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Phone Boost

Futuristic features will make tomorrow's mobile phones smarter.

The mobile phone of the future knows when it's in a briefcase, it knows to turn on automatically when you pick it up, and it even knows by your fingerprints that you are its owner. While this future phone won't be available in your local store tomorrow, it's getting closer and closer. What's the secret to these sci-fi-worthy features? Tiny sensors that detect everything from temperature to light levels.

Microsoft, for example, is researching and working on instilling sensing abilities in mobile devices so they react when held in certain ways. Possibilities include the device changing screen orientation depending on the way it's held, scrolling when tilted, or recognizing whether it's dark or light out.

With mobile phones becoming receptacles for personal and business data, security becomes an even more important issue. Fujitsu, for one, has made a biometric fingerprint reader available specifically for mobile devices. Working these features into cellphones could result in interactions that are more natural and intuitive.

Someone somewhere is considering just about any James Bond or Star Trek communications concept you've ever seen. Granted, some of the ideas being bandied about may never see the light of mass production. Batteries will have to get smaller and more powerful to keep the juice flowing to all these new features. But a few years ago, it would have been hard to predict that most new phones would have built-in cameras today. That means the phone of tomorrow could be coming sooner than you think.

This story appears in the June 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »