The Future of Devices
By Carlo Longino, Tue Oct 15 00:00:00 GMT 2002

Developing devices for the movie Minority Report gave Nokia's chief designer a chance to realize some of his ideas of the future.


Given the mobile phone’s status as a
ubiquitous symbol of cutting-edge high technology, it’s no surprise to
see them popping up on both the small and the big screen. Who can forget
James Bond driving his BMW from the back seat using his Ericsson mobile
in Tomorrow Never Dies, or Keanu Reeves’ Nokia with the spring-loaded
slide cover in The Matrix?

Movies and TV shows also have long
provided us with ideas of the future of communications devices, reaching
all the way back to Dick Tracy’s two-way radio wristwatch and the Star
Trek communicator. Although science fiction is a genre supposedly
grounded in fact, these devices were generally flights of fancy.


But for his blockbuster Minority Report, Steven Spielberg was
interested in developing as realistic a take on the future as possible,
convening a group of leading thinkers and prognosticators in science and
medicine, technology, transportation, and the environment to hone the
vision set out by Philip K. Dick in the short story upon which the movie
was based. He and his team looked to the expertise of Nokia’s vice
president chief designer, Frank Nuovo, for guidance on the future of
communications. Nuovo gave a presentation on his vision of the future,
then also contributed device designs for the film.

Although his
handset of the future was seen only briefly in the film, his
contributions clearly had an influence on the film and reveal some keen
insights into what we can expect from the devices of the future.


Making the Report

Nuovo
got involved in Minority Report after the film’s creative team had begun
sketching out the world of Detective John Anderton, played by Tom
Cruise. The team was interested in Nuovo’s views on the future,
specifically on communications and mobile devices. His vision, which
paralleled much of the team’s thought, was that the future will be more
similar to the present than most people think, with current
functionalities, traditional values and modes of communication remaining
the same.

His first input was that people will still use
external, rather than implanted, devices to communicate: “People are
generally not happy with an invasion of the body – it’s a little
creepy,” he says. But fashion will continue to evolve, and people will
still put value in objects and artifacts, and devices will reflect that.
“In the future, you’ll still have artifacts like fine watches, very much
like you have today, but the technology will be surrounded by beautiful
objects, objects which are quite elegant.”

This thinking led
Nuovo to develop a pocket watch-style device for Max von Sydow’s
character in the film, although left out of the final theatrical
version. Nuovo says it was explained to him that Spielberg couldn’t
accommodate showing the device and getting the necessary character
facial reactions to the conversation in a shot, something he chalks up
to Spielberg’s artistic license – “He’s making a movie, not a phone
commercial” – though he also says he’d be “honored” should a deleted
scene featuring the device make its way onto the DVD
release.

The pocket watch device was replaced by a small
earpiece-type phone, something the film’s team came up with, although it
reflected ideas Nuovo presented. One topic he discussed was “multiparts”
– the idea that devices will be made up of separate elements not
necessarily connected by a wire – and he presented the film team with a
number of earpieces along these lines. “Devices that talk to each other
freely, but without wires,” will be essential, he says. He cites
displays as an area in which this will factor; for instance, a device
could use sunglasses with screens as lenses to project high-resolution
images and make them appear bigger than on a tiny screen.

Nuovo
feels strongly that the past will hold quite an influence on the devices
of the future, another reasoning in developing the pocket watch concept.
Communications devices will maintain voice capability, their core
functionality – “That’s still the most human, effortless way to
communicate,” he says – while new functionalities and technologies will
be added.

He cites Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element as one of his
favorite visual movies, and as an example of this type of thinking.
Commonplace designs – a New York taxicab, a Chinese junk boat, and a
steamer ship – were taken and retrofitted with futuristic
functionalities.

He also points to cars: the basic functionality
of an automobile hasn’t changed much since Henry Ford’s first efforts.
But technology has changed to improve that functionality. Although the
mobile phone in its current pocket form is only about 10 years old,
Nuovo saw that form factor extending 50 years into the
future.

“My projection is that you’ll have more capability,
unbelievable talk time, incredible clarity, you’ll have video,
tremendous audio, you’ll have all these capabilities,” he says. “You may
even have holographic projection, but it will be in a small package
that’s very elegant and beautiful.”

Nuovo is also a founder and
creative director of Vertu, the Nokia off-shoot that develops
ultra-high-end phones using exotic materials. The phones reflect Nuovo’s
vision that devices will remain similar to the devices of today, taking
their basic functionality, but starting from scratch in terms of
material and design.

Form and Function


Some trends emerging today will develop greater importance as
time wears on, Nuovo says. Entertainment content and Web access will
proliferate, dictating a multimedia interface, a feature built in to the
pocket watch concept. It featured two screens, one on each half of the
clamshell. A keypad, for instance, could appear on the lower screen,
reflecting a more traditional design. But it could also be freed to
display content as warranted.

Just as content will proliferate,
so will ways to capture and organize it. “You often find content or
media you want in your life when you’re not in a mode where you’re
actually ready to consume it,” he says.

Nuovo envisions a
consumer walking through a mall and hearing a song they like, then being
able to capture that content and come back to it thanks to an inaudible
“context” broadcast in the song, so that a mobile device could identify
and save it. Some of this technology is already emerging, such as in a
Tivo digital video recorder or Shazam’s song-identification service.


Another important aspect of devices of the future will be
commonality. This holds a great deal of importance for not only content
sharing, but also to enable the degree of personalization and
individualization Nuovo foresees.

Devices will be
fashion-oriented, and there will be all kinds of form factors tailored
to personalities and functionality. “It’s all about the individual,” he
says. A police officer will carry a device tailored to his needs, a
fashion-forward teen will carry a device to reflect her desires. But
Nuovo sees personalization going beyond custom covers or ring tones – he
sees people choosing devices as readily as they choose their clothes.


“Anything goes, as far as form factors,” he says. “Depending on
how you feel that day, just like you select a pair of shoes, you’ll
choose a form factor for your communication device.”


Sooner Than You Think

Nuovo is the
consummate futurist – after all, his job is to take these projections
and turn them into real products, to make the future happen. “Every day,
I wake up and see something new or think of something different that
stimulates a shorter-term idea,” he says.

Fortunately for the
producers of Minority Report, he says he’s “fascinated” by the creation
of movies and was interested to share his views of the future with
people thinking along the same lines. But he feels we may not have to
wait until 2054 to see some of these advances.

“We’re getting
closer and closer to that reality,” he says. “I don’t think it’s 50
years off, it’s much, much closer than that.”