March 24, 2014

Mobile Tech, Reimagined: Could These Crazy Concepts be the Future of Phones?

Mobile Outfitters

You might’ve heard the old adage, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” So, in a world where every phone is more or less a skinny square you shove in your pocket, a phone is a phone is a phone… right?

Not quite. We’ve come a long way since the first cell phone, a nine-inch long contraption that held over 30 circuit boards and just celebrated its 40th anniversary last April. But in the words of Bachman-Turner Overdrive — a band of nearly the same age — “baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet”. (Cue headbang.)

Mobile technology not only continues to improve, but its design has stretched boundaries we previously weren’t able to comprehend. And, to no surprise, the innovations just keep on coming. Designers and developers worldwide are dreaming up concepts to continue blowing the minds of tech-inspired groupies.

As (shameless) groupies ourselves, we scoured the web for new concepts to admire and be inspired by.

Now – many of the ideas we’re about to share may never come to fruition; most of them are just neat concepts and ideas from some of the world’s most imaginative industrial designers. But we like to think of these as the seeds for future innovation, and it’s exciting to see how clever designers are rethinking the mobile device as we know it. Check ‘em out!


‘Designing for the Dump’

Speaker fuzzy? Camera malfunction? Battery life steadily depleting? No problem. Forget swapping out your whole phone – with Phonebloks, upgradability is no great shakes.

The phone is built quite literally of “blocks” that each serve their own unique function. Users cannot only upgrade their phone in chunks; they can customize their phone entirely. Loyal to Boze speakers? Choose a Boze block. Don’t plan on using your phone’s camera? Leave it out, and get a bigger battery for improved life instead.


Phonebloks also has another stakeholder in mind: the environment. With mobile phones being replaced on an average of every 18 months, the devices act as a huge contributor to the nearly 4 million tons of e-waste per year in the US alone, 75% of it finding its forever home in landfills or incinerators.

The Phonebloks concept was born out of a desire to play a part in solving that issue – “designing for the dump”.

It’s an eco-friendly techie’s dream – a phone you can consistently upgrade with the brands and specs you want. But, if you put aesthetics over function (ask yourself this: do your undergarments coordinate with your outer?), then Phonebloks may not be for you.


Going Rogue

This next concept is built for the secret mission.


The Kambala phone concept is a mobile phone that doubles as an earpiece. A centerpiece built into the phone conveniently pops out to clip to your ear for hands-free use.

What gives it the spy appeal? The Kambala concept includes “chameleon technology”, coming equipped with image sensors that detect hair and skin colors to allow the earpiece to camouflage against the user’s head when attached. You know, just in case you don’t want people to see the big, rectangular phone you’ve strapped to your head.


If you already do a double take when you see people on a Bluetooth device who appear to be talking to themselves, this piece would DEFINITELY throw you for a loop.

It’s a cool concept, but the actual phone specs could be limited – and we’re not sure how comfortable that thing would be to wear. But in theory at least, we think it’s pretty spiffy nonetheless.


Mobile Tech on Two Wheels

Over the last decade, the US has seen a 74% increase in motorcycle ridership, according to Popular Science magazine. For standard auto motorists, syncing mobile technology with vehicles is no new game. But what about our two-wheeled friends? You can hardly pull out your phone while riding without risking a catastrophic accident. And most would agree that your eyes – and hands – ought to be on the road.

Enter the Skully AR-1 motorcycle helmet. While other phone tech might just be a concept, this one is currently in beta testing.

Skully motorcycle helmet

The helmet can pair up with a smartphone like a Bluetooth device to play music, read back text messages and  a whole lot more.The helmet includes a digital heads-up display with a one-inch screen sitting in the bottom right-hand edge of the driver’s view. It also includes a 180-degree, rear-facing camera to eliminate standard blind spots (so, SO smart), can broadcast turn-by-turn instructions (for those moments where you need a GPS).

Skully motorcycle helmet

So to just call the Skully a “phone accessory” would be a massive disservice to the tech – we think this one could be poised to change the way the world thinks about mobile tech and motorbikes. Keen on testing this? You’re in luck – you can be among the exclusive and get on the list.


Your Phone, Your Friend

Phone a friend? No more. With Modai’s concept, your phone becomes your friend. While this is a concept that seems slightly far-fetched, it’s worth exploring.


Modai essentially boils down to a phone with personality, aiming to explore the work-life balance of its user. The ‘Fundai’ half balances the user’s social life, while the ‘Prodai’ half introduces the work paradigm.

Modai Paradigms

The concept is imagined to include contextual clues, offering bus schedules when it senses it’s at a bus stop (sort of like Google Now’s  ability to send you timely information without you even asking for it), and it gains even more human-like qualities with its “peel stand” – a muscle-embedded Santoprene stand that allows Modai to move and stand up on its own… and as a means of expressing “its” status. Yup, your phone would have feelings. Lonely? No more. A little (or a lot) creepy? Definitely. And hey – instead of setting the phone to vibrate, the Santoprene pad would just prod you gently in the leg or stand the phone up a little bit on the table. Interesting concept, but maybe a little disconcerting.
Even the icons the designer has chosen are intended to “give the phone a face” to relate to; the thought would be to use faces for everything from your battery life to mood mirroring (your phone would know how you feel).

The proposed concept would also feature behavioral learning. Often late for work? It’ll adjust your alarms for you. Usually go to the same bus stop every day? Automatically know when the next bus is on its way.

Modai Fundai Prodai

Of course, we’ve made a bit of fun of this concept, but the fact is that this line of thinking and intuitive design/information sharing is exactly the kind of thing phone manufacturers will love – the concept of your phone becoming more personalized and almost a more “human” companion, able to tailor your experience to the owner.


What’s Next?

Keep your eyes peeled. What seems quite far off or odd and futuristic right now may only be a few short years away (or in some cases, mere months). Rome wasn’t built in a day, but mobile tech seems to march to its own beat, regularly outpacing what one might consider to be the normal bounds of progress and development.


What concepts would you love to see make it to production? Share in the comments below!

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