r2d2phone_smallOver the past several years, cell phones have advanced from mere portable calling devices to all-in-one mini computers.  The iPhone’s launch marked a transition from our past of using mobile phones primarily for voice, to utilizing them as full-fledged internet surfin’, app. toutin’ devices.

Today, hype is starting to build around the new Android / Verizon lovechild named ‘Droid’.  Droid is being advertised with the following slogan:  “Don’t you wish you had a Robot Sidekick that moved at light speed, could get you out of any problem, and lived in your pocket?”

Clearly Verizon is marketing to the mass of Star Wars fans that have always dreamed of having their own R2-D2 buddy.  (In fact, Verizon is even utilizing Lucas Film’s trademark on the word ‘Droid’.)  Despite the nifty Star Wars tie in, we all know that the Droid’s abilities won’t be able to live up to R2-D2’s intuitive interpersonal skills, such as shocking Ewoks and warning Luke of incoming Tie Fighters.

It’s going to be a while before mobile device A.I. catches up to George Lucas’ imagination.   However, there are several future phone features that we will see in the next few years that should bring us that much closer to having our own ‘Robot Sidekick’.

Augmented Reality 2.0: We already have apps like Layar and Yelp’s iPhone App. which lets you pull up anything from Wikipedia articles to restaurant reviews by pointing your phone in the direction of the object of interest. This stuff’s only gonna get better.  I suspect lightweight glasses with virtual information displays will become as big as iPod earbuds.   Think Terminator’s Termo-Vision, only with less data on killing people.

Also, social augmented reality that ties in Social Networking data and visual recognition software seems a logical next step.  Imagine pointing your phone at that gal in the bar only to find out she’s a friend of a friend and also can’t wait for the 2013 release of Episode 7.  Kinda creepy though.

Language Translation: Imagine traveling around the world and speaking every language you encounter.   With the progression of current language translation and voice recognition software, this doesn’t seem very far off as a mobile application.  Any incoming speech will be instantly translated to your default native tongue and relayed to you through an ear bud.

The output is harder, and might be a bit culturally sensitive.   Speak into your mouthpiece and have the phone output the audio translation in a designated language.   Many cultures could see a ‘robot’ speaking to them as somewhat offensive, however, it could also be a great way to get out of a jam.  The real question: will the app. be able to translate Wookie and Elvish?

Holograms / Projector Displays

When will we get to re-enact the ‘Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope,’ scene with a holographic text to friends?   LG expects to have a projector installed on some phones by 2010.  While it’s not quite a hologram, this could be a great way to take us away from squinting at tiny screens all the time.