Cell phones have come a long way from those hilariously clunky models that 90s era action movie villains carried around, but they've pretty much hit a plateau as far as how small they can be made without the constant threat of accidentally eating them. And current alternatives like Bluetooth earpieces don't do anything to make the user look less like a douchebag.
Really, the difference is negligible.
The solution appears to be to throw that "traditional design" crap to the wind and go with futuristic, flexible materials. Nokia, for example, has a pair of concept phones that embrace this idea. One, the 888, can be rolled or folded up so you can wrap it around your wrist, clip it to your belt, and in all likelihood break it right the fuck in half.
It's like a snap bracelet, only way more impractical and expensive.
The Morph concept takes it a step further. The idea behind this one is to not only be flexible but stretchable as well, so you can fold your phone up to put in your pocket but then stretch it out to take a call or use its touch keyboard. We'd like to think you can keep stretching it to make a hat or a Frisbee or something, but the details are vague.
Also, the phones of the future will be lime green for some reason.
These designs are mostly theoretical at the moment, but it gives us a good idea of where cell phone design might be heading. The concept videos (here and here) also imply that only hip 20-somethings will be able to use the phones of the future, but that's how Apple markets the iPhone so in many ways the future is already upon us.
Imagine feeling your left arm go all tingly and your chest start cramping up, but rather than having to drive all the way to the hospital, you can just whip out your cell phone and do a quick self diagnosis, ignoring the fact that your unwillingness to actually get up and go anywhere is probably what got you into this situation in the first place.
There are already dozens of medical apps available that can help you do just that, although they're generally intended for studying purposes rather than researching "tracheotomy" while your sister is choking on a peanut. But there are some practical ones as well, such as apps that monitor your blood pressure, give basic eye exams and analyze symptoms to determine what you could be suffering from. There are even apps to track your menstrual and ovulation cycles, though we kind of doubt those ones will be featured in any iPhone commercials.
Then we have prototype phones from Japanese companies like Nokia and NTT that can monitor your heart rate, calculate your body fat, test you to see if you're stressed and keep an eye on CO2 gas and UV ray levels. Plus, all of this information could be sent back to a hospital or clinic, so your doctor can call and tell you you're about to have a heart attack.
"Gee, still no answer at Mr. Johnson's. Guess I'll just leave another message about his imminent heart failure."
And if you want to get a little fancier you can turn your cell phone into a fairly sophisticated medical scanner. Just plug a portable unit into your phone and its data will be sent to a remote computer that will return images of whatever grotesque tumor you have to your screen. It's designed for doctors in low income and rural areas, but as the technology becomes cheaper it may not be long before you can give yourself an ultrasound.
Another standard of science fiction that now seems inevitable is that everybody's personal information from--birth certificate to bank account--is stored on a single card, so if it gets stolen it's like you never existed. Well your cell phone might be fulfilling that prophecy pretty soon, hopefully without the "never existing" part unless everyone you know is an idiot.
"Well, you don't look like my daughter... but your ID checks out."
It's been suggested that in about five years your cell phone will be able to make payments, function as a door key, serve as a transit pass and be used for identification, among other things. Some of these services are already available in Japan, where you can use your phone to make purchases at stores sort of like an oversized credit card, which suddenly makes passing the waitress at Max and Erma's your phone number a way more personally damaging faux pas.
Some hotels have experimented with a technology that lets guests use their phone as a room key. And that's just the start, because there's not much stopping your cell phone from replacing everything you keep in your wallet, saving you from the hassle of counting out cash or fumbling for your keys while simultaneously providing you with the convenience of being completely fucked if you accidentally drop your phone in a urinal.
Of course, with so much information being kept on your phone you would risk a lot more if it were lost or stolen. Not to worry; security features are being put in place, such as retinal and fingerprint scans, that ensure no one but you can operate it, sort of like Judge Dredd's handgun.
You can read more from Mark at Gunaxin.
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To see how the future is already here (in the weakest way possible), check out 8 Badass Sci-Fi Predictions That Came True In Lame-Ass Ways. Or find out about how the future will make our judicial system a lot crazier, in 6 Insane Laws We'll Need in the Future.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 2.26.2010) to see what the Cracked of the future will looks like (it'll feature more boobs).