What's the next level of awareness for our phones?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from Arizona
Published: August 19, 2012

In the future, we're going to have all sorts of neat things. Phones that lack any kind of physical buttons, phones that work with foldable displays (maybe this one sooner rather than later), and hopefully phones with better batteries. That's the hope, anyway. While all those things are cool, and I can't wait to see them in action (especially those better batteries, manufacturers), there are still plenty of other features that we can cram into our phones.

I use applications that are constantly telling me where I am. Twitter clients, apps that let me check into a location and earn points, or even general messaging apps. I'm always surprised to see how many apps want to let me know where I am. Or, more specifically, tell someone else where I am.

Usually, it's accurate. Of course, it's technology so sometimes things freak out and your device will tell you, or someone else, that you're somewhere you're really not. It happens.

Which means for this idea I'm about to get to, we'd have to use something a bit better than global positioning satellites, or even cellular signals. Samsung has something out there right now that I think we could use in one specific scenario, and then maybe we could go a bit broader while out and about.

Here's what I'm thinking I'd like to see in future devices: real-time awareness. I've touched on this subject in the past, using a brief section of the movie "Minority Report" as the main character makes his way through a mall. But, instead of advertisements popping up wherever you go (which would be admittedly annoying more often than not), what if the phone reacted to where you were and changed its settings based on your location?

This is already in place in some ways. Motorola has their Smart Actions app, which comes preinstalled on some devices, and will probably be even more advanced in new devices coming down the pipe. I want this functionality, along with Google Now. And, thinking a bit broader, it could even work with Apple's Passbook (one of the new features coming in iOS 6), or even Google Wallet.

Here's how. Let's say you use Apple's Passbook or Google Wallet to buy a movie ticket. That sets off a single parameter in a series of two. Your phone now knows that you'll be in a movie on a certain date, at a certain time. However, the second parameter is that you have to reach that location, the movie theater, before the phone would react. Once you get there, your phone automatically goes into silent mode. More than that, calls are automatically forwarded to your voicemail box, unless the caller calls two or more times in rapid succession (which would point to an emergency). 

Some might suggest your phone should automatically be shut off, but I don't think that's the case. (Just leave the theater if you have to use it.)

One other situation where I think this kind of feature would be good, is in the car. I think this is the one that would really showcase the functionality. Earlier, when I mentioned Samsung and a specific scenario, this would be it. Their TecTile NFC tags are perfect.

The tag would be automatically installed in your car. (This could be done by the manufacturer, or by you.) The tag would prevent any text messaging functionality from being able to be accessed while the car is in motion. That would mean that the messaging application in any specific app would be disabled. No messaging in Google Voice, or a group messaging app, or even apps specifically designed to send messages circumventing your text messaging counter.

Combining Apple's Siri and Google's Google Now, and using real-time information constantly being translated by your device, would make for some pretty interesting scenarios. I think it would be great if my phone continued to think on its own, react and proactively think ahead. Siri and Google Now both do these things in their own ways, but I think it can get better.

Would you support manufacturers who pushed for real-time awareness in your future phone? If so, how would you like to see this feature utilized in a day-to-day scenario? Or, on the other hand, would you prefer to make sure that our batteries are where they need to be, before these kinds of features sucked the life out of our phones? Let me know.