Remember when the iPhone first came out? Steve Jobs was still alive, and he really knocked everybody’s socks off with this candybar-sized piece of glass and metal. It’s a widescreen iPod with touch controls and a revolutionary mobile phone and an Internet communications device all in one! That basic feature set was pretty incredible when Steve pulled back the curtain at that historic keynote. It was also five years ago.
Not much has really changed since then. Sure, the screen’s gotten better, the processor’s gotten faster and the battery life’s gotten longer. When Apple reveals the new iPhone in a couple of weeks, everyone expects more of the same: a bigger screen, a faster chip, a better battery. It’s not any different outside of the Apple ecosystem, either. The latest lineup of Android devices offers more of the same: touchscreens, apps, 4G (if you’re lucky). None of these things are really going to change your life.
So what would knock our socks off this year? This basically a trick question. Like the iPhone in 2007 — the all-in-one, impossibly powerful device that was years ahead of its time — you probably wouldn’t guess what the next generation of smartphones might look like. But for the interest of this post, let’s just keep things simple. How about a waterproof iPhone? Or even better, how about a waterproof iPhone with a screen that will never crack? While they’re not necessarily the sexiest of upgrades, both of these ideas would definitely change your life.
What’s cool is that the technology already exists. Kyocera just came out with a new device they’re calling the Hydra. It’s completely waterproof. Seriously, you can leave it in a bucket of water for up to half an hour, and it will come out unscathed. Ditto for toilets and washing machines. Combine that feature with the new Gorilla Glass that’s on the Nokia Lumia 900, and you’d never break your phone again. You can hit the screen of the Lumia with a hammer (many times), and it won’t even crack, much less shatter in the almost artistic ways that iPhone screens do when you drop them from only a few feet up. It’s just smart design.
Obviously, much more dramatic improvements are on the horizon. Samsung has been showing off prototypes for a new flexible phone that’s not only indestructible but also rollable and bendable. Apparently, it runs on a special OS called Android Flexy. One rung up from that is the Nokia Morph, a “self-cleaning and self-preserving” nanotechnology that can be molded into virtually shape imaginable. You could ostensibly design a smartphone that can be folded in half or wrapped around your wrist. Want a smartphone woven into your favorite shirt? Nokia can make that happen. The only thing it’s missing is a set of projectors that can turn your chest into a keyboard. But it’s cool, because Mozilla’s already created that technology.
But don’t get your hopes up that you’ll be able to snag a shiny new superphone during a Black Friday brawl this year. The really futuristic technology is probably still a few years from going to market, and the basic improvements like indestructibility don’t really make sense for Apple or any other manufacturer’s bottom line. (Broke your phone? Buy a new one!) Let’s not get to haughty either. Remember this?