Welcome to the Future

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Back about 7 years ago, the future was very bright. Especially in the Smartphone market. Windows Mobile 2003 was so powerful, it could do everything from play full color TV shows, movies, and sync music from your desktop… it could tell you which way to go as you drive to your destination, it could do real HTML web browsing, full wireless email, and personal information management. It could let you read eBooks and audiobooks, run flash animations, play games, install any kind of apps you want, connect to external keyboards and monitors. Heck, we could even do full duplex wireless video calling over the internet with Microsoft Portrait. All of this with a touch screen interface which supported multiple input methods like on-screen keyboards, handwriting recognition, block recognition, etc.

In 2004, even Popular Science was optimistic about the future of the Pocket PC. Check out this article in the Web Archive and then also check out our post about it also from 2004. How were our predictions? Is high-speed internet really widely available? I guess it is, but how did the pricing change? Sure we had some projected keyboards on some devices, but they didn’t work so well (as I predicted) and never caught on. Collapsible OLED screens are still unavailable and phone form-factors haven’t changed much at all.

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As a matter of fact, our touch screen smartphones are practically the same as they were 7 years ago. See HTC’s first iPhone clone for proof. At least there were a lot of companies who tried different form factors. Still practically every smartphone out there is just a hand-held touch screen with a few buttons on the bottom just like they’ve always been.

So what else has changed? Our phones have gotten a little better at doing the things they did originally. They’ve gotten a little faster, the screens have gotten more pixels, as have the cameras. They’ve gotten smaller and then they’ve gotten bigger again. We’ve got capacitive multi-touch now instead of just resistive touch, but that certainly doesn’t warrant the “revolution” that people attribute to the iPhone. Does it? Maybe it’s the more finger-friendly scrolling touch UI that was so revolutionary? Or maybe it was just the commercials that were innovative.

I was really hoping that by 2010 we would have a decent voice interaction interface for mobile phones. You know, like on every single science fiction show that has a computer? It turns out, the voice recognition and text-to-speech user interfaces of 2010 haven’t changed at all since 2003. Microsoft Voice Command still has the same features it did back then. Apple’s voice command feature has even less capabilities, and Android’s voice UI is just all over the place, still requires on-screen buttons, and doesn’t even work over Bluetooth (except for the MyTouch Slide). I personally was also hoping for some kind of intelligent integration between calendar appointments, GPS Navigation, traffic/weather information, and text-to-speech announcements… you know, something actually useful that would help me get to appointments on time. Sorry, everything still has to be managed manually today.

By 2010, we were supposed to have 250Gb of storage in our phones, RFID readers that pick up data stored on nearby objects, and GPS location integration that would detect when you’re nearing home then signal ahead to turn on the heat or AC. We were supposed to have eye-tracking for simple no-hands navigation. Instead we’ve got non-tactile flat touchscreen Qwerty keyboards that require two hands AND your eyes to use. Handwriting recognition, which could be used without looking at the screen, is all but extinct according to some companies. Sounds a little backwards to me!

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On the other hand, nobody predicted the social networking nonsense/revolution that’s so popular today. That’s progress, right?

What do you think? Is 2010 all that you thought it would be? Or are you dissapointed in the lack of innovation we’ve seen over the past few years?

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002.Read more about Adam Lein!