Ideas on Smartphone and Handset Innovation

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By Liz Kerton (President, Telecom Council of Silicon Valley) Mobile devices are increasingly at the center of our lives, and these connected wonders are taking on increasing roles in organizing, entertaining, connecting, and updating us. The technologies that are put into these devices continue to stretch their functions, improve their usability, and make last year's phone look obsolete.

The finished products are often first shown at CES, but the technologies that make the whole product are first shopped around Silicon Valley by the usual cadre of entrepreneurs and R&D groups.

The iPhone, for example, is an icon in the industry. But at some point, it was just a jumble of ideas like capacitive touch screens, accelerometers, radio chips and Gorilla Glass. Assemble those wrong, and you have a dud. Do it right and... well... Apple.

So what are the next batch of handset technologies bubbling just under the surface of product launches. This is the topic I'll be presenting at my upcoming meeting of the Telecom Council of Silicon Valley, the Handset and Gadget Innovation Review.

Here's some of the ideas I expect to hear:

  • Multi-Core Processors -- Like PCs, mobile gadgets are now getting dual cores, and soon will have four cores in leading devices. The reasons are not just increased number-crunching power, but in fact lower power. By putting some cores to sleep, multi-core processors can race when you need them, but can idle and sip battery power when you don't. They also handle multi-tasking better.
  • GPU -- Gadgets are being used for gaming, but also video watching, filming, and editing. To crunch this kind of data, phones and tablets are getting Graphics Processing Units built in, either in the same die as the CPU, or as discrete chipsets.
  • Sensors -- Sensors have proven tremendously valuable on mobile devices. Accelerometers allow the screen to flip when you rotate your phone, compasses have helped navigation and map apps. GPS has enabled an entire industry sector in Location Based Services. So, naturally, entrepreneurs are looking into what additional sensor equipment can be placed in handsets, and what kids of services they can enable. Bodily function sensors, temperature, altitude, orientation (for gestures), better microphones, indoor location, etc.
  • Camera Enhancements -- The iPhone 4GS and the Samsung Galaxy IIs have just raised the bar on embedded cameras. Using tech like HDR, water drop lenses, GPS, and connectivity will soon mean that a camera in the phone is actually better than a dedicated point-and-shoot camera. And cheaper, since it leverages hardware you've already bought, and always in your pocket. Think about this in the context of 4 core processors: how many compact cameras have that kind of processing power? Think of the real-time image enhancement enabled with that kind of power. Look at Lytro's Light Field Camera to get an idea.
  • NFC -- Near Field Communications Solutions for mobile payments
  • Virtualization -- Multiple virtual machines on one device can separate business and personal devices in one hardware unit.
  • PAN -- A central device such as a phone can serve as the hub of a Personal Area Network. The PAN can include things such as health sensors, screens, keyboards, headsets, cars, tablets, heads-up glasses, watches, pedometers, etc.

For those of you that might be building the next handset solution, widget, chip, or feature…you might want to join us as we look at the future of handsets.

Sponsored by AT&T, Qualcomm and Honestech, Telecom Council’s annual Handset & Gadget Innovation Review will be help October 25, 2011 (8:30am – 2pm) in Mountain View. AT&T is subsidizing entrepreneurs to attend 50% off –- use code “ATT” at registration. Editor's note: Got a question or answer for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Liz Kerton is President of Telecom Council of Silicon Valley. Liz has been involved with the Service Provider Forum in the area for 6 years before venturing into building an association to support the larger telecom community. Her day job is Managing Director of the Kerton Group, which does marketing and business consulting in the telecom industry.