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The New York Times’ Bob Tedeschi has a neat column today (thanks for the link, Peter) that speculates what smartphone technology will look like in two years. This comes from his recent conversations with researchers at MIT, SRI, and the iconic Xerox PARC.

It’s a timely piece, amid all the (ill-founded) talk of iPhone killers and Droid. The article, in fact, starts off in reference to the bar that’s been set so far by the iPhone.

A few interesting facts and tidbits from the article:

Today’s smartphones can do almost anything a PC could do in 2007, but in a couple of years smartphones may have enough computing power to enable much more sophisticated applications that truly take advantage of the device’s portability.

Just imagine a device with an 8-inch fold-out screen, a big virtual keyboard for easy text input, numerous sensors to detect your surroundings, and software smart enough to anticipate your needs and sharp enough to respond to conversational commands.

I mostly agree; however, “fold-out screen” sounds woefully analog for something that is supposed to be a look into the crystal ball. Where I think smartphones and portable technology will head is toward projection technology — ability to project big, high def images without adding to device bulkiness. First, the economics of projection chips have to improve (cue Moore’s Law).

Tedeschi also gets into some local applications, mostly alluding to the much talked about (but little realistic application so far) area of augmented reality. I agree that this will be a key feature of smartphones in 24 months’ time, but lots of non-sexy issues need to be solved such as comprehensive data (common problem in local).

Open up the device, point it at the street and ask it to show you what the place looked like 200 years ago, and it offers a photo or video. Ask it where to eat lunch and it highlights a restaurant that suits your tastes. If you are heatedly debating food choices with a companion when someone of marginal importance tries to call you, the phone will know better than to interrupt.

Finally, he warns that two-year predictions are always a bit iffy. A good point and reminiscent of the Bill Gates quote that (paraphrasing) we tend to overestimate what happens in the next few years but underestimate what will happen in the next 10.

This blue-sky, composite prediction comes with a stiff warning: forecasts with a two-year horizon are especially chancy, technologists said, since those making the predictions are often overly optimistic about emerging designs and, at the same time, blind to some of the reasons the current generation of technologies looks as it does.

Without giving away any more, check out the piece here. Lots of other cool James Bond-like portable technology examined.

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