A phone innovation Alexander Bell would approve of

Itaru Sasaki's 'wind phone': installed in his garden in Japan
Itaru Sasaki's 'wind phone': installed in his garden in Japan

While mobile develops at break-neck speeds, Itaru Sasaki's "wind phone" reminds us to slow down and remember what makes communication magical.

My poor old mobile phone. When it left the factory, it was feature perfect. It was fast, effective and wonderfully uncluttered. Then I filled it full of crap. Like, 128GB worth of crap. It’s my job to fill it with the sorts of crap you’ve probably never heard of.

Sure, I’ve got Candy Crush Saga and Facebook, but I’ve also got some dodgy things such as Wi-Fi packet sniffers, beacon triangulators, contactless credit-card readers and Blockchain wallets.

Sounds obvious but apps, phone cases and various Bluetooth wearables simply upgrade my phone to my own version of "next gen". It’s an ongoing process that started with voice but we have arrived at an interesting inflection point in mobile form and function.

Let’s start with Snapchat. It has recently announced a partnership with Oracle Data Cloud to close that irritating hole in the marketing loop – advertising influence on physical purchases.

Oracle has access to the transaction data of two billion global consumers and, when you buy something, it can now run algorithms to see if you were influenced by a Snapchat ad immediately before. Turns out 92% of Snapchat campaigns drive a positive lift in in-store sales. Cool.

Machine learning is becoming mainstream and is being employed in fields such as automatic object recognition. Take a picture of an apple and it will recognise it.

Turns out 92% of Snapchat campaigns drive a positive lift in in-store sales.

What’s more interesting is that it’s being used to "read" the content of video as it streams through your phone. Great for advertisers or copyright owners to know what you’re watching but also great for censorship.

If used wisely, it can be employed to stop everything from public viewing of pornography to fake news videos. If used unwisely… well, you can join the dots.

Hardware updates are coming thick and fast too. SCiO (despite a rocky Kickstarter journey) is now shipping its tiny molecular scanner that can fit on a phone. You can scan the nutritional values of fruit, tell chicken from pork or instantly read the chemical make-up of a pill.

It will tell you how much sugar is in that apple you just scanned, by the way. Want to feel that apple too? No problem – Tanvas has unveiled a haptic screen (that’s "touchy-feely" to you and me). Rub your finger over your screen to feel the texture of the image.

There have been Braille screens that use bubbles to create tactile bumps for a while but this is all kinds of next-level voodoo.

My phone knows where I am, where I’m probably going to be in ten minutes, who I just spoke to, what my passwords are… the list is almost endless.

So where’s all this going? Consider this version of the not-so-distant future. Wireless charging will remove the need for batteries. Direct optical-cortex connections will remove the need for a screen. All that computing power will simply be offloaded to cloud-based services.

My phone knows where I am, where I’m probably going to be in ten minutes, who I just spoke to, what my passwords are.

A "phone" will require almost no hardware and be small enough to be implanted. It will be controlled by thought. Obviously.

And just when you start to rock backwards and forwards mumbling "We’re all doomed", you hear about Itaru Sasaki, a 70-year-old man from Japan. He installed a phone booth in his garden as a way of coming to terms with the death of his cousin.

After the devastating tsunami in 2011, many people lost loved ones and asked if they could use the phone box. Now, Itaru’s so-called "wind phone" has become a destination for people from all over Japan.

This is somehow reassuring in a world racing at breakneck speed towards the unicorn and rainbow-sparkle-filled future. We can learn a lot from Itaru-san… people, soul and conversations are what really matter.

Create a place or a brand (or a hut in a garden) where this can happen, and people will come.

Dino Burbidge is the director of technology and innovation at WCRS.
@dinozoiks

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