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The future of mobile phones: A remote control for you life

In the near future, your mobile phone will be so powerful it'll guide you through your whole life, says William Webb

It is 2025. Your mobile is now much more than just a communication device - more like a remote control for your life. You still call it a "mobile" from habit, but it is an organiser, entertainment device, payment device and security centre, all developed and manufactured by engineers.

On a typical day it will start work even before you wake. Because it knows your travel schedule it can check for problems on the roads or with the trains and adjust the time it wakes you up accordingly, giving you the best route into work. It can control your home, re-programming the central heating if you need to get up earlier and providing remote alerts if the home security system is triggered. It is your payment system - just by placing the phone near a sensor on a barrier, like the Oyster card readers in use on London transport, you can pay for tickets for journeys or buy items in shops. With an understanding of location, the mobile can also provide directions, or even alert the user to friends or family in the vicinity.

It is your entertainment centre when away from home. As well as holding all your music files, as some phones today are able to do, it will work with your home entertainment system while you sleep to find programmes that will interest you and download them as a podcast to watch on the train or in other spare moments. It will intelligently work out what to do with incoming phone calls and messages. Because it knows your diary it will also know, for example, to direct voice calls to voicemail when you are in a meeting, perhaps providing a discrete text summary of the caller and the nature of their call.

With its understanding of almost all aspects of your life, many new services become possible. For example, a "Good Food" meal planning service could send daily suggestions for your evening meal based on learned preferences, previous selections made and the likely contents of your refrigerator. The latter might work by uploading the bill from the weekly grocery shop and then removing those items it deduces have been used for meals earlier in the week.

Leaving home without your mobile, bad enough already, will become rather like leaving home without your wallet, keys, music player and mobile all at once - quite unthinkable. And in the nicest, most helpful ways, your mobile will guide you through life.

So what will this apparently massive change in our relationships with our mobiles require in the way of new technology or extra expenditure? Actually, surprisingly little. Now that we have widespread cellular coverage, with high-speed data networks in many homes, offices and points of congregation such as coffee shops, we have all we need to get signal to the mobile.

What we do need is better mobiles and more intelligence. Mobiles will continue to get steadily better, with higher resolution touch-screens, speech recognition that really works and much greater memory and storage capabilities. Increasingly intelligent software will be running on these mobiles, and also on home and wide-area networks, able to learn behaviour, predict needs and integrate with a growing number of databases, such as transport updates from major providers. So, instead of the train company just sending you a text to tell you of delays, your mobile will analyse it in conjunction with your travel plans and modify those plans if needs be.

This evolution will be a slow but steady one as every few years mobiles get slightly better, intelligent software evolves and the various providers of all the necessary input data - such as transport organisations and shops - gradually make the data available in formats that become increasingly useful.

Ten years ago the mobile was purely a device for making voice calls. Now it is a camera, MP3 player, organiser and texting device. This is only the start of an evolution that will turn it into our trusted and indispensable companion in life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

William Webb joined Ofcom (the UK's regulator for the communications industry) as head of research and development and senior technologist in 2003. At Ofcom he manages a team providing technical advice and performing research across all areas of Ofcom's regulatory remit. Previously, Webb worked for a range of communications consultancies in the UK in the fields of hardware design, computer simulation, propagation modeling and strategy development. Webb also spent three years providing strategic management across Motorola's entire communications portfolio, based in Chicago. Webb has published 10 books, 60 papers, and four patents. He can be contacted at william.webb@ofcom.org.uk

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