Gigs & Bytes: 2006: A Phone Odyssey
But that depends on whose future you’re looking at. During the 1960s, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke envisioned a pretty nifty day-after-tomorrow in their epic “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Irwin Allen launched his Space Family Robinson, along with Dr. Smith and the Robot, in the very futuristic year of 1997. And the Family Jetson had it all, including flying cars, video phones and three-day workweeks. However, “The Jetsons” was set in 2062, so we still have some wiggle room.
But while past TV shows, movies and books all took turns predicting what our world would be like today, no one managed to correctly forecast what would happen to phones.
In “2001,” travelers to an orbiting space station still had to duck into phone booths to keep in touch with family and business associates. Same with the Jetsons, while John Robinson and his “Lost In Space” kin had to rely on old-fashioned walkie talkies for wireless communication. When it comes to telephones, the futurists of the past got it wrong more often than not.
But it wasn’t so long ago when cell phones were analog, weighed about the same as a fully-packed briefcase and lasted only a few hours on a single battery charge. With camera and music capabilities, today’s wireless handsets seem almost light years ahead of those phones from yesteryear. What’s more, if you think today’s high-end, high-tech mobiles are the ultimate in phone technology, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Nokia recently announced three new phones that the company is referring to as “multimedia computers.” Sure, these phones do anything other available handsets do, like snap digital pictures and download music, but Nokia is trying to position the new phones as devices to replace dedicated digital cameras and personal MP3 players.
For instance, Nokia calls its new N93 phone a “digital camcorder and multimedia computer in one easy-to-use compact package.” The phone shoots MPEG-4 VGA video at 30 frames per second and includes stereo recording for what the company calls “DVD-like quality video.”
Along with video capabilities, the N93 also boasts a 3.2 megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens, a 3x optical zoom and up to a 20x digital zoom. The camera’s internal memory can reach up to 50 MB, but even that can be expanded up to 2 GB by using miniSD cards. Translated to plain-speak, that means you can capture up to 90 minutes of video, or close to 2,500 high-quality photographs.
Then there’s the phone’s music capabilities. Not only can you play music files, but you can store up to 1,500 songs, create playlists or listen to the integrated FM tuner.
Oh, yeah, you can also make a phone call with N93. Set to hit some markets in July, the N93 is priced just under $700.
While not as high-tech as the N93, Nokia’s N72 also features music and visual capabilities. The phone includes a 2 megapixel camera and can take both video and stills. Like its big brother, the N72 also comes with an FM tuner and has plenty of room for music files.
Then there’s the N73, which also has similar video, photo and music capabilities, but Nokia is also pushing the handset’s Internet capablities for people who need to check email while they’re shooting video, snapping photographs, listening to music and making a call or two.
Of course, other phones have similar capabilties. In fact, it’s getting tough to buy a phone that doesn’t include a camera or MP3 features.
None of these features was ever forecasted when the sci-fi creators of the past made their predictions about our present. We don’t have flying cars, robot maids, or sentient computers. At least not yet.
But cell phones have surpassed even the most visionary of all futurists. What’s more, no matter what manufacturers release this year, chances are they’ll be back with more bells and whistles next year. We may not be living in the time of “The Jetsons,” but good old George never had a pocket phone that could shoot video, play music or receive radio transmissions. In some ways, we have it better than Mr. Jetson.
On the other hand, we wouldn’t mind having George Jetson’s 3-day workweeks. Maybe that’s why they call it science fiction.