PORTLAND, Ore.In 2004, Nokia Corp. created a concept design for a smart phone dominated by a touch screen which looks today uncannily like Apple Inc.'s iPhone.
In 2008, Nokia (Helsinki, Finland) repeated the exercise, presenting a concept design of the "morph" mobile phone of 2012. If the predictions ring as true as they did in 2004, then the future of mobile phones will involve transparency, transformability and compliancy.
In drawings and animations, Tapani Ryhanen, director and head of Nokia's Research Center Laboratory (Cambridge England) presented his newest mobile phone concept designdubbed "morph"last week at the MEMS Executive Congress, hosted by the MEMS Industry Group (MIG). Radio-frequency MEMS, silicon microphones, accelerometers, microbolometers, microfluidics and other embedded MEMS devices will converge to allow mobile phones to sense not only their environment but also the health and temperament of the people in its vicinity.
"We are focusing on nano-sciences that will transform the user's experience, in research collaborations with the University of Cambridge and the Helsinki University of Technology," said Ryhanen.
Ryhanen showed how transparency will turn a mobile phone's entire case into a display, allowing different dashboards to be buried at different depths in the case. Users will view various menus, readouts and touchpads on these integrated displays from any orientationeven through its backside. Current research at Nokia and its collaborators is realizing this dream by expanding the reach of transparent zinc-oxide wiring with tough carbon-nanotube-based electronics embedded into polymer composites that bestow designer mechanical and electrical characteristics.
Transformability, according to Ryhanen's morph concept design, will allow users to snap apart their mobile smart phone, and reassemble it, with optional modules, to adapt its functionality for different applicationslike turning it into a GPS-enabled dead-reckoning belt clip for hiking, then reassembling it into WiMax-enabled location-sensitive vest-pocket shape when going to work.
Ryhanen also claimed Nokia was researching methods of making mobile phones, conformablethat is, allowing users to bend their electronics devices into different configurations, such into an arm band, by using stretchable and flexible cases with integrated displays. To realize transformability, Nokia Research is currently experimenting with printing electronics onto soft polymer substrates using inexpensive reel-to-reel presses. Use of flexible, printable, transparent materials with integrated electronics and displays will allow the user to morph their mobile phone into personalized configurations, according to Ryhanen.
The mobile phone will also acquire a new array of sensors integrated into the structural mechanics of the case/display, including chemical and bioassay sensors operating at terahertz frequencies that can penetrate the skin to anticipate a user's physical and emotional state. Human-computer interfaces with the device will be based on multi-modal interactions including pointing, looking, touching, shaking and natural verbal dialogues, according to Ryhanen.
The modular concept design also anticipates the availability of alternative power sources for future mobile phones, including more flexible batteries with higher-power density and ultra-fast recharging, to alternative energy chemistries including photovoltaic and fuel cells.