The key to making this work is providing positive feedback so that the finger feels something to confirm its action. The BlackBerry Storm and Samsung's Anycall use sound and vibrations to fake the feedback, but they'll pale on comparison to the haptic screens that are on the way.
This idea is not as far out as it might first seem. For example, Nokia recently applied for a patent for its Haptikos Tactile Touch Screen that details a system with a thin, flexible film that goes over a phone's display. Underneath is an array of millions of tiny rods that lift slightly above the screen's surface when a voltage is applied to create anything from a switch to a slider volume control.
Because the rods are electrically connected, they can be tuned to give way quickly for a keypad or slowly for a volume switch. They also can sense pressure, making them very efficient switches that can be arranged anywhere on the screen.
Independent South Korean industrial designer Lukas Koh is joining the party with his futuristic Haptic Phone design. This design has a flexible screen that changes in relation to what you're doing. The interface can go beyond showing just images to actually creating physical buttons on the screen's surface. In other words, buttons rise out of the screen's surface slightly for numbers when dialing, a keyboard when typing or icons when choosing what to do. When you touch them, they depress just like real switches or keys.
Other new technologies will include better phone cameras. This spring, Sony Ericsson will start production on a camera module that will be able to snap 12.3-megapixel images. On a par with point-and-shoot cameras, the Exmor IMX060PQ cell phone camera module can capture ultrasharp 4,040-by-3,032 pixel images, as well as full 1080p HD video. No bigger than a thumbnail, the camera is also the smallest around. Meanwhile, rumor has it that Samsung will announce a 12-megapixel camera phone at the World Mobile Congress later this month.
Sony is also working on a 20-megapixel module for the next generation of photo-ready handsets that should, according to the company, be available to manufacturers sometime in 2010. In fact, Ericsson has stated publicly that by 2012, it wants to have a 20-megapixel camera phone on the market that would snap stills as well as do full HD video and connect to a 100Mbps wireless network.
Regardless of whether these scenarios come to pass, one thing is for certain: Life on the road will get easier and more fulfilling. It starts with longer-lasting notebooks and netbooks that are powerful enough to get the job done, and a new generation of hard drives that dole out data much quicker. When it's time to download that key file or presentation, 4G networks will be there along with incredibly powerful mobile phones. It seems the hardest thing to do in 2010 might be hiding from work on the road.
Computerworld is an InfoWorld affiliate.