November 2015

Smartphones: Where Next?

This is a glimpse at where smartphones may take us and the new experiences they might allow.

Smartphones: Isn’t it amazing how quickly they entered our lives? Or how little time it took for them to become an essential part of how we live? From messaging and browsing on-the-go, to photography and instagramming every sunset, selfie and meal, the smartphone has become what we expect everyone to have.

But this wasn’t always the case.

There was a time when texting was the lastest fashion. There was a time when you had to be sure that your friend had a mobile phone before sending a text. The Internet too had an infancy: squealing modems and pay-per-minute connections were commonplace for a while, and for a decent connection you had to go to a university. Technology marched on and brought us to where we are today with the smartphone which combines the two. And technology will march on again.

The smartphone will expand from being a handheld connection to the Internet to a digital passport of its user

To explore where it may move onto from this smartphone world we’re now used to, I’ve taken a few trends in both technology and how we use it and projected to what I believe will be some of the new uses. I’ve created four scenarios to paint a picture of how I think the smartphone will expand from being a handheld connection to the Internet to a digital passport of its user. Sometimes it will be the driving power behind the experience, otherwise simply the guardian who securely verifies you in these new experiences.

In the home

Tom is around his friend’s flat and they’re talking about an upcoming holiday. He’s has been looking at hotels and things they can do and has saved some links.

“Can I use your TV?” asks Tom, “Sure”.

Tom walks over to it and taps his phone on the edge. The phone asks for a fingerprint to make sure he’s happy to connect and the TV displays Tom’s familiar workspace with his saved links, notes and ideas.

Home TV

They discuss the holiday and look at all the potential ideas, before quickly deciding on a hotel and some activities they’re desperate to try. Tom controls the browsing using a combination of voice and his phone like a laser pointer but as they want to book the hotel, he picks up a wireless keyboard and starts to enter details. When they’ve finished, Tom closes the connection on his phone and the TV turns off.

As Tom is often at his friend’s flat the phone recognises the location as safe to give full access to Tom’s data. The TV is also simply a screen with a linked keyboard. In this scenario it’s Tom’s phone that powers the experience, being the computer to the TV. When Tom disconnects, he takes the computer with him in his hand along with all his links and notes.

In a library

Soraya walks into the library and sits down at one of the study desks. It’s a touch screen which is as large as a desk and at a slight angle. She takes her phone, taps it on the edge of the screen and after providing an authenticated retinal scan using her phone, her familiar workspace appears on the screen.

As it’s a public location the phone knows to not show any personal information or data such as photos.

Soraya selects an option on screen to open a project and a range of different files and data sources appear. She takes a pen out of her bag and begins to work, as the workspace automatically changes her status to busy allowing only certain friends to contact.

A library workspace

Because the experience is driven by her phone, the workspace is simply an extension of that. It has all files, data and preferences and provides an inherently personal, portable experience.

Once finished, she taps a button on the screen and puts the pen and phone in her bag. Soraya’s data disappears from the screen and the workspace returns to an empty screen waiting for the next user.

Again in this scenario, the smartphone is the computer powering the experience. The important thing to note here is the awareness of location, and that being a public place, the phone knows to not show any personal details on screen, such as names, telephone numbers or the photos she took last night whilst drinking with friends. All that information stays safely on her phone.

In a restaurant

After having a drink at the bar, a group of friends are taken to their table. As they sit down, one by one they take out their phone and tap it on the table in front of where each is sat, authenticating with a fingerprint as they do.

The table registers each diner and displays their name and photograph in front of them, along with any food allergies each has.

A menu appears in front of each diner and they select what they’d like, flicking a sweet potato fries into the middle of the table which they intend to share. One of the diners is vegetarian so his menu only shows the options without meat. Once the order is taken the menus disappear off the table and drinks are served.

Ordering in a restaurant

The diners enjoy the meal and when the point comes to pay the diners tap an option on the table to settle the bill. In front of each diner, a small list of what each ordered along with the total cost and the option to add a tip. The diners each select the tip they want and confirm the payment. The phone requests a thumbprint to authenticate the payment and the bill is paid.

Here we see the phone simply being used to authenticate the owner, and to send relevant preferences to the table. The table only needs a bare minimum of data to identify the user such as a small image and first name. The payment processing takes place on the phone just like any online purchase.

Out on the street

Becky and Steve are visiting a city and have a few places they want to see along with some restaurants to try. They’re looking at options on their smartphones when they notice a large information panel on the street. Steve walks up to the panel and taps his phone on the side. The phone authenticates with a retinal scan and the places and restaurants appear on the large panel. As the panel is in a very public place, the phone knows to be very restrictive about the information it shares and the way its displayed (no displaying personal addresses or locations for example).

Using a street panel

Using the panel they look at the places on a map to see which direction they should be heading in. Steve changes to bars and restaurants and the panel displays Steve’s list along with information about popularity and busy times so he can see when would be best to go. On the phone in his hand, the list of places also has the option to book a table. This option to book a table is purposefully not available on the panel so that nearby people can’t see where Steve might be later that day.

Once done, they walk away from the panel which immediately realises that its user has walked off, removes all personal data, and returns to displaying advertisements.

The awareness of location is the most important factor here. Other people may see the data on screen and so user has to feel secure that the panel won’t display any personal or identifying information. The phone here simply authenticates and provides basic location information about the restaurants and places they want to visit. The phone works together with the panel to show the private elements away from curious passers-by.

These scenarios only show a few ideas and no doubt there’ll many others which will come, but the aim is to encourage imagination and discussion rather than make any winning bets.


The following trends were considered for these scenarios:

  1. Increasing proliferation of screens
  2. Desire for personalised experiences
  3. Increasing power of phone technology
  4. Increasing local connectivity: NFC, Wifi Direct, Bluetooth