I asked couple of friends of mine how they saw their cell phones changing in the next five years. The last 5–10 have been game-changing in that phones have come a long way since being a device for making and receiving phone calls.

While adding memory and computer-like features will continue to happen in the short-term, my thoughts for a transformational change are a little different.

Cell phone follows the path of PC evolution

In my opinion, the cell phone evolution very much shadows the PC evolution. PC evolution started with dumb terminals supporting directly attached mainframes, then shifted to “personal computers”, which could do some local processing, in addition to accessing mainframes. They got more and more powerful over the years to a point where where 8GB memory and 1TB storage on a single-user PC is no big deal. We are now in the phase of “thinning” the PC, moving much of the functionalities to the cloud.

What happens if you translate that to the cell phone?

My vision of the future cell phone is one where the phone devices lose significance and cease to be the nucleus of our mobile experience. Cloud based online profiles will have all the information associated with your account including the phone number and all the applications you installed from the app store. Since the phones will be dumb terminals, you will be able to borrow your friend’s phone, signout from his account and login as yourself to see all your information downloaded within seconds — this might include your phone number, contacts, mails, calendar, applications, music, video etc… After which your friend’s phone basically becomes your phone. Regardless the phone device is manufactured by Samsung or HTC or Nokia or someone else, when you power-on the phone, the first screen you will see might look like this and once you login, the device downloads your profile from the cloud.

Though the devices will be dumbed down and hence commoditized, hardware vendors like Samsung, HTC and Nokia will continue to compete and differentiate their products based on non-core features like the display, in/outputs, connectivity etc…). Traditional wireless telcos like AT&T and Sprint will slowly phase out their voice technology related infrastructure, because communication — including interactive voice/video — will solely rely on super-fast wireless data connections. In addition, these carriers will build and/or sponsor ecosystems (like the Apple App store or Android App store) which will help them compete and thrive.

What are your thoughts on how cell phones might transform? Do you even think we will have a device called phone floating in our hands? Will tablets add a phone functionality and will that help totally get rid of laptops and phones?