Expert view

Ian Campbell

Ian Campbell is Chief Operating Officer of Airtel-Vodafone in the Channel Islands. With a background in electronic engineering and systems integration, he has given a number of presentations about the future of technology and social media.

www.airtel-vodafone.com

Our digital future 

What will the must-have gadgets of 2022 look like? Ian Campbell of Airtel-Vodafone peers into tomorrow’s world.

It’s hard to visualise how the digital world will look by the end of the decade but one thing is certain: the rate of technological change will increase and, along with it, the social, economic and political landscape will be transformed. For developing economies, such as Africa and India, technological advances will be a life-changer; in the West, more of a game-changer.

The technologies that have been shaping our lives for 10 years are just the dawning of an Information Age that emerges ever faster before our eyes. Get set for so much more than flashier phones and second generation iPads – in the future, mobile technology will be central to the way we live our lives.

How we read and access data will change beyond all recognition, so stand by for the demise of the PC as we know it and look out for the launch of foldable e-newspapers, phone ‘PCs’, flexible tablets with foldable screens and the introduction of smart glass.

We can also expect to input and interpret data in new ways. We’ve already got games consoles that use gesture-sensing, smartphones that we can command by voice and augmented reality apps (where a real-world environment is augmented by computer-generated sensory input, such as sound or video). In the future, these kind of features will become an intrinsic part of smart devices.

In my view, there are six key ingredients driving this revolution as we head towards 2022 and beyond:

 

1. Faster , smaller and lower-powered microprocessors:

For example, new Graphene based microprocessors currently under development will use very little power, are structurally flexible, nano-sized and much faster than today’s slow, power-hungry chips. We’ll even be able to build them into flexible fabric.

 

2. Screen technology:

Smart glass will mean you can view data on domestic windows, car windows and large glass screens at the office or at home. The smart glass will interact with your mobile smart device, enabling you to see email, videos and presentations in high-resolution and colour. Seeing is believing, as this video from Corning shows.

 

3. Storage:

In the short term, silicon storage capacity will increase two to three-fold within the next five years. In the longer term, storage will certainly become almost unlimited for the average user thanks to technologies such as Graphene that allow huge amounts of video content to be stored on a flexible, bus ticket-sized chip, for example.

 

4. Communication speed:

Fixed and mobile data highways will become global super-fast highways. The advent of 4G and WiMax and the ever-improving developments around wireless and fixed-line speeds will ensure all connections are super-fast within the next five years. While 4G coverage is limited by certain factors, soon you won’t even think about how you are connected to the Web!

 

5. Power:

Mobile devices are limited today by battery life and size. In the future, with Graphene chips and ultra low-power screens, mobile devices will require a much smaller power source. In addition, solar (sun), kinetic (movement) and infrared (heat) power options will be available which, in theory, should mean no external mains power required.

 

6. Users:

The human race is demanding flexible, high-speed access to content, friends, products, services, videos, music and games.

 

The concepts are already here; delivery is just a matter of logistics. Of course, we need to bear in mind that these changes may take some time to reach the mass market but with multiple companies already joining forces to make these ideas a reality, it’s not a case of if, but when. So what can we expect to see first? One trial product currently in development is an e-paper device that feels similar to a piece of laminated plastic. Suitable for downloading data – including newspapers on-the-go – it will be durable enough to last for years… or at least until the next big idea comes along. Expect e-papers to retail around $1 to $5 by 2016.

Other developers are using nano-technology to create a material that’s flexible enough to fold. Ultra-thin wires, hundreds of times thinner than a strand of human hair, are embedded into the material to make it pliable. The result: mobile devices that can be folded up and carried in your pocket.

These are two routes towards the same outcome: portable, flexible devices.

Machine-to-machine communication will also become part of everyday life before the decade is out. Some hire car companies in the UK are already using chips that let cars communicate their location back to head office and, in the future, the cost of insurance policies is likely to be linked to the way we drive – a mobile device in our car could be used to determine whether we exceed the speed limit, with the data fed back to the insurer in real time.

 

The technologies that have been shaping our lives for 10 years are just the dawning of an Information Age that emerges ever faster before our eyes.”

 

Near field communication (NFC) – where smartphones and other devices establish radio communication with each other if they are in close proximity or touching – will also become commonplace as early as Christmas 2013. This will see mobile phones, for example, increasingly being used as payment devices in retail stores. Earlier this year, Vodafone unveiled its ‘mobile wallet’, which will enable shoppers to simply wave or tap their smartphone instead of handing over cash or a card.

Social networking and location-based services are poised to be huge as more and more mobile users opt in to be able to see where friends, family and contacts are at any time. And advertisers are spotting the trend, as well as its potential as a selling tool.

As part of their loyalty schemes, some UK retailers are already using the technology to reach out to customers, via their phones, when they pass within a certain distance of a given store. According to profile information held by the retailer, shoppers can then be targeted with certain offers or products that will be of interest.

My final prediction for the digital world this decade is that we will see a conscious shift towards greater security and privacy controls, requiring legislation and co-operation on a worldwide scale.

The great challenge we face is that the internet has no geographical or government boundaries. In normal life, most people have the ability to prove their authenticity. But the online world doesn’t work this way. At some point, this will have to change and we will all need to have the same accountability in our digital lives as we have in everyday life.

We will also see governments increasingly working together to ensure this accountability. Of course, difficulties will arise  when there is conflict between leaders who are not like-minded, especially on issues such as freedom of information. But the need for global responsibility to protect against fraud and terrorism will drive the approach forward. Digital agendas and laws will emerge to tackle these issues. And they have the weight of progress behind them.