Smartphones with a sense of smell? IBM’s bold technology predictions for the next 5 years


Each year IBM releases its “5 in 5” list offering five technology predictions for the next five years. This year’s list focuses on the five senses and details one new technology for each. All suggest intriguing possibilities for the future of smartphones.

For smell, IBM predicts digital “noses” that can sniff out underlying medical conditions in a person’s breath. For sight, digital visioning enhancements could also have medical applications or be used to scan uploaded photographs for advertising purposes. For taste and hearing, technology could help craft foods that are maximize both nutrition and flavor or develop better hearing implants and predict the weather. Possibly most applicable to smartphones, advancements in touch screens might allow us to feel the textures we see.

An obvious use for something like touch is retail. Shoppers surfing Amazon would have a chance to actually feel the fabric of the clothes they are browsing. But the other predictions offer more outside of the box thinking.

With a digital nose, for instance, a smartphone could act as a fire alarm or carbon monoxide detector. Google could target advertising based on local scents. Is that the scent of delicious pizza wafting through the air? Here’s a Google Offer for a nearby slice shop. This, of course, is something that is likely much further down the road.

The combined digital senses could be used to aid in another IBM prediction from 2006, remote health care access. A patient could send samples and images direct from their phone to be used in crafting a diagnosis. But speaking of older predictions, it’s worth nothing that not all of IBMs guesses have panned out.

The first two 5-in-5 forecasts to pass their fifth year have been a little hit or miss. We do have access to technology like mobile wallets and advancements in driving like Google’s computer-driven cars, but we’ve missed out on the 3D internet and reliable real-time speech translation.

The beginnings of several of IBM’s predictions for this year already exist, but even with rapidly advancing computer and mobile tech it’s hard to imagine something like a smartphone display that can simulate textures on the fly arriving within the next five years. Still, it’s fun to imagine what the world will be like when such a technology inevitably debuts.

[IBM via Slate]

Kevin Krause
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  1. Who cares about what IBM thinks, didn’t they jump on the wimax bandwagon, that was another one of their predictions that has been proven to be a failure now I that Sprint has jumped on the LTE train.

    1. I think iDen is still the way to go *chirp Chirp* Where you at?!

    2. sprints 4g sucks…… when doing tests it gives good results but when you put it to the test you can’t even load a two minute YouTube video properly

  2. So much for blaming the dog when that happens.

    1. lol you stil can

  3. Maybe you can fart on the phone and it can tell if you have stomach problems

    1. Then somebody calls

    2. So instead of a the handful of fart apps in the play store you’ll start to see a bunch of “Guess what I ate” apps.

    3. Lol my first thought when I read the title was that we will be seeing a some actual fart detector apps on the market soon…

  4. I just love these predictions

    Five years in the past phones were pretty much like they are now, just with slower CPU, GPU and radio, but five years in the FUTURE! Well thats a completely different game! Touch, smell , AI, teleportation, whatever! The sky is the limit (when you re just making stuff up)

    I think people still havent gotten over the blooming of science and technology of the 20th century and still think like people in the 60’s and 70’s (Remember? Manned missions to Mars by ’83 and all that..)

  5. I respect IBM but are these predictions generally accurate? Regarding the sense of smell, I haven’t even seen or heard of a prototype, how all the sudden is it going to be out for consumers with all of this functionality? This seems like 10-15 years.

    1. 10 to 15 for Apple products. 5 years seems pretty reasonable at the rate Android is moving.

  6. The only thing I can think of why we would need that is more so to smell things we can’t, like carbon monoxide.

  7. My phone would not like me if it could smell, I always use it in the bathroom….

  8. Sooooo, does that mean we will be able to feel boobs on our phone when we watch porn?

  9. This is the biggest crock of shıt

  10. I’m a congenital Anosmic. I was born without a sense of smell and would LOVE some sort of technological replacement.. however as a realist.. I’m not holding my breath (or my nose for that matter)

  11. Im guessing this will affect peoples battery life tremendously lol

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