Your mobile future: From smartphones to superphones -- and beyond

Just when the world got familiar with the smartphone, the mobile phone community is starting to talk about the "superphone."

Google dropped the superphone title on the general public when it launched its Nexus One phone on Tuesday. Now, at CES , industry analysts and others are describing any mobile phone with 1Ghz processors, or even phones with especially sophisticated design, hardware or software, a superphone.

CES gave visitors a glimpse of hundreds of the latest devices and concept designs, but some vendors and analysts also talked about phones that could arrive in two to 10 years. They envision phones shaped and worn like bracelets or that would make use of augmented reality technology. Others could be squeezed to take simple commands or would project an image or an arrow on the ground to help a traveler make their way through a crowded airport, assisted by GPS navigation.

"We're about to see an explosion in mobile phone innovation," said Will Stofega, an IDC analyst. "The next 10 years are going to be really exciting."

Stofega said he started hearing the word "superphone" used several months ago, and whether it catches on or not, he believes it helps describe the next generation of smartphones.

Part of the reason the innovation will occur is the increasing horsepower available in chipsets, Stofega said. But users also want the newest applications, he said, noting that even though much of world experienced a major recession in 2009, phone manufacturers were introducing several new high-end smartphones that people were willing to pay for.

CES is about showcasing products that have just been made within the constraints of current chips, displays and batteries, but also about the technology community planning for the future and sharing creative concepts in software and design ideas.

Google Inc. used CES to show more reporters the Nexus One, an Android device with a 1 GHz Snapdragon processor by Qualcomm, allowing 3D-like video images.

Also, Intel CEO Paul Otellini unveiled the GW990 from LG Electronics, to appear later in the year, that is based on Intel's latest Atom-based processor called Moorestown . He said Moorestown will bring PC functions to smartphones, and the GW990 can play back 720p high definition video on a 5-inch screen.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer also announced that the HTC HD2 smartphone , which will run a customized version of Windows Mobile 6.5, uses a 1GHz Qualcomm processor. It will be available from T-Mobile USA in the spring.

Greg Sullivan, senior product manager on Microsoft's Windows Mobile team, said Microsoft will be using Moorestown chips in its devices. He said Windows Mobile 7 OS will launch by year-end, making 2010 an important year, as the world emerges from the recession and technology innovation continues unabated.

"This is an incredibly competitive market," Sullivan said. "Technologists are optimists and this is a great time to be here."

Sullivan said Microsoft has created a video that envisions a future world of the next decade for mobile phones, including one with a phone that projects an arrow to help a person find a location in a crowded mall or airport. The projection capability is available today on the LG Expo, he noted, but he said an application to connect GPS location information to the arrow's directions is not on the market.

Sullivan said Microsoft researchers "come up with all kinds of crazy thoughts" that his team tries to take advantage of. "It might be augmented reality or induction charging of phones through the air," he said. Long battery life and easy charging is going to be a constant concern of designers, he said.

He said his team hasn't formally referred to any coming phones as "superphones" but he's familiar with the concept as a description of a next generation category.

Augmented reality could be used to connect a superphone to an image projected to eyeglasses, showing the user where to go in a crowded room to the find someone, Stofega said. "Obviously, something like that is complex, requiring cloud computing that charts and identifies locations within the user's location," Stofega said.

Art Baudo, a senior product marketing manager at Motorola Corp. who helped in the launch of the Android Backflip smartphone at CES, said his training as an engineer had helped in developing new ideas for smartphones.

"It's a creative process and a coalescing of ideas," Baudo said. Motorola, which has a bigger booth at CES this year than last year, has been reinvigorated with its launch of new Android phones, including the Droid.

"You have to have direction in a creative process and the Android platform strategy at Motorola helps direct the design group," Baudo said.

Baudo said his team recognizes the need to be cutting edge in mobile phone designs, but also practical. "We share ideas around the water cooler, but also have to solve things for phones to [accomplish]. For example, we know that today's social networking is super, but will be tomorrow's dud, for sure."

Today's innovations will evolve, he said. For example, the Backflip has a unique touchscreen that also has a separate touchscreen on the back, called Backtouch, that can be used to help a person flip through photos or icons while also showing the photos to another person. But Baudo said the Backtouch concept isn't fully realized, which is something that open source developers in Android will probably explore.

"We do have the long view," Baudo said of developers and designers in general. "You have to."

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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