13 future mobile technologies that will change your life

These disruptive technologies will affect how you work, play and communicate when you're mobile.

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Disruption 10: Unified communications

Huge technology players such as Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. are pushing for the ability to tie together all forms of communications, including landlines and the various types of wireless. It's a compelling vision that is a stew comprised of many ingredients.

One futuristic ingredient in unified communications is sometimes called "superpresence," which is like a supercharged version of the instant messaging feature that lets you know if a buddy is online. In this case, superpresence could also provide information such as the best method at any given moment to communicate with a person or an estimate of when that they'll arrive at a destination. Users will create rules that say, for example, they can be interrupted by a spouse and boss, but not by others.

Another part of this stew includes technologies already mentioned, such as fixed-mobile convergence and femtocells, because they make it easier to locate and communicate with people Two more ingredients are the ability to transparently route communications to an individual via disparate networks and the ability to share applications in real time via those disparate networks.

Why it's important: One word describes why this is important: productivity. For instance, far-flung project teams will be much more efficient interacting with each other and exchanging ideas and other mission-critical information.

What could hold it back: At some point, employees may tire of being available 24/7, and unified communications will make it even harder than is currently the case to escape from work.

Disruption 11: Mobile commerce

In Japan, cell phone users are increasingly using built-in near-field communications technology to swipe their phones near special point-of-sale terminals to buy things.

<br></br>An NTT DoCoMo customer uses her cell phone to pay for items at a convenience store in Japan.

An NTT DoCoMo customer uses her cell phone to pay for items at a convenience store in Japan.That's coming to the West, too, and credit card companies and cell phone vendors are running trials. Proponents claim this technology has other functions. For instance, you'll swipe your phone near a concert poster to download more information about the performer and to buy tickets. Or swipe your phone near an in-store kiosk to get digital cents-off coupons.

Why it's important: Utter simplicity. No more fumbling around for your credit card or struggling to keep track of your purchases. And you can easily share the information with your desktop financial manager.

What could hold it back: Cellular operators, phone vendors and credit card companies are keen to get this off the ground. However, it would require merchants to buy new point-of-sale terminals, which could be a hard sell.

Disruption 12: Mobile security

Of course, security is needed for mobile commerce and many other next-generation applications. Burrus said not only will future phones be secure, but they'll be used in other contexts to ensure security.

"We'll have new levels of biometrics," he noted. "If your phone is in your ear, everybody's inner ear canal is different and the phone can tell. That's one form of biometrics. Similarly, everybody's voice is different. Or maybe the phone will discern blood vessel patterns in my ear." Then, there's fingerprint scanning, already common with laptops. Best of all, this security could be performed automatically, making secure transactions easier and faster.

Why it's important: Besides protecting your transactions and data, you'll be able to use your mobile devices to gain admittance to secure areas at work or maybe even at the airport.

What could hold it back: Advanced biometrics will be attractive to corporations, but it surely will add to the price of devices, which could lead to resistance, at least among consumers.

Disruption 13: Augmented reality

Imagine looking at something in the real world -- say a building -- through your mobile device, then putting a virtual overlay over it. Sounds like a game, but it potentially has some very real-world applications, according to Townsend.

"It will help anything that can benefit from simulation," he said. "An architect working at a construction site, or a firefighter finding a way out of a burning building or a UPS driver visualizing the next 10 steps of his delivery route." Another possibility: A surgeon performing a complicated procedure.

Why it's important: Augmented reality can help us understand the unknown in real time. That will lead to greater safety, more flexibility and better health care.

What could hold it back: This still remains the subject of a lot of research before it becomes practical and affordable.

David Haskin is a contributing editor specializing in mobile and wireless issues.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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