• I'm over new smartphone releases ... I want something new!

    I've recently become quite a fan of Google's new Google+ platform which has allowed me to follow lots of tech companies and tech website pages. But one thing I've really noticed lately is the barrage of 'new' smartphones that come flooding down the stream of posts, each one the pride and joy of the teams and companies that produced them. And I have to say I'm getting to the point where they are all starting to look the same ... to be honest I just don't care anymore. I'm now looking for the next big thing. Something that will inspire, excite, and revolutionise the way we communicate and interact with technology. Maybe it will be Google Glass, the Apple iWatch, or something else.

    There comes a point where a device or product reaches near perfection, and for me the iPhone 5 has basically hit that point. I don't wish for it to be any smaller, or bigger. The screen is already higher resolution than my eyes can focus on. The camera is great, the speed of the device is astonishing. But what all this really means is when I'm using my iPhone day-to-day, I'm never left saying: 'hurry up', or 'I wish it would do this', or 'I wish the screen was bigger'. No, I think the smartphone in general has hit a point of technical excellence and of market saturation.

    So it got me thinking over the weekend, what will the next improvement in high-tech devices be? My conclusion: that the next advance should be more focused on us humans and better integrating technology with our behaviours and more closely aligning it to the way we live.

    Smartphones are a pain in the arse. We drop them. We forget them. We accidentally leave them lying at people's houses or on shop counters. We buy expensive docks and holders for them in our cars because they don't really fit anywhere. We buy the thinnest possible phones and then put fat, idiotic covers on them or stick them in belt pouches that get caught on everything we walk past. They slip out of our pockets and off table tops. And they've turned us into a society of distracted, bent-necked screen junkies that put a higher priority to swiping our fingers around a screen than we do looking to see if we're about to run into someone walking the opposite direction ... or into oncoming traffic (yes, I've nearly hit several distracted people doing just this). And by far the worst thing about smartphones is the constant interrupting, beeping, buzzing and vibrating, which makes us stop whatever we a doing, reach into our pocket, get the phone out, swipe to unlock it, check to see what the notification was, realise it really wasn't important, switch the phone back off, put it back in your pocket. And this goes on, over and over, day in day out. I hate to think how many hours worldwide people waste checking their phones for things that really aren't that important.

    So how to solve this dilemma? I believe the future is wearable technology. Whether it's by ditching smartphones for smart watches that stay safely strapped to our arms. Or smart clothing where components are discreetly built into the sleeves and collars of business shirts or T-shirts. Or wearable 'field-of-vision' type technology like Google's new 'Glass' concept.

    With Apple getting patents for curved touchscreen glass, something similar to this very cool concept by Esben Oxholm (http://esbenoxholm.dk) might become a reality

    Smartwatches for me have a lot of promise. They stay right out of the way of what you are doing, yet they are always right there if you need them. You are less likely to loose or drop them as they are safely attached to your arm. And you can glance at them to see notifications, reducing the time needed to dismiss irrelevant information. However unlike the current breed of 'smartwatches' which rely on pairing with a host device, I see the watches of the future becoming our dedicated communication devices (replacing the smartphone altogether) complete with 4G and wifi connectivity.

    This is not without its challenges though. For one, device input via the screen for anything other than phone numbers is pretty much unworkable, so a voice recognition system would need to be implemented and perfected to get things like replying to texts and tweets working properly. This is not the best solution for places where noise is an issue, such as very quiet trains, some office spaces, or during business meetings. It would be an advantage in situations such as driving, walking around the shops, or if you had your hands full ... basically where you could touch a button or say a command, and simply speak to compose and send the message, or dial a phone number.

    Another challenge is actual phone calls. With smartphones you have the convenience of not having to have something attached to your ear all day, while the conversation still remains private due to the close proximity of the speaker to your ear. With the smartwatch, distance is an issue. You could build in a speaker, but this would mean you either have to use it as a speakerphone (which is annoying and has no privacy) or you'd have to walk up the street with your arm against your ear while listening to your watch. A bluetooth headset would solve many of these issues, but this means having another thing to charge up and to potentially loose. Plus they have always looked just a little bit dicky.

    The video below is a bit of sci-fi fantasy, however hologram technology and mini LED projectors are becoming more of a reality these days, and there's plenty of gesture and movement recognition devices already on the market today. So the expanding of a smartwatch's interface via projection or hologram isn't as far fetched as it used to be. See what you think of this concept anyway:

    The other type of technology that is starting to emerge—and scarily it could be as soon as the end of this year—is technology that you wear on your head that puts vision into your peripheral vision and pumps sound to your ears using speakers that vibrate against your skull. This stuff is über, über cool, yet you will look like an über, über knob-jockey if you try and wear one of these things.

    I'm talking about Google Glass, and as I said before these guys are looking at a late 2013 launch, with working prototypes already out in the world being tested by regular people over in the US. The cool thing about these devices is the small screen puts an image over to one side of your vision, but it's out of focus unless you choose to look at it. So essentially it's out of the way unless you want to look at it. A bit like glancing at your speedo while you are driving: just a momentary look and then you're back to concentrating on what you were doing.

    Rather than explain it in detail here, there's a video below that shows the device in action. For me though the biggest shortcomings of Google Glass are the fact that it still relies on a parent device like an Android or iPhone, however newer models could easily feature 4G built-in (though I'm not sure if that would fry your brain or not ...). There is the same issue with input that the watches have where it relies on speech input only, and people might think you are talking to yourself when you're walking down the street. But above all of this, worse than any of the short comings that the software might have at the moment, is the look of the things. On their own on a table, they look hi-tech. Once you put them on ... well, let's just say the girl in the image above is a pretty spunky looking young lady, and even she looks like a bit of a doofus wearing the 'glasses' ... so what hope do the rest of us have, really? Anyway, check out the video and see what you make of them.

    Click to view the Google Glass video from The Verge

    As always, I'm excited about what Apple is going to do over the next year or so, because let's face it, they are due for another revolutionary new product. And I have to say, I'm starting to keep a closer eye on the Google camp too, with their slow but steady progress with fantastic usability and their newly found obsession with design and aesthetics.

    Above all I'm looking forward to the day when my smart device is so smart, it will actually let me be more human again.

    Ben is marketing communications manager for Britax Automotive Equipment. He also owns and runs his own creative company called Evocative (www.evocative.cc) that does graphic design, photography and creative writing. Holding an Honours Degree in Design majoring in Corporate Identity, Ben has over ten years commercial experience—most of which was achieved using a Mac. He's also into technology, audio gear, drums, music, cars and coffee.

    Follow Ben on Twitter @BenJohnston_ or on Google+
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