The Future of the Mobile Phone Interface

Will the EyePhone be the next evolutionary step?

By , Columnist

I bought my first cell phone 15 years ago. It was slightly smaller than carry-on luggage and it made phone calls. A few years later, I was excited by the option of messaging and a screen with color. Today, I use my phone for sending emails, taking amusing photos of the People of Walmart, setting calendar reminders for important dates, as an alarm and music collection, and to pass the time catapulting colorful birds at sheltered swine.

These elements, once only available in the physical world, have now become digitized into one compact device. The future of mobile phones will create an even greater blur between our physical and digital worlds.

At the recent eComm 2011 conference held in San Francisco, independent researcher Szymon Slupik foretold a future of mobile phones that will take the form of wearable Internet eyeglasses. Slupik described Internet glasses as a way to overcome the fundamental inconveniences of modern "4-inch displays" which actually render phones difficult to use for consuming information at a high rate.

"The phone of tomorrow will be telecoupling us and machines,” Slupik said.

Slupik intends for this hands-free device, which networks the senses and the brain wirelessly, to be  available as a replacement for today’s mobile phone within the decade. While the technology is already available, the trick to creating a physical connection lies within two emerging technologies.

1. Laser-based displays. The technology is something akin to wearing a tiny projector, and instead of transmitting the image on a screen or a wall, like painful family slide shows, the image is thrown directly onto our retinas without blocking sight.

2. Brain wave sensing facilitated by eye tracking. Eye-tracking glasses are currently used in scientific and marketing research and researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are working towards linking brain signals with digital devices. Patients suffering from intractable epilepsy had sections of their skulls removed and electrodes attached to their brains. The patients then managed to move a cursor on a screen by thinking of or enunciating different letters or symbols.

Dr. Steven Mann pioneered the idea of wearable computing, believing that humans should not contort to computers, but that computers should contort to humans. Mann envisioned a future in which hardware could be downloaded as easily as software.

Mann’s ideas of computers conforming to human needs have been realized in recent years with clunky, brick-sized mobile devices turning into thin, touch screen smart phones. Companies like Lumus have been taking the next evolutionary step with video glasses and wearable displays used by aviation, military, and medical industries. Even more recently, German PhD student Sean Gustafson created an “invisible phone” that works by pressing invisible buttons on your palm.

With the continual evolution to a device that once just made calls, we will begin to see greater digitization of our physical world. And hopefully one day, the option to catapult Angry Birds with our minds.

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Holly is a freelance writer and copy editor with a background in journalism and publishing. Like a grandmother's purse, she is about three decades old, worn around the edges and mostly full of crap.

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