Symbian's annual Smartphone Show in London's Docklands kicked off this morning with a keynote speech in which Symbian CEO Nigel Clifford claimed that far from being sophisticated, "we're modern cavemen".
Using the analogy of the development of the human race, Clifford outlined how early man initially kept his entire belongings within physical reach and conducted his entire life within a very limited sphere. Conversely, said Clifford, 21st century man is highly mobile but still expects to have his whole life either in his hands or available almost instantly on demand. "We crave connections and want to take our lives with us," said Clifford.
With multi-gigabyte mobile phone handsets such as Nokia's updated N95, launched yesterday in an 8GB incarnation, such a scenario is far from pie in the sky.
However, as Vodafone's corporate strategy director, Bobby Rao, acknowledged, having your whole world with you in your phone is not yet a wholly satisfactory state of affairs. He polled the audience as to how many had been frustrated by lost photos and contacts when switching between handsets and crashed phones when attempting to download applications. Many hands were raised.
"The mobile internet is not working so well right at the moment," Rao said, before going on to emphasise the importance of mobile phone operators, handset makers and software application developers working closely together to ensure a smooth experience for the end user.
Some mobile phone developments are working, it seems. The story from every speaker at the Symbian Smartphone Show was one of increasing sales and revenue and expanding markets.
BlackBerry said it now has 11 million subscribers - a figure that has been doubling year on year. At the show BlackBerry maker Research in Motion was pushing its Connect service for non-BlackBerry handset owners, with the announcement of new BlackBerry Connect-enabled handsets including Nokia's E51 and Sony Ericsson's P1i.
Symbian's Clifford said the smartphone is now the biggest-selling mobile device. In the first half of this year 47.9 million smartphones shipped worldwide, while laptops were a close second with 45.6 million sold.
"It took around 500 weeks to sell our first 500 million smartphones," said Clifford. "Our second 500 million will take perhaps 500 days."
The Yankee Group expects sales to top a billion by 2010.
There are challenges ahead, however, particularly if Clifford's prediction of hours of high-definition video stored on 100GB handsets is to come to fruition so we can have our entire lives in photos and video on our handsets.
Connectivity and battery life are the most technical challenges currently being addressed.
Clifford dangled the carrot of WiMax mobile broadband eventually coming to the mobile phone - something that can offer connection rates of up to 100Mbps to those that need it. Another fast mobile connectivity option also in the pipeline is LTE (long term evolution) – a kind of 'super 3G' that is up to five times faster than HSDPA (high speed data packet link).
More than anything, mobile phones are set to get more feature-laden, more interactive and easier to use. Haptics - touchscreens that know they're being touched and respond depending on how they are touched - plus gaming sensors such as those on the Nintendo Wii are on the way. Meanwhile, holographics laser displays in full 3D in which the user reaches in and grabs the content they want – either locally or remotely – are also being developed.
All this depends on the mobile phone platform being "miserly" in its processing and resource requirements but also on developments now under way in battery life. There is currently an eight percent improvement year on year, while increases of around 40 percent some four or five years away.
Dual-core processing, thanks to developments in SMP (symmetric multi-processing) by ARM, mean low-power processing is making its way on to mobile phones, too. Using this, phones can veer between providing maximum power to applications that require it, such as video, while throttling back and letting heat dissipate when less demanding tasks are being undertaken.
Mats Lindoff, chief technology officer of Sony Ericsson, also shared his vision of the mobile future. "Everything that's in a laptop today will be in a mobile phone by 2010 or 2012," he said.
While many of the tasks that can be done on a laptop can be achieved on a mobile phone handset, identical methods of performing the self-same task can be achieved on a phone handset some five to seven years later. "I'm not just talking about finding a way of making a mobile version of an app," he explained.
As well as obvious developments such as improved battery life and faster connectivity, conference attendees were told by Lindoff to expect a number of companies to introduce ways of using NFC (near field communications).
NFC is already used in Oyster cards in London to grant access to the London Underground network and some of the suburban rail network, while Barclays has launched a bank card that integrates the Oyster function into a chip-and-PIN credit card - again, using near-field communications.
As well as micro-billing via mobile phones, Lindoff said we should expect increasingly personalised functionality on our phones, from GPS software that not only knows how to get us to our aunt or mother's house, but knows our favoured restaurants and shops.
Mobile TV, too, will be very much a personal affair, offering both live and pre-recorded programming as and when we want it. "Linear TV (where just one or two channels are offered to the subscriber) will not fly," said Lindoff.