Cell phones have come a long way since Zack Morris first flashed his football-sized mobile in the hallways of Bayside High on "Saved by the Bell."
Now custom ringtones let users shake their hips to Shakira every time a friend calls, while ring-back tones provide the caller with a few seconds to rock out. Multimedia functions allow people to channel Spielberg while making amateur 30-second movies. You can snap photos, watch video, keep track of your schedule, store MP3s, play games and stay on top of e-mail, all from increasingly thinner, smaller — and more sparkly — handsets.
But if you thought cell-phone technology had maxed out with video, sound and organizer tools, you're wrong. Soon, your phone will boast features that appeal to nearly all your senses — they'll be able to tell you whether you're too drunk to drive, or even ring up your ex.
Despite being responsible for countless jokes and cheap thrills, cell-phone vibrate modes have become an essential feature for a world filled with do-not-disturb moments. Taking a cue from the function's popularity, Verizon Wireless is shaking up the industry by introducing touch feedback technology.
Developed by the San Jose-based Immersion Corporation, the embedded VibeTonz tactile feedback system allows users to set custom vibration ringtones. Because you can't always check to see who is calling when your phone starts vibrating, the VibeTonz customized vibration tones can let you know if mom or your best friend is on the line — without ever having to sneak a peek during class or at the movies — by generating different vibration sensations.
This touch-based technology also has the potential to improve gaming in the wireless world. By enhancing realism and sensory excitement, cell-phone games — such as a new version of "Duke Nukem" — equipped with this technology can plunge users deeper into the gaming experience. Special effects are emphasized through touch feedback, allowing users to actually feel the rumble from a dropped bomb or the thud of an object hitting the ground.
While entertainment features are sure to impress anyone in the market for a futuristic phone, some new functions are actually practical — and can even save your life.
A line of mobile phones by LG equipped with a built-in breathalyzer is already popular in Korea, according to ABC News. Slated for a future U.S. release, the phone boasts a sensor that, when breathed on, indicates a user's blood-alcohol level. If the detector indicates a reading over the legal limit, the display shows a warning message with a swerving car suggesting that the person in question might not be wise to slide behind the wheel.
The Korean LGs also boast a remote control that can be used with its owner's TV, DVD player and karaoke machines. And there's another LG development that can be considered a safety feature aimed at the intoxicated cell-phone user, as well.
Many people — after a few drinks, with emotions running high — have phoned an ex. A regrettable decision? Usually. But LG's phone can apparently help prevent the next-day shame via drunk-dialing controls. Users can instruct their phones to block them from dialing certain programmed numbers if their blood-alcohol level is over 0.08, ABC News reported.
Future cell phones may be able to help out with personal hygiene, as well. Siemens Mobile has been busy developing a cell phone with sensor technology that can alert users to bad breath or body odor.
In fact, since developers have nearly exhausted every cell-phone gizmo aimed at engaging our senses of sight, hearing, and, more recently, touch, it seems like smell technology is the latest trend. Soon enough, people may be asking, "Can you smell me now?"
Remarkably, the answer will actually be yes. Mobiledia has reported that Samsung applied for a patent for a phone that releases puffs of perfume. And a broader range of scents may be available down the road as well: "Smellophones" may record odors and be able to reproduce them later on, according to the U.K.'s Daily Mail. And New Scientist magazine recently reported that researchers at Japan's Tokyo Institute of Technology have created a device that reproduces captured odors using non-toxic chemicals. The catch? Humans have 347 olfactory sensors, so a lot of base chemicals would be needed, according to the researchers. The idea, however, is in the works.
If cell phones are capable of engaging four out of five of our senses, it's really only logical that taste buds are the next targets. Are taste tones in our future? Maybe phones will actually dispense those breath-freshening mints they seem so eager to tell us we need.