It is always fun to talk about feature-packed gadgets. As 2007 starts lets take a look at the future of mobile phones. A recent BusinessWeek report presents some interesting views about mobile technology and its drivers. Also see some other interesting futuristic slides here, Nokia’s aeon concept phonebased on Wibree protocol and Google’s idea of a free mobile phone with ads.

So lets put together a wish list of an ideal phone / gadget of the future … music, high resoultion pictures and video, chat, speech-to-text, unified messaging, games, organizer, browser with intelligent alerts, e-commerce capable, location-aware (GPS) – did I miss anything? Oh yes these gadgets have to be reliable (no crashes please), light weight with much better battery technology (it tops the wish list in surveys worldwide) and it has to be “cool”. Another desirable feature is if your phone could keep your information secure in case of theft or loss – or better yet – somehow fights against snatching or stealing.

As BW article aptly puts it: “Ultrafast networks and whizzy features are about to turn your cellphone into—well, your right arm”. The article notes that:

The term “cell phone” certainly doesn’t do justice to today’s polymorphous handset used by early adopters in Korea and Japan. Two of the networks this phone may soon run on–Wi-Fi and WiMAX–don’t even use cell towers. That’s why Motorola Chief Executive Ed Zander refers to such gizmos, his own phones included, as “the device formerly known as the cell phone.”

Nokia now calls its Nseries of smart phones “multimedia computers.” Samsung has settled on the term “mobile information terminal” for its most phone-like products. Two relatively new technologies may be crucial to putting the mobile device on equal footing with the PC. Wimax and IMS. I think both of these deserve a few posts of their own so I won’t go in details here.

BusinessWeek puts in some words of wisdom by mentioning what happened a few years ago:

If some of this sounds familiar, it’s because the ideas go back to the early days of the dot-com boom. PocketTV and location-based marketing were two recurring themes of the telecom bubble that culminated about five years ago in frothy European auctions of “third-generation” wireless spectrum. Carriers dropped tens of billions of dollars at these auctions, expecting mobile commerce to explode. But neither the hardware nor the clever applications were ready for prime time.

It goes on to say that much has changed in five short years. For starters, wireless carriers and handset makers have made progress on hardware and software standards. That makes it easier to roll out applications involving text, voice, music, and video and have them work seamlessly with any device, whether it’s the slim Motorola Razr or Samsung’s Q1 Ultra Mobile PC.

Future is in Asia

It is well-known that South Korea and Japan have emerged as oracles of mobility. According to the BW article more than 3 million Koreans regularly use their mobile phones to log on to the giant Cyworld social networking site. Both Japan and Korea are starting to roll out speedy WiMAX data networks that can deliver wireless broadband access to entire cities.

The two countries were among the first to initiate walletless payments such as at the train station. That’s being tested now on the New York City subway and on San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit network, as well as at McDonald’s and in some grocery stores. Watching Korea and Japan “is like looking into a crystal ball” to see where the U.S. is headed, says David Meredith, senior vice-president of security company VeriSign whose technology helps protect such payments. Credit card companies like VISA have also realized this trend are jumping in to support mobile commerce.

The BusinessWeek article gives much of the credit for these shifts to the “Thumb Generation,” the twenty- and thirtysomethings who grew up with game controllers and cell phones glued to their hands. People like 21 year old Park in Korea think nothing of spending $100 a month for phone-based services ranging from talk and instant messaging to mobile satellite TV, games, and e-books.

Location based services are another field where innovative services are being offered. For instance Loopt is a service which combines mapping software with global-positioning technology and proprietary code to send out alerts when a friend in your opt-in personal network is nearby. With Loopt, you also can view photo diaries of your friends’ lives, “chirp” them with the push-to-talk feature on certain phones, and display maps that show where your friends have gathered.

New technology may clear some of the bottlenecks. High-speed data networks finally are delivering Web connections to the cell phone with speeds that rival DSL at home. This could lead to a virtuous circle: As network speeds improve, the Gang of Five handset manufacturers–Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and LG –take a risk and build higher-end digital cameras, music players, and recording devices into their handsets knowing that consumers will find it easier to share content from their phones. At the same time, the handset makers are adding chips that not only help you figure out where you are but also allow others to find you and possibly sell something to you. Mobile Advertisement, will it be big or become another hyped feature?

There’s so much which can be added here. Lets check back in six months to see what has happened in this fast changing world of mobile phones.

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