The Phones of 2077
Do CD Projekt Red’s gizmos embrace substance over style?
That hulking mass you see floating in mid-air? It’s the only smartphone available to Night City residents in Cyberpunk 2077’s dystopian vision of the future. Themes of power and glamour permeate through every facet of the game’s poignant locales and everyday tech. If you’re wondering how I got a phone model to spawn by its lonesome, I have a well-timed bug to thank. Either way, it’s an interesting glimpse into how Polish developer CD Projekt Red envisions the future of personal computing. And while some elements do lack, err, polish, there are several clever design and technical decisions that align with how technology is progressing. The ramifications are alarming.
While games like Grand Theft Auto 5 do a brilliant job in terms of smartphone representation (it even has Windows Phones), a glimpse of a future that contains only one smartphone model does raise some questions. Is CD Projekt Red focusing its resources elsewhere or is the move deliberate? The smartphone manufacturer might very well be enforcing a monopoly in Night City. Fits pretty well with the bleak narrative, truth be told. This might also explain how the phones can get away with looking like bricks. With body modification becoming a national pastime, a smartphone sounds like a woefully outdated idea. Cyberpunk 2077’s miniature radios that pass for smartphones further stir the pot of irrelevance in an age where ocular implants do a better job at conveying information.
If a megacorporation managed to monopolize personal computing, they don’t need to innovate to bring customers in. Pricing is no longer a concern either. Conniving business practices would ensure that the vendors in the supply chain remain exclusive partners, killing off rivals before they take their first steps. And don’t even think of anti-trust regulators. Dying government systems in Cyberpunk 2077 are nothing but pawns for corporations, riddled with puppet mayors knee-deep in corruption. The parallels drawn to the real world are hard to ignore.
In 2077, privacy is a commodity that has already found the highest bidder. And while implants harvest information on a subdermal level, phones still serve the purpose fairly well. And even if smartphones were relics from a bygone era, corporations pull the strings in Night City. They define what is essential and what isn’t.
Information is more than skin deep
Right off the bat, it’s clear that none of Night City’s distinct senses of style made their way into smartphones. But the term cyberpunk doesn’t just imply the future, it implies one where the past is juxtaposed with the present. These phones look like they could take a bullet in the middle of an Instagram Live and keep chugging along. As for the triple camera setup, I’m hoping they pack ultra-wide and depth cameras. A LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) would be a sweet bonus for AR enthusiasts.
Unfortunately, we don’t know how the software functions because all you get is a single static screen irrespective of whether the user is gaming or taking a picture. And it displays the year as 2071 which is either a developer oversight or a warped reality, a cause for serious concern. While that might mean that content is visualized via an implant, this effectively renders the screen useless. In fact, this is how the protagonist uses their phone too, with messages and calls showing up on their visual implants and not on their smartphone. With devices like Microsoft’s HoloLens picking up steam, it’s only a matter of time before it shrinks into something that slots into your head.
As for the device’s hardware, it’s a mixed bag. Sure, those large buttons might aid accessibility and what appears to be a 3.5 headphone jack is a cause for celebration. The grippy exterior could take a beating and the deep grooves might help segregate haptic stimuli. And the camera button (might be a volume/zoom wheel) is a welcome addition. But a non-reversible port is unforgivable in 2020, let alone 2077. It looks more like an HDMI port, which makes me wonder whether the device can be hooked up to an external monitor to get more serious things done. Or serve as an authenticator.
Tablets on demand
Yep, 2077 has tablets. Two of them, to be precise. The static screens in question weren’t at an adequate resolution for a bystander (yours truly) to sneak a peek. Either way, the bizarre diagrams and complicated graphs are well beyond my understanding. Placing vents on the left of these devices is a strange hardware decision because some of 2020’s best laptops are already fanless. The ARM chip-toting Macbook Air delivers excellent results without the help of a fan. The port at the bottom isn’t a foreign sight, especially if you consider the tablets of old that weren’t trying to be laptop replacements. But what really got my mind thinking was the little gizmo people were using in tandem with their tablets.
BCIs (Brain-Computer Interface) are currently in infancy but the possibilities they possess are immense. Think of them as devices that can measure minute electrical signals that travel in your brain, letting them gather precise information on the current state of your body and mind. And in the future, CD Projekt Red believes that these devices can alter said signals, letting you experience sensations no longer limited by the physical dimension. Editors can amplify or suppress these signals at will, leaving users at their mercy. In Cyberpunk 2077, you get to tinker with braindances, a saved digital experience of an individual. While it does help detectives look for clues, these devices could be worse than lethal in the wrong hands. I’ve had the good fortune of working with a BCI device in a project designed to detect fatigue levels with the help of the brain’s alpha waves. Ship that to a corp that turns them into “productivity detectors” and you can see where we’re heading.
No matter how you slice it, phones and tablets are still essential in 2077. Cyberpunk 2077’s passersby are often engrossed in their jet-black bricks with gold accents, whipping them out for a short gaming session as they wait for a train or a shooting spree amidst Night City’s neon-dripping sights. While lantern and fish holograms populate the city’s Little China region in the Watson district, AR technology doesn’t seem to factor heavily into how residents interact with technology in 2077. In fact, “jacking in” to a terminal with interface plug implants is common in the game, be it for authentication or something more sinister. Enjoy your stay in Night City but remember. You aren’t sightseeing alone. The walls have ears and your eyes aren’t just yours.