Forty years ago, when mobile phones cost £2,300 a piece and the Internet was still a pipe dream, nobody could have imagined the technological advances that have revolutionised the way we now communicate. Many back then would agree with the now infamous statement made by Ken Olsen of Digital Equipment Corporation in 1977: “There is no reason why anybody would want a computer in their home.”
Fast forward a few decades, and we’re living in a world where video conferencing is the norm, tablets are replacing books, and most people would rather go to work barefoot than leave home without their smartphone. The Internet, and the technology that comes with it, has changed the way we work, socialise and even how we conduct our love lives. New communications technology advances are being made all the time, which begs the question: what will the world look like in another 10, or 20 years?
Pay and go
In the last few years, we’ve gone from brick-sized mobiles that were restricted to calls and texts to elaborate touch-screen computers with the ability to do everything. We can plan journeys, play games, transfer funds and share documents using our phones. So, what could be next on the agenda?
One development that is on the verge of being realised in the UK is electronic wallets – mobile phones that also act as bankcards. In the USA, wallet apps such as MasterPass are already popular.
“We see MasterPass as the future of digital payments, allowing you to shop and make a payment on your phone, tablet, PC or in a store with one simple experience,” explains Ken Moy of parent company MasterCard. “It’s about understanding consumers and how the emerging digital lifestyle will influence habit and how consumers will buy. At the centre of this new digital lifestyle is the drive to be connected 24/7 and to have access to insights before, during and after they buy in both the physical and digital worlds.”
Not only will digital wallet apps make carrying around cards and cash things of the past, they could defeat checkout queues by allowing staff to take payment in the aisles.
Some retailers offer this service in the UK. Pizza Express has teamed up with PayPal to create an electronic payment experience, and agreements with the world’s 20 largest till makers means that the system could be coming to 90 per cent of Britain’s shopping outlets within a few years. And with the London Underground experimenting with similar technology to create virtual Oyster cards and train tickets, wallets could soon be completely redundant.
How great would it be to control your phone by stretching it as well as through using the touch screen? New handheld computer concepts by the likes of Skiff and Nokia could soon make this enticing prospect a reality.
Take Nokia’s futuristic Human Form phone, first floated as an idea back in 2011. Shaped like an elongated tear drop, the device can be bent inward or outward to scroll and zoom, shaken interactively like a Wii controller, or stretched to pan across a photograph or text document. The entire case is touch sensitive; and, coolest of all, the phone can simulate sensations, meaning that you can actually ‘feel’ the texture of images.
Bendy mobile phones could do more than just look good. A study by warranty provider Square Trade suggested that iPhone and Android device owners in the UK spent £1.2bn on repairs between 2007 and 2012, with accidental drops cited as the most common cause of damage. Not only would flexible displays be less prone to breakages, they could also be easily wrapped around a wrist making them simple to keep track of.
Brian Berkely of Samsung, which released a flexible display prototype dubbed the ‘YOUM”, says: “Our team was able to make a high resolution display on extremely thin plastic instead of glass, so it won’t break if dropped. This new form factor will really begin to change how people interact with their devices and allow our partners to create a whole new ecosystem of devices.”
A group of scientists from software company Autodesk, Germany’s Hasso Plattner Institute and the University of Toronto, has even conducted an experiment with an interactive device implanted underneath a subject’s skin. They argue that implanted devices have several advantages over mobile and wearable equivalents.
“First, implanted devices do not need to be manually attached to the user’s body. They stay out of the way of everyday or recreational activities (e.g. swimming or showering). Second, they have the potential to be completely invisible. Third, implanted devices, along with the information they store and provide, always travel with the user.”
A Cloud on the horizon
It isn’t just the design and functionality of communications devices that will change the way we interact in the future. Increasingly, businesses are depending on remote workers and cloud computing to operate, and the knock-on effect is that telecoms companies are under pressure to offer speedier services.
“More and more businesses are adopting remote working practices, which are driving new technologies such as video conferencing, virtual desktops and voice over IP,” explains Stafford Hunt, Head of Commercial Development for the Global Business Unit of Channel Islands-based telecoms provider JT.
According to Hunt, cloud computing will be integral to the future of business communications. Cloud computing services are standardised and automated, and can drive massive efficiencies.
“Over the next five, 10 and 20 years people will be communicating via video conference technologies, moving away from pure voice and using the Cloud to store their data.
People will want to be ‘Always On’ and connect while at home, work or on the move.
The communications companies of the future will have moved more into the social media space providing true collaboration services to both individuals and companies.”
Science fiction scenarios
While advances like these may seem relatively modest compared to the huge technological leaps of the ‘90s and noughties, more drastic developments are also underway. Most intriguingly, workable holographic technology means that video conferencing via projected holograms may soon become a reality.
One of the companies at the forefront of these science fiction-esque advances is Holoxica, an Edinburgh-based startup that has already used holographic displays to create pingpong games, clocks and sketch pads. Soon, the company says, it will be in a position to make the technology available for developers who want to make their own holographic apps, which could have implications for the worlds of gaming and entertainment, as well as for communications. Using these programs, holographic projections could even be able to interact with one another.
“The technology is capable of producing 3D images floating in mid-air that can be altered in real time and viewed without glasses,” says Javid Khan, MD of Holoxica. “We also added some interactivity via a Kinect motion interface, which allows people to ‘touch’ icons in space and do things like draw in mid-air.”
Other cutting-edge research is applying technology similar to this, but more specifically to video conferencing. A team at the Queen’s Human Media Lab recently developed a human-scale 3D video conferencing pod that allows two people in different locations to talk as though they are standing in front of one another. Microsoft is also concentrating on creating holographic video conferencing tools, recently posting a job advert for software development engineers to work on the project.
“In the short term, we are developing the hardware and software necessary to have a realistic physical ‘body-double’ or proxy in a remote meeting; one that gives the remote worker a true seat at the table, the ability to look around the room, turn to a colleague and have a side conversation,” reads the advert.
“Longer-term, this same platform will enable high-definition communication scenarios for consumers over Skype.”
We may even be close to Star Trek-style interactive scenarios, where a group of people can remotely communicate in a realistic holographic environment.
In the words of William Gibson, the future is already here.
Article courtesy of Stream Publishing.
This was first published in the February issue of CN. Any comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org