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Smartphone trends of past years and possibilities for the future

March 14, 2019

Smartphones have become the most essential things to us. In fact we look at it approximately a hundred times each day, and even more for young people. Since its invention in 1992 by IBM, and the success of the first iPhone in 2007 with its revolutionary touch screen, the smartphone has known many evolutions, improvement and tweaks over the last decade. On what aspects do brands focus their attention? and what should we expect to have on new devices for the next few years ?

In the very early 2010’s, brands wanted to create the slimmest phone possible, without decreasing its battery capacity or removing some features. For that, constructors had to adapt the overall size of the devices. The smartphones became slimmer, with a bigger and bigger screen each year. Some people complained about it, claiming that a smarthphone was meant to be small and easy to carry in a pocket, and some people made jokes about that, saying phones would soon be as big as tablets.

Screens have also greatly evolved in resolution, and have got higher pixel density, making the small gaps between pixels less visible and making it more pleasant to look at the screen. The OLED technology appeared a few years ago, and is now replacing the LCD’s. OLED screens have more vibrant colors; the major difference can be seen on dark colors, because OLED pixels are completely turned off where light doesn’t need to be displayed, contrary to LCD’s.

In terms of security, smartphones first had the classic code to type on the screen. Then, a fingerprint scanner was added on the main button; this is the safest and fastest way to unlock the device in my opinion. Then face recognition made its way out, first with Samsung. Then, Apple presented the iPhone X with its advanced “Face ID” technology.

Photography is a very useful feature in smartphones, and is an important aspect that defines if a smartphone is decent or not. Technologies in this sector have greatly evolved, and nowadays some smartphones take even better pictures than a standard camera. Huawei introduced the first smartphone with a double camera in 2016, and many companies followed this trend, which became viral. Some brands went a bit too extreme, like Samsung which presented the A9 in 2018, with four cameras… Google seems to be the only brand to resist this trend, and still features only one camera on their smartphones, with still very good pictures.

The number of software features has increased, with web stores, apps and many other functionnalities.  So smartphones have gained in power and got more sophisticated hardware each year to be able to do the heavy task managing, required to run and support many apps. Oneplus is a great example in this domain: their devices are known to be the most powerful on the market. Brands used this as an advantage when they started to lack innovation, and just made smartphones faster than their previous model, because they simply put a newer and faster processor, and changed some features on the design (I’m thinking about the iPhone 8, which is basically an iPhone 7 with a wireless charging technology…).

A small detail that created debate a couple of years ago was the removal of the Headphone Jack on smartphones. Apple was the first to do that with the iPhone 7, saying that it was necessary to make the device smaller, and that it wouldn’t be such a big deal anyway, since wireless technology was becoming popular. Many brands first made fun of this, but then followed this trend, like Samsung or Oneplus, even though they could integrate this Jack.

By 2017, brands started to make bezel-less screens, meaning that they gained screen space by removing the home button, and let only a small notch for the earpiece, front camera and some sensors, becoming smaller and smaller over the years. Then a Chinese smartphone brand presented in 2018 a smartphone, the Oppo Find X, with a retractable upper part that pops up when you use the camera, making the largest screen-to-body ratio, and a better alternative to the notches at the top of the screen. We can expect that other brands will use the same feature for their future devices.

 

Nowadays in 2019 and for the next few years, brands put the effort on designing a smartphone with a totally plain screen, without buttons, but still have access to a fingerprint scanner at the front of the device. OnePlus was the first brand that managed to integrate a fingerprint scanner directly into the screen on their 6T model, with very impressive results.

In terms of hardware and technology, 5G network should be released by 2020, and many brands start to build devices that can support it. 4K screen resolution is on the way to fit future devices, with more storage and RAM memory and many other improvements. However battery life cannot be really improved yet because no new technology has been discovered, so the only solution today is improving fast charging, to gain 40% of battery level in 15 minutes. Artificial intelligence is also progressing and should be used more.

An American startup, Royole, created a functionnal prototype smartphone with a foldable screen, the “FlexPai”. This weird but impressive feature allows to have a screen size of a tablet, and can be folded to fit in a pocket or hand, with the software still working and adapting to fit the folded or unfolded position of the device. Its major problems are thickness and expensive price (over $1300). The project seems to be a fantasy, but rumors have it that the Samsung Galaxy X will have a foldable screen, so maybe this would be the future of our smartphones…

Dimitry.

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