No doubt you have noticed that mobile phones are changing. Ten years ago, the "mobile" weighed more than a science textbook, and looked as cool as a house brick. Modern phones are small, colourful and much smarter.

But according to our insider in the phone business, "We ain't seen nothing yet!" The mobiles of the future will be even smaller and have more features than ever before!

For starters, says Ryan Payne, an engineer at Vodaphone, stand by for the tooth phone. Right now it's a prototype but, if things work out, in future you will be able to have your phone fitted against your tooth. The tooth phone is the size of a fingernail and it doesn't have an external speaker. This phone transmits sound vibrations through the bones of your head to your ears and receives vibrations as you speak. Great for intimate, personal conversations (as you can whisper if you don't want to be overheard). Another application could be to enable you to listen to music through the Internet without needing headphones. Right now it's still a prototype but it could soon be coming to a store near you.

Not keen on the idea of unnecessary dental work? Well don't worry, there are plenty more phones to choose from.

Give me a squeeze!

Next candidate for your dollar is the "squeezy" phone. This phone carries not only your conversation, but also your secret hand signals. Five small sensors sit under a latex skin in places that correspond to each of your fingers. If you squeeze your phone, and your mate also has a squeezy phone, he or she will experience a tingling sensation under the equivalent fingers. The tingling is produced by small components that vibrate.

When students were given prototypes of this phone to test, they were squeezing secret messages to each other within minutes. (Three squeezes means I love you?)

Not ultrasonic but polysonic baby

What's next, you cry? Well, if you're musically minded, you'll love this one - the polyphonic phone!

The polyphonic phone has been invented for those who are tired of the monotone beeps that a mobile phone produces when it rings.

Current phones can only produce one beep at a time, hence they produce those hideously mechanical renditions of classical and popular tunes. The next generation of phones will be able to produce between 16 and 40 tones at a time. The sounds possible range from drum beats to symbols (hold onto your hats!) and anything will be possible.

Sound with pictures

That we'll soon be able to send and receive video and emails by phone almost goes without saying. In the very near future, some phones will have a small digital camera fitted at the front so that you can take a photograph of what you're looking at and send it to a friend's phone or email address

So that you can see the pictures that are sent to you, picture-phones will have screens that are capable of showing up to 65,000 colours. When viewed on a computer screen, these pictures will have 16 million colours!

Pick an idea

Have you read something you like the sound of yet? If not, don't worry there'll be more, lots more. As you read this, the engineers and product-marketing people in countless Research and Development laboratories in companies around the world are brainstorming ideas and turning them into prototypes.

Sometimes a new idea comes after surveying phone users to see what they want. For example, if 200-500 people say in a survey that they'd like a more colourful phone, then rest assured work on a more colourful phone will begin moments later (if it hasn't already begun) ...

Other new ideas come from the minds of researchers and technicians, eg "Has anyone yet thought of a phone that doubles as a house key ... ?"

Not every bright idea makes it into production. For an idea to be selected for development, it has to be something that will enable a phone company to sell more phones. This essentially means the new phone will need to save consumers time or money, or give them something they need.

Different consumers have different needs. To help them target the needs of each type of person, the research team divide potential purchasers into age groups. These are:

  • Teenagers
  • Twenty to thirty year olds
  • Thirty to fifty year olds
  • Fifty plus.

The researchers already have a good idea of the likes and dislikes of each group. Teenagers want phones with lots of features, and they tend to not need to read user-manuals - so why bother including one: "Isn't it easier to download one from the Net?" Older people want reliability and expect to get a detailed instruction manual with their purchase. Also, older users don't send text messages all that much, so essentially they want a good "voice phone".

If the idea looks like a money-maker, a design is drawn up and then typically fewer than 1000 prototype handsets are produced. These are given to potential users to test. As a result of the feedback provided, the design may be accepted, modified, or thrown in the bin.

The paper phone

The paper phone is an example of an idea that has made it through the Research and Development process and has now been patented. It's a disposable phone for people who don't want to spend a heap of cash on fancy technology. The paper phone costs around $60 and is made of (you guessed it) paper. Once you've used up the credits that come with the phone, you throw it away, and go and buy another. The good news is that this disposable phone won't hurt the environment because it's made up of recycled paper products.

Keyboard skills

Still on the drawing board is a phone that can project a keyboard onto your desk. The idea is that as you type on the "virtual keyboard" the phone detects your finger movements and in this way you can send faster and fancier text messages. (And potentially use the phone to browse the Internet, pick through your online music collection, and much more!)

If the price is affordable and the technology is reliable, you could be seeing this feature on a phone near you soon!

Challenge yourself

And that's just about it for this article. If you're a serious mobile user, you should read our other article about health and mobiles and the possible damage that using a mobile for long periods might do to your brain.

Writer: Berry Billingsley

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Written and project managed by Berry Billingsley for the Department of Education