Cell-phone manufacturers are developing new and more advanced models of their handsets at a breakneck pace. Just a few years ago, people were thrilled by the notion of simply carrying a phone around with them. Just having a mobile phone was a status symbolthey were new, expensive, and kind of elitist. Today, pretty much everyone has a mobile phone, and even some young children carry around phones. And when I say "young" I mean under 12. It goes without saying that most, if not all, card-carrying teenagers already have their own cell phones and are, of course, masters of the text-messaging phenomenon.
Today's state-of-the-art mobile phones typically include fully functional calendars, address books, customizable ringtones, games, Web browsers, email clients, text messaging, digital cameras, and more. Tomorrow's phones will continue evolving and will offer these features and more. Although sub-megapixel, blurry images are the norm on today's camera phones (resulting in substandard photographs), there are phones slated for introduction over the next year with multi-megapixel digital cameras incorporated into their designs.
New features that allow you to share your photos over a wireless network and the Internet will also begin to emerge. Imagine taking a beautiful photo and posting it to your Web site or blog immediately from the comfort of your cell phone.
The evolution of the so-called smart phone is another story entirely. With the current state of today's wireless networks, phones have the ability to always be connected. This always-on feature is allowing phones to function as full-fledged Internet citizens. Your phone might soon have its own IP (Internet Protocol) address and will allow you to run Web server, instant messaging, or other Internet software from your pocket. Imaginepeople from anywhere on the planet could potentially surf on over to your pocket to see the pages you've just posted.
The palmOne Treo 600 and the newly released Treo 650 already sport the ability to serve up Web pages (albeit with a little hacking). Expect this behavior to become more commonplace in the future.
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We discussed the role of SIM cards earlier in this book, in Chapter 1. However, the role of the SIM card may be expanding even in the near future. Consider that the SIM card in your current GSM phone is basically a debit card connected to your account with whatever carrier you've chosen. Your SIM card contains account information and passwords and can even store contact information.
In Japan and Europe, some carriers are already experimenting with ways to let you pay for purchases via mobile phones. In some areas of Japan, for example, you can walk up to a vending machine, dial a phone number that correlates to your desired selection, and out comes your product. No cash changes hands, no muss, no fuss. Some experts have predicted that many purchases will occur this way in the future, including movie tickets, fast food, and public transportation. The SIM card paired with a private PIN could help pave the way to the cashless society that people have been dreaming of for years.
M-Systems, a major manufacturer of flash memory, is betting that hundreds of millions of SIM cards will be used in the coming years. To capitalize on the demand for newer and higher-capacity phones, they are building SIM cards capable of high-capacity data storage. These new SIM cards will enable Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), MP3 music, video clips, and high-resolution picture storage. The popularity and ubiquity of mobile phones, coupled with these types of advances, might signal the end of the need to carry other devices. However, one of the major hurdles that remains is battery life. With all of these capabilities, such as photography, music, data, purchases, and more, it's becoming increasingly critical that battery technology evolves to match our voracious usage.
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The evolution of mobile phones and their increasingly sophisticated inner workings has given rise to the ringtones sub-industry. In the past, we were happy with just the customary ringing sound. Then, as time moved on and manufacturers introduced clever ringing sounds, it became in vogue to have an interesting ringtone on your phone. It's kind of like saying, "Look how cool I am," without actually saying it.
With the rapid rise in the popularity of digital music and the fact that phones are beginning to allow MP3 ringtones, a fledgling industry has sprung upone that generated more than $1 billion by the end of 2004, according to Juniper Research. However, our love affair with ringtones may be waning; Juniper also forecasts that revenues will slowly decline to around $490 million by 2008.
Record labels have been quick to key in on this lucrative revenue stream. Consider that popular artists Eminem, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and many more have all released tracks exclusively for ringtone use.
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Ringback tones take ringtones to a new level. You might not have realized it, but the ringing sound that you hear when you phone someone and are waiting for them to pick the phone up is yet another way to customize your mobile-phone experience (and for carriers to squeeze a few more dollars out of you).
Verizon Wireless recently announced it will be the first national carrier to offer ringback tones. These are short clips of real music that will replace the standard ring that callers hear when they call Verizon customers who have subscribed to the service. Customers in Sacramento and throughout southern California will be among the first to be able to personalize the sounds callers hear before a call is answered. Verizon says all of its customers will have access to the service by mid-2005. Options include a standard ringback tone (including the Verizon Wireless standard ringback tone)or customers can choose to have different ringback tones play for different callers based on the Caller ID, user-specified group lists, or the time of day.
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