Call From the Future
It’s one thing to know what the next iPhone is going to look like. It’s an entirely different matter to know what phones will be like a few years down the road.
This slideshow is a collection of our favorite futuristic phone designs, ranging from realistic to not-so-much. Some come from the desks of design firms. Others come from the minds of folks who know their way around Photoshop and have a little too much free time on their hands. Still others are real prototypes from handset makers.
We probably won’t be getting our hands on any of these babies for a few years, but most of them contain a kernel of an idea that could make its way into the mainstream, such as OLED displays and pico projectors.
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Having a phone that can wrap around your wrist or arm could be useful, especially if you're prone to losing things. But that doesn't mean anyone would want the snake-phone created by Product Visionaires curled around their entire arm. Imagine unwrapping one of these things if you get a call. Yikes! Shrink the design down to a manageable size, and this phone would probably be a hit with people who frequent the gym.
Image: Product Visionaires
Kyocera Kinetic OLED Cell Phone
The Kyocera kinetic-energy-powered concept phone unfolds from a wallet-shaped, pocket-friendly device into a widescreen OLED display. The phone sports a physical keyboard that pretty much goes away when not in use. The keys are inset into the frame of the phone. Just start typing, and--like magic--the keyboard emerges from the phone's skin. We don't know what kind of battery this phone is supposed to use, but it's probably epic.
In another take on the flexibility of OLED, some concepts point toward using rollable displays to create small phones with large screen sizes. This one, designed by Tao Ma, was apparently inspired by one of humankind's finer creations: the D battery.
Image: Tao Ma
When Nokia conceptualized the Morph cell phone, it wanted to show how nanotechnology could radically change portable electronics. The Morph is made of transparent and flexible material, is self-cleaning, and includes nano-sensors that can learn from the environment. In one example, Nokia suggests that the nano-sensors would be able to detect airborne threats and alert users to them.
The Morph, as its name suggests, would also change form, the company says: "Using the same principle behind spider silk, this elasticity enables the device to literally change shapes and configure itself to adapt to the task at hand."
Nokia has a video posted to YouTube that delves into how the Morph works.
Bend in Touch
Inside this touchscreen phone called Bend in Touch, Ukrainian designer Andy Kurovets places a pop-out display that nearly doubles the screen real estate of the device. While one screen handles Internet tasks, the second can display a video. The Bend in Touch also features a pop-out camera and flash.
Maybe instead of calling it the Bend in Touch, Kurovets should call his creation the Pop-Out Phone.
Image: Andy Kurovets
There are Android phones and then there are alien phones, like this one modeled after a Transformer. This concept phone, created by Parkoz Hardware, is a must-see in action. Put it this way: You wouldn't want this phone ringing on your bedside table in the middle of the night.
Image: Parkoz Hardware
That’s One Glassy Phone
Sure, semitransparent LCD screens aren't new--but a glass phone, like the one here dreamed up by Yanko Design, would offer more to see than just the wall behind your desk. Then again, such designs look as if they would attract more smudges and fingerprints than a fish tank in a preschool.
Image: Yanko Design
This Window Phone concept, from designer Seunghan Song, constantly "illustrates" the weather via the phone's user interface. Seems a bit too weather-centric for my tastes, but it's definitely a perfect gift for Al Roker.
Image: Yanko Design
The Camera-Projector-Printer Phone
Talk about multitasking phones. Meet designer Hideo Kanbara's phone, game controller, photo printer, and projector. When it comes to full-featured phones, this handset is tops.
Image: Barakan Design
This concept touchscreen phone, developed by NTT Docomo and Fujitsu, is called Separate Keitai. It features a separate screen and keypad linked together via Bluetooth. Magnets keep the two sides of the Separate Keitai together when they need to be. Assuming that the microphone and speaker are connected to the keypad, a product like this could finally make it easy to look up a contact number for a friend while speaking with someone else. The creators say the benefit of the phone is that it allows you to make a phone call and write an e-mail at the same time.
