Today’s mobile phones already have more computing power than the house-sized computers that launched Apollo in 1969.

But one day we will look back fondly on these salad days of smartphone technology, remembering the iPhone 6 with the same level of amusement invoked by the brick-like mobiles of the 90s.

Telecommunications engineer Walter Green believes that in two decades, mobiles will be at least 10 times more powerful than they are now.

Dr Green, director of the Communication Experts Group, says that before long, the public will rely on mobiles for functions that are now performed by powerful PCs, high-definition TVs and a range of gadgets that have not even been invented yet.

“We are talking about a journey in personal mobile communications, ” he says.

“The iPhone is the start of that journey.

“In 20 years, what you are looking at today will no longer exist.”

Dr Green, a past director of the Australian Telecommunication Users Group, says the game changer will be an advance in transistors, which are the basic building blocks of computers.

Engineers at NASA and Korea’s National Nanofab Centre are working together to create a vacuum channel transistor that Dr Green claims will boost the number of transistors per chip from one million to 10 million, with an even greater increase in computer power while reducing the drain on batteries.

Vacuum tubes were the key hardware in early computers, but the clunky technology was discarded after the development of the transistor in 1947.

Silicon has allowed for the vacuum’s victorious comeback, with the technology ensuring lightness, durability and low cost, as well as higher frequency and power.

Dr Green says improved capability will also jump on the back of current changes to link phones to two or three base stations at any one time, instead of the current one, which will increase the bandwidth and reduce drop-outs.

The other major game changer will be an advance in batteries, with several research projects under way.

US-based electrical engineer Ville Kaajakari is using small piezoelectric generators that insert into shoes to enable users to harness enough kinetic energy from walking to power GPS receivers. He hopes it will eventually power mobile phones.

Chemical engineer Tahir Cagin, from Texas A&M University, is researching the use of piezoelectrics to self-charge mobile phones using the vibrations from the user’s voice.

But all this could be redundant if efforts are successful to enable wireless recharging of any battery in range of a transmitting power source — a new field of research reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Dr Green says improvements in power and durability will turn mobiles into very powerful personal computers that can talk to tablets and other devices, essentially turning mobiles into the mothership of our digital world.

Not only will we use them to make calls and check emails, but also to replace car and house keys and control fridge temperature and a range of other household furniture.

Dr Green says the changes will mean mobiles are powerful enough to live-screen TV channels and high-definition videos.

Small displays are likely to be augmented with bigger scroll-out or fold-out screens.

Samsung is among the companies which have already made headway with the development of wafer-thin bendable screens that fold out from the phone.

Alternatively, vision could be transferred from the mobile to Google-style glasses.

“Google’s glasses are a crude version at the moment, ” Dr Green says.

“The next development will be two dimensional, so each eye gets each individual picture.”

Dr Green says security is likely to change from the four-digit pin code to sophisticated voice recognition and image screening that will enable the phone only for its recognised owner.

And it is a good thing security will improve because he expects mobile phones could replace bank cards.

Dr Green foresees a time when phones will routinely be scanned to pay for items, instead of bank cards.

He says there is likely to come a time when microchips become so cheap they will individually tag every item in a supermarket.

Rather than scanning each item at the check-out, he believes trolley-loads will be scanned en masse, and the invoice automatically sent to the shopper’s phone.

Once the invoice is approved, the device will scan the phone for a link to the user’s bank account, and the appropriate amount withdrawn.

Though it is hard to imagine mobiles getting much smaller, Nokia has a concept phone called FIT, that slips on to one finger like an elongated ring.

The waterproof device means one day, not even joggers or swimmers need be far from their mobile phones.




© The West Australian

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