What will smartphones do next? Check out these technologies and ideas for next-gen gadgets.

First up, why do we still call that familiar little friend in our pocket a “smartphone”? A phone? Sure, we still make or take calls, but it’s high time the name of the device changed to reflect the use we’re making of it today — and the multitude of uses it will have tomorrow.

No, I’m not thinking “pocket computer,” which sounds like something Flash Gordon might have carried in his utility belt. How about “life key”? Or just “my control.” Because it takes only a moment’s reflection to realize where that thin client in constant use is headed. It’s part of a world-changing digital fabric, and woven together with machine-to-machine data, the Internet of Things, and the cloud (obviously), it’s going to be the central dashboard for our working lives and our leisure lives — assuming there continues to be a distinction.

We’re nearing a major break in the smartphone’s history. Whether that break will be sudden and clean, or gradual and sticky, is yet to be seen. It all started with the slow evolution of telephones: from separate ear and mouthpieces to single handsets; from rotary to push-buttons; and then from the table in the hallway to wireless portability. At some point, however — whether you credit BlackBerry, Nokia, Palm, or Apple — smartphone development irrevocably merged with the evolution of computing and the Internet.

In this slideshow, we take a look at six cool technologies coming to your pocket in the near to medium future. We’re just scraping the surface, of course, but we think these technologies are at least representative of the direction so-called smartphones are going to take.

Specifically:

Smartphones will find ways to be off the grid, both as far as power is concerned, and in terms of being available for use always and anywhere.They’re going to be part of an ecosystem of connected devices — in fact, they’re probably going to be the system hub.What’s more, they’re going to change the way we experience the actual world, transforming our surroundings into an ever-connected, informational environment.There’ll be much greater flexibility in modes of operation. The days of finger-pecking will be over.And the physical properties of smartphones will start to adapt to functional needs.

Smartphones? Why do they even need to resemble handsets? Forget smartphones — we’re looking ahead to wearable (certainly), implantable (maybe), and even invisible (why not?) devices… but probably not shoephones.

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