Seeing into the Future of Smartphones
By Eric Lin, Wed Dec 03 22:00:00 GMT 2003

Without any apparent coordination whatsoever, future smartphone technology and the accompanying interface is the subject of three very different articles today. Two posts focus on the future or at least the bleeding edge, while the third balances it out with a look at where smartphone user interfaces are today and where they need to go.

Our journey into the future begins with a post from blogger Chris Heathcote. He's spent quite a bit of time collecting examples of some of the most advanced features available in Japanese mobiles. Not only does Chris list and describe the features, but he provides pictures and screenshots in many cases. You've undoubtedly heard about some- like high resolution cameras in DoCoMo's 505i series, but others are more obscure- like optical inputs for recording digital audio. There's not much else here other than a list of features, but the list alone is thorough and will serve as an excellent resource for months to come.

To complement Chris's post, there is a less meaty but more edgy piece that Techdirt linked to this morning. Columnist Duncan Martell predicts that not all, but some users will ditch their laptops for smartphones in the near future. The object of desire is not a small laptop squeezed into a phone, but rather a phone that serves as a hub for personal data. Considering the capabilities of say, a P900 or treo 600, Duncan's claims are not outlandish in the least. I must say I've participated in many round tables where similar predictions were put forth, so there must be something to this personal server or hub theory. And for any Apple fanatics out there, doesn't this dream phone sound very much like the mobile phone / iPod combo that circulated through the rumor mill early this year?

Andrew Orlowski brings us back down to earth a bit. He takes a look at the current smartphone interfaces and comes away a bit disappointed. He feels that too many smartphones treat telephony as just another application, not truly integrating it with the rest of the features. He likes the fact that the new treo 600 can "speed dial" websites, email addresses and the like in addition to phone numbers. In all fairness, the Microsoft Smartphone can do this as well, but the feature may not be as easy to use. Andrew simply would like to extend the smartphone's smarts. For instance, if you don't reach a contact at one number, why doesn't a smartphone offer to try another number for him, or offer to start an SMS?

Orlowski's thoughts on usability take on more life when considered in context with more advanced features, such as those offered in Japan or dreamed up in Duncan Martell's editorial. Advanced features are only beneficial when they are accessible. No smartphone has the perfect interface for non-telephony features yet. The concept is still young enough that it could change radically. How would you like to see it develop?