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What's the Next Smartphone Killer Feature?

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Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) is about to unleash the next iPhone on a not-so-unsuspecting world. The iPhone 5 has already been leaked, dissected, and hyped in the grand iPhone tradition, so we pretty much know what to expect: This one will be bigger than the iPhone 4S, probably equipped with a faster processor, and almost certainly upgraded to a faster network standard. The near-field communication chip for electronic payments once looked like a lock but now appears to be vaporware. Oh, well.

The thing is, none of these features would stand out all that much from the competition. This is the year for a radical change -- the "tock" to the 4S model's "tick." If Tim Cook wants to present "one more thing" to get consumers seriously excited about the new phone, well, what are his options?

My wish list
Here are four things that today's best smartphones can't quite do yet, and which could strap a jet pack to the first otherwise ordinary phone that ships with these features. In no particular order:

  • Touchscreens are so 2010, and voice commands were last year's news. Isn't it time to manipulate holograms or projections like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, or at least bring Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Xbox Kinect technology to smartphones? Track my fingertips in open space, track my eye movements, reach into my brain to read my thoughts -- either way, smartphones could use another paradigm shift.
  • We'd need better display technology to go with the new input methods. Microvision (Nasdaq: MVIS  ) and others served up usable phone-sized projectors years ago. Holographic displays can't be far behind. Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL  ) works on rollable, flexible, and transparent display formats under government contracts -- the military always gets the coolest gear first! We consumers just don't know yet how much we'll love a break from cold, inflexible glass panes.
  • Here's an easy one: Microsoft and Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) have already worked up a wireless charging design, to be featured in Nokia handsets this fall. And let's be honest -- this change is long overdue. My electric toothbrush nailed this inductive charging trick 10 years ago.
  • All these amazing features will surely require a monster battery -- or some new ideas in power management. Why doesn't your regular old LCD screen double as a solar-powered charger? That technology has been around since 2007, at least. There's no reason your phone couldn't get a power boost every time you do the Macarena, like that wristwatch you haven't worn since 2005. I'm not saying these solutions would keep your phone fully charged at all times, but every second of stretched battery time helps.

This is not just a wish list for the iPhone 5 or 6. These killer features could provide a fresh shot of growth vitamins to Apple's archrival Samsung as well, not to mention what they could do for the failing turnaround stories of Nokia and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) . Nokia's Windows-based Hail Mary play could turn into an Immaculate Reception if the new charging feature is married to an otherwise respectable product. Imagine the long-heralded BlackBerry 10 software paired with gesture-based control and a high-quality projector. Wonders never cease, right?

Or maybe they do cease after all. Some of these features may never see the light of day, and Apple is very likely to be first out of the gate on a couple of others. Cupertino doesn't just wait around for others to make the first move. That's one reason the Fool's top analysts took the time to compile a premium report on Apple. For less than $10, you get a deep dive into Apple's current challenges and opportunities -- including a full year of timely updates as the company continues to write history. Get started.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Universal Display but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Universal Display, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Universal Display, creating a synthetic covered call position in Microsoft, and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. We Fools don't all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (5) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 05, 2012, at 11:28 PM, matthewluke wrote:

    Lytro smartphone-sized camera sensors and silicon nanowire batteries are my bets on the next smartphone killer features.

  • Report this Comment On September 05, 2012, at 11:38 PM, TMFCrocoStimpy wrote:

    Lytro style cameras would be very cool, though with current tube requirements they will need to run the light collection tube the length of the phone. Combine that with some multi-frame super resolution processing and you could end up with a major advancement in imaging.

  • Report this Comment On September 06, 2012, at 12:52 AM, 5forfighting wrote:

    How about a phone you can easily read in the sunlight? It could be a "sun" mode. I spend a lot of time outdoors and am always struggling to see my

    I-phone in the bright light.

  • Report this Comment On September 06, 2012, at 5:35 AM, import2udirect wrote:

    High Def LED Projection Nokia did a projection phone before not sure why this has't caught on

  • Report this Comment On September 06, 2012, at 8:27 AM, jdmeck wrote:

    Solar Power? What idiot leaves their phone sitting in sunlight?

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