The phone of the future

David Flynn reports from Barcelona’s annual phonefest on the features and technology shaping your next mobile phone.

In the same way that world’s major motor shows provide a glimpse at the cars of the future, Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress is all about the shape of phones to come.

But these are no flights of fancy, no far-fetched concept phones. The mobile phones we’re seeing at Barcelona will all hit the Aussie market sometime this year.

April marks the debut of HTC’s sleek Desire smartphone, one of the many new models powered by Google’s Android operating system. In December Microsoft will release the first smartphones running its all-new Windows Phone 7 software.

These phones and the many others on show at Barcelona provide clear pointers to the new wave of mobiles. Here are five defining traits of your next phone.

1. It will be a smartphone

Mobiles which do little more than talk and text are on the way out. Smartphones that can access your email, surf the Web, play music and videos and, of course, run additional software or ‘apps’ are on the rise. Nokia and Samsung both speak about “democratisation of the smartphone” – providing low-cost smartphones for the masses rather than the geek elite – and HTC predicts that one in every two mobiles sold by 2013 will be a smartphone.

2. Touchscreens replace keyboards

Apple’s iPhone started the touchscreen revolution, and now almost every smartphone has ditched the keyboard for a large lush finger-friendly screen. Even phones that retain a slide-out QWERTY keypad for email fans partner this with a touch-sensitive screen.

Those screens are getting brighter, too, thanks to advanced “AMOLED” technology, which is brighter and more vivid than regular displays.

3. Smart home screens

The main screen of your next mobile – the screen that you see when you switch the phone on or when it wakes from standby – will no longer contain a photo or wallpaper image with a smattering of icons.

Instead, smart “home” screens will provide a wealth of information at a glance – such as weather forecasts, your daily calendar, a peek at your inbox and updates from Facebook and Twitter. These widgets, tiles or panels will be constantly updated over the 3G network.

The phone of the future - Windows 7 Phone series
Home screens will be more dynamic, displaying constantly updated information from selected widgets, your email inbox and calendar.

4. Social networking

The essential role of a mobile phone is to contact people. Social networking Web services such as Facebook and Twitter are all about keeping in touch with people. So it was only a matter of time before these “people-centric” activities merged. The latest phones from the likes of HTC, Samsung, Nokia and Motorola display Facebook and Twitter updates for each person in your address book directly on their contact card, with a live feed for favourite people appearing on the phone’s home screen.

The phone of the future - HTC's Android
HTC’s Legend integrates social networking with your address book, providing live feeds from a contact’s Twitter or Facebook pages.

5. App stores a go-go

As clever as your next phone is, additional software in the form of “apps” will let you add new capabilities and personalise the phone to suit your exact needs for work, fun or travel. Samsung and Intel are the latest companies to announce their own online app store for downloading add-on programs to your phone; they join a roster including the iPhone, Nokia, Windows Mobile and the BlackBerry.