The Future of Cell Phones is No More Cell Phones

Here's a fun thing: Portfolio and Wired are sparring over what cell phones will look like in a few years. Portfolio makes the not-so-transformative case that people seem to really downloading iPhone apps, and that in the future, a lot more people are going to be downloading data software and funny noises like iFart, turning what was once a mere communicative apparatus into an increasingly essential (and occasionally really annoying) do-it-all machine. But I'm more interested in Wired's crystal ball, which sees, somewhat blissfully, no more cellphones!

Um, what? Douglas Wolk writes that VoIP ("voice over internet protocol") will replace cell phones in the future, because dialing over the internet is much cheaper than dialing through a national cell phone network. The first thing I would say if somebody tried to take my cell phone (after "Stop what you're doing") would be, well: "If I need the Internet to make calls, how do I talk to somebody if I'm not in front of a computer?" The answer is, well, you can't. Not right now, at least. As the name gives away, VoIP relies on an internet connection and unless you get some fancy wireless Aircard embedded in your forearm and turn yourself into a permanent hotspot (tatooes of the future?) you're going to find yourself ducking into free-wireless coffee shops like Cosi to make all your calls.

There are two ways around this. One, we just build a lot more wireless hotspots. Two, you make VoIP your home phone to cut down on your minutes. That second part is apparently already happening. According to the author, one report finds 5.2 percent of Americans use VoIP for their primary home phone. I don't know anybody who uses Skype for anything besides calling our friends on Peace Corps, but maybe that should change.

A final point: The article only has one source - a personal-safety instructor who uses the Arizona State campus as his miles-long wireless hotspot and makes calls on his contract-free iPod Touch. So, besides the job market, now you've got one more reason to go back to school: free dialing for the next few years.