Image: NTT Docomo and Fujitsu
Pebble Phone: Blobby and Mysterious
This device, dubbed the Pebble phone, first appeared at the tech trade show CEATEC 2009. The Fujitsu concept features a black blob encased in rounded glass. Dragging the blob to different areas on the phone causes it to morph into different screens, including a keypad, a media player, and a Web browser. It isn't clear what technology would power a phone like this, but I'm guessing Apple already has a patent on it.
Master Chief’s Phone of the Future
This concept phone, dubbed Radia, is a gorgeous, polished piece of--dare I say--art. The only problem is that it doesn't have much to offer in the phone department. The circular display is pretty small for Web browsing or watching videos. The Radia looks as if it would work fine as a dialing device or as something to impress your fancy-pants friends with--but not much else.
Image: Laut Design
Melding Phones With Humans
With these concept phones that turn your hand or arm into a phone, you can forget about hands-free devices. At left is a concept by Yanko Design's Sunman Kwon. It's a wearable phone in which the keys are projected onto the user's fingers; to place a call, you must make the international symbol for the telephone. The middle images are from industrial designer Jim Mielke and are of his Digital Tattoo Interface phones; these devices are implanted into your forearm and fueled by the circulation of your blood. And the phone on the right, designed by Biodomotica's Massimo Marrazzo, is always handy no matter what you're doing.
Image: Yanko Design, Jim Mielke, and Biodomotica
Hopefully Not This
This monstrosity, known as the O2 Mobile phone, was inspired by the "molecule esthetics" of the oxygen molecule and created by Tjep Design. Other than the fact that it has a screen and a keypad, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this phone in no way resembles any phones of the future.
Image: Tjep Design
Touch Wood--No, Seriously
The Touch Wood project was developed as a partnership of NTT Docomo, Sharp, and Olympus, and is part of a reforestation effort. Built of surplus wood from forest-thinning operations, this phone promises to be waterproof and bug-resistant while maintaining the texture and aroma of natural wood. Phones like this would be great for tech-loving tree huggers who need to stay connected with friends and tweet about nature's splendor while protesting the latest logging operation. Watch out for splinters.
Image: NTT Docomo
Cool Design, No Frills
Here's another hockey-puck concept phone. This one was designed by Jamie Lawrence for folks who don't care about anything besides using a phone as a phone. This slider's two glossy halves separate to reveal a small touchscreen. A nice-looking, no-frills concept.
Image: The Design Blog
Buzz Lightyear, Eat Your Heart Out
This mammoth wearable phone looks as if it might be the cell phone of choice for Iron Man. It has a lot of buttons--including a directional pad, a camera button, a keypad, and what looks like digital music controls--and a lot of screen real estate. According to Akihabara News, the phone is called a "Kora Bracelet Phone" and was reportedly made by Fujitsu.
Image: Akihabara News
Fan-Made PSP Takes the Gaming Cake
This concept phone, based on the popular Sony PlayStation Portable gaming system, appeared on Flickr courtesy of user BluezPS. This fictitious device, dubbed PSP Redesign, melds a gamepad with a touchscreen phone. Though this phone may be a Photoshop fantasy, I like it. I hope Sony can learn a thing or two from this design when working on future phones and mobile gaming devices. (No UMDs, please!)
Image: BluezPS Flickr
This phone, designed by Yuji Ito and called the F-Circle, was made by Fujitsu and appeared at CEATAC Japan in 2009. It obviously borrows from the rotary-phone aesthetic and melds that with a touchscreen. It's nice to look at, but what about practicality and ergonomics?
Image: Akihabara News
Just Say 'Hello' or 'Cheese'
I hope Sony Ericsson someday makes this concept phone, which comes with the imaginary specs of an OLED display, a 3.2-megapixel camera, 2GB of storage, and an integrated FM tuner. I love the ultrasleek handset, and it offers a flip-down camera. It has been three years since Sony Ericsson showed off the phone, so it's time to bring this product to market--or at least to update the make-believe specs and give the device a 10-megapixel camera.
Image: Sony Ericsson