Phones could feed off of this, and remove the need for larger and larger batteries. I think that will happen, even if it is a way off of being as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi is now.”
“Will wireless electricity become the norm?”
Hang on… Wireless electricity? “It’ll be more for the home at the start,” Patrick tells us, “because it’s going to be a very long time before there’s electricity just bouncing out of lampposts for your phone to grab.
“It’s quite a way off because of the amount of work needed.”
And how long is a very long time? “It seems a very long way off, but If I think how much technology has changed in the last 10 years, it seems possible that in another 10 years we can be completely wireless and phones will be free of the rigid structures that confine them now.”
That’s not a huge amount of time if you think what we’ll be getting: fully flexible phones with dual-sided screens, running on wireless electricity that pumps through your home town. Colour us excited.