Imagine having internet access anywhere, every minute of every day. Or being able to pull up any document or presentation, and get directions to the local coffee shop--all without a computer.
With today's smartphones, all these things are possible. A recent study from In-Stat found that 8 percent of regular business travelers have ditched their land lines and rely solely on their mobile phones. And while some people do consider mobile phones little computers, the current phones are only glimpses of their true potential.
For starters, mobile phones offer huge advertising potential. "As larger screens become more common, we're going to see new opportunities in mobile marketing," says Michael Gartenberg, analyst at Jupitermedia Corp.
According to the Mobile Advertising Report from Nielsen Mobile, 58 million U.S. mobile users said they were exposed to advertising over a 30-day period. Between the second and fourth quarter of 2007, mobile users exposed to ads jumped 38 percent.
Networking via smartphone is also bringing people together. Established networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Friendster are joining the mobile social network. Other startups like Dodgeball, which is now owned by Google, Loopt and Socialight use location-based software, which takes advantage of mobile phones' ubiquity.
"Much of mobile today is replicating the functionality in some stripped-down format of what people have on the desktop," Gartenberg says. He predicts that mobile phone applications will soon rely less on desktop replications and be optimized for their unique form.
Since they're small enough to fit in your hand, mobile phones also offer unique software opportunities. GestureTek Mobile was recently awarded the GSM Association's Mobile Innovation Global Award for its EyeMobile Engine, which uses the phone's camera to create a gesture-based interface. Users shake, rock or move the device to do things like answer calls or flip through pictures, similar to playing the Nintendo Wii.
KnfbReading Technologies allows users to capture text items with the phone's camera and have the text read aloud. This technology was developed to help the visually impaired. Imagine being on a business trip ready to make yourself a cup of coffee in your hotel room, except that you can't read whether the package says decaffeinated or caffeinated. Problem solved.
PC Mobilizr from Rove Mobile allows users to connect to their home or work PC remotely and use their mobile screen to navigate, access and modify any file they want from their phone.
If you've ever punched in an address on a tiny mobile keyboard you know it can be cumbersome. Ask.com Mobile launched a new service at the beginning of this year that allows users to receive directions on their mobile device simply by speaking their start and end points.
Despite these amazing innovations, the iPhone or Google's upcoming mobile platform Android lead us further into the future of mobile phones.
The Future According to Giants
Big-name companies have picked up the trend of mobile smartphones. In less than a year, the iPhone garnered a 28 percent smartphone market share, according to Apple CEO Steve Jobs. That puts the iPhone behind Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry (41 percent), and ahead of Palm (9 percent).
"If we were having a conversation a little over a year ago, we wouldn't be talking about Google or Apple because neither one of them were in the mobile market," says Gartenberg. "Today, these are the companies that dominate the conversation. There's no doubt in my mind that 2008 is going to become a very pivotal year. The rate of growth and acceleration, if anything, is getting faster and not slowing down."
In the first week of March, Apple announced it was adding enterprise features to the iPhone, like compatibility with Microsoft Exchange and remote wiping of the device. It also announced it was opening the iPhone platform for outside software developers to create original phone applications.
In response, VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers announced a $100 million fund, appropriately called the iFund, to encourage entrepreneurs to build new software for the iPhone.
While information on Google's Android is still pending, and the phone is set to release later this year, Gartenberg says the mere fact that it is a Google product gives it immediate legitimacy in the market.
One thing we do know is that touchscreen, motion- and location-based technologies, synchronization with the web, widgets and more are the immediate future of mobile devices. However, these phones still have a way to go.
"You look at the core experience of the phone, which is to make voice phone calls and there hasn't been a whole lot of improvement in that experience," Gartenberg says.
A Different Spectrum
That said, the FCC has begun the process of auctioning off a spectrum of airwaves that has companies such as Google, AT&T and Verizon all vying for the waves that can send signals farther, with less power, over wider territories and with the capability of penetrating dense walls. Gartenberg believes a lot of focus will be on improving the phone experience and says this spectrum will be a major catalyst for tomorrow's smartphone innovations.
While you wait, it's nice to know that the innovations are coming fast and furious.