Thinking Beyond Mobile Phones: 50 Years Later

Dennis Faas's picture

Fifty years ago, on April 3, 1973, Martin Cooper, an engineer at Motorola, made the world's first cellular phone call.

Back then, making a phone call from a mobile device was a major achievement - but now, smartphones have become an indispensable part of our daily lives. We use them not only to make calls, but also to stream movies, play games, and take professional-level photos. However, despite the advancements in technology, the basic shape and form of the smartphone has remained the same for over a decade.

To stay relevant in the ever-evolving smartphone market, Motorola, along with other tech giants, is exploring beyond traditional smartphone designs to discover the next major evolution of mobile devices.

Next-gen Phones: Foldable, Rollable and Compact Displays

At Mobile World Congress in February 2022, Motorola showcased a concept phone with a rollable display that can expand and contract with the press of a button. The company also announced a new version of its Razr foldable flip phone, which is currently only available in China. Meanwhile, Samsung flaunted its own concept devices at CES, and OnePlus and Google are expected to join the foldable phone race this year. (Source:

These developments suggest that the mobile phone is going through yet another transformation, much like when slide-out keyboards were popular before the introduction of the smartphone.

So, what will the next era of mobile devices look like, and how long will it take to get there?

The goal, it seems, is to make smartphones more useful and less obtrusive at the same time. Motorola believes that the current smartphone design is becoming untenable for most people based on their mobile lives. Thus, Motorola is exploring two general paths to achieve that goal.

The first path is a more straightforward approach that we're already seeing today: changing the physical design of the smartphone to become more flexible and compact. For example, Motorola pursued a clamshell, flip-phone-style foldable like the Razr instead of a phone that converts into a tablet-sized device when opened.

Form Factor Caveats: Clamshell Displays

There's certainly something to the clamshell form factor if you don't make the user make too much of a compromise.

Motorola's rollable phone, which is only a concept for now, is a different means of achieving the same objective. The prototype has a display that can extend or shrink depending on what you're using it for. When it contracts into its smaller state, the phone provides a secondary screen on the back of the device. (Source:

There was one critique in particular about the rollable phone, however: it takes too long to access the selfie camera. That means the company may have to consider making changes to the proof of concept, such as adding a hole punch-shaped camera to the front of the device.

Motorola 5G Neckband

The second approach to making smartphones more useful is to create new types of mobile devices that relieve the phone of some of the computing burden so that users don't have to rely on their smartphones as much.

Smartwatches and wireless earbuds are already designed to help with this, but Motorola has ideas on how to take that further. One example is its "5G Neckband" device, which houses certain computing components so that devices like smart glasses won't have to be as heavy.

It uses 5G technology to provide high-speed and low-latency audio connectivity and is also designed to provide a seamless audio experience with crystal-clear sound quality, improved battery life, and fast charging. Best of all, it boasts a 20 hour playtime on a single charge. It also supports fast charging, which allows for quick top-ups to keep your music going all day long.

What's Your Opinion?

Would you ditch your current smartphone for a clamshell or rollable phone? Can you envision a future where screens are just "access points," with a numerous sensors located elsewhere, including a neckband, jewelry or a watch?

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mike's picture

I hope that in a some new design for cell phones that one would have a physical keyboard. The touch screen keyboards just don't work for me - they either add extra letters or miss some. I never had any problems with the Blackberry with actual full alpha keyboards but when the phones switched to touchscreens I started having problems. I like being able to send text messages but the touchscreen makes this unreliable. Using a stylus helps but is awkward and a stylus is too easy to loose.
The best phone I remember was a Samsung Zeal and it had a full alpha physical keyboard that worked fine.
I also don't want to pay an several hundreds of dollars for a phone.

Unrecognised's picture

An armband/gauntlet partly elasticated/contractile.. of clear material for the most part.


Virtual display via glasses, gestural virtual swipe keyboard.

c_hirst_2382's picture

Sorry - prior art. You should read more Science Fiction.
Back in the '70s, when touch screens became more usable on VDUs, I suggested a clamshell system with two screens. This was to allow for a touch keyboard that could change layout or character sets.
Later, I found that almost all similar ideas were mentioned in very early SciFi.