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What’s the future of smartphones? Think personal assistant

An employee demonstrates smartphones manufactured by Samsung Electronics Co. at the Stroemmen shopping mall in Norway.
Kristian Helgesen | Bloomberg | Getty Images
An employee demonstrates smartphones manufactured by Samsung Electronics Co. at the Stroemmen shopping mall in Norway.

From the bulky "brick phones" that weighed 2 pounds and cost around $4000 to the sleek, feather-light and affordable smartphones of today – mobile handsets have undergone an impressive evolution over the past four decades.

Which begs the question – what further transformations can we expect for mobile devices in the coming months and years?

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Think along the lines of a virtual personal assistant, says David Ginsberg, vice president for market research at Intel.

"When thinking about a smartphone over the next 5-10 years, it's less about the form factor, and more about how the computing power of the device," Ginsberg told CNBC.

Muriel de Seze

"Mobile devices will have the ability to understand who and where their user is and what they are trying to get done: identity, location and context," he added.

With this, devices will be able to anticipate and deliver information before users realize they even need it.

Take, for instance, you had been searching for a particular pair of shoes on your mobile device. When you are out, your phone may alert you of a store near-by with the exact pair on sale.

Or, perhaps, you are organizing a dinner with friends. The mobile device could help suggest a restaurant at a convenient location for you and your friends.

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"The reality is – over this time horizon – there's great potential that the compute power in your phone will far exceed what's in many larger devices today," Ginsberg said.

Flexible screens?

The appearance of smartphones is unlikely to change dramatically from their current shape and form, say experts, although "flexible displays" could be the buzz in the industry in the coming years.

"Following phablets, I think flexible screens will be the next craze in the smartphone market. With a flexible screen, you'll be able to have larger or smaller screen sizes based on a particular need," said Kiranjeet Kaur, senior market analyst at IDC.

Smartphone makers are in a race to create flexible-screen devices that can be bent, rolled up or folded up to fit inside a pocket. Last year, Samsung Electronics and LG launched smartphones featuring curved screens, bringing them a step closer to achieving devices with flexible screens.

Some, however, are skeptical about whether such devices will truly take off.

"It's incredible challenging to create a flexible display that's designed to be folded on a daily basis. Such devices have a high level of wear and tear. I'm very cautious. There have been so many mobile products over the years that look great and demo well, but following the launch there are many customer returns, said Ian Fogg, senior principal analyst, Electronics and Media for IHS.

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Biometric buzz

Over the coming years, consumers can count on a continued improvement in battery life – with more convenient ways of charging their devices including wireless chargers – as well as better camera quality, say experts.

"Camera quality is one feature where there is plenty of headroom for improvement. The camera's low light performance and zoom could improve greatly from what smartphones are currently delivering," said Fogg.

In addition to this, the smartphone's user interface will continue to improve with more sophisticated voice and gesture features, and biometric controls will become much more commonplace than it is today, say experts. Apple, for example, set the ball rolling with biometric authentication, by including the fingerprint recognition feature, Touch ID, in its iPhone 5S last year.

End of role as primary interface?

With the rise of wearable devices – from smartwatches to smartglasses – there's a debate going on about whether the smartphone will continue to be the primary interface for most people.

Independent technology consultant Tom Cheesewright says the smartphone will spend an increasing amount of time inside the pocket, acting as a central hub for wearable devices.

"I think we're already seeing the first signs - if you can see who's calling or answer it from your wrist via [a smartwatch] then why pull your phone out?" Today, mobile phone users unlock their phone an average of 110 times a day, according to data from the app company Locket.

While analysts say the current range of wearable technology may not be sophisticated enough for the mass market, there is little doubt the industry will take off over the coming years. The sector is projected to grow to over $42 billion in the next three to five years from $3 billion- $5 billion in 2013, according to Credit Suisse.

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"We will also start seeing smartwatches and smart glasses potentially displacing smartphones. There are already standalone smartwatches with the same capabilities as mobile phones. Smart glasses will be a little bit further down the line," said Josh Flood, senior analyst, Mobile Devices, Applications & Content at ABI Research.

Fogg of IHS shared a similar view, adding, "Smartglasses have the potential to be quite a disruptive market if they gain consumer acceptance and culture issues are overcome."

Kiranjeet Kaur, of IDC, on the other hand, is less convinced the smartphone will get displaced by wearable devices.

She said, "Wearable products have their limitations. With watches, there is only so much you can view. If you want to read an email, you still need a bigger screen. Google glasses are a nice concept, but how much can you really use them on the go?"

"At the end of the day, smartphones can still be a private a device," she added.

—By CNBC's Ansuya Harjani. Follow her on Twitter @Ansuya_H

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