Recognizably modern smartphones have been around for about 10 years. Go back to 2010, and practically every smartphone on the market had adopted the classic shape that we know and love today.
In the intervening years, the underlying technology moved on leaps and bounds. But if you were to ask a child to draw a smartphone, most would give you back the same image.
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Over the next ten years, most people think that the market will essentially remain the same. Yes, phones will get a little more powerful and sleeker in their design. But we’re bumping up against the limits of what science allows – or so the story goes.
But is that actually true? Maybe not. Technology always has the ability to surprise. And things often seem magical or far-fetched until human ingenuity makes them a reality. Phones themselves are an excellent example of this.
So, in this post, we take a look at some of the technologies that smartphones have in store for us over the next decade or so. We think that it is going to be a wild ride.
No More Ports
Modern smartphones all have ports. Some have several.
However, ports aren’t functional or desirable in themselves. And, given the way that technology is advancing, increasingly redundant.
Take headphone ports, for instance. In the past, the idea that you could have wireless earbuds seemed like a long-shot. But they already exist, with some manufacturers, like Apple, insisting on them. Given advances in Bluetooth protocols and the basic hardware, audio ports are going to become redundant very soon, if they haven’t already.
The same is true of charging ports. Most phones today require physical wires to connect to the battery to provide power. But there’s nothing in the laws of physics that says that you have to charge li-ion batteries in this manner. Wireless charging pads, therefore, will likely take the place of chargers. You won’t have to deal with any annoying wires. And you won’t have to swap your old phone charger for a new one every couple of years when it breaks.
More Rear Cameras
Modern phones usually have three rear cameras for different situations. But, in the future, they may have many more. That’s because different lenses serve different functions and you can get a higher-performing device if you mix them up. It’s almost impossible to make a single camera that will give users the ideal outcomes in every single setting.
We are also going to see big improvements in the megapixel count. The reason this is important is because it makes it easier to take high resolution photos of distant objects.
Right now, taking an image of a mountain range is possible on phone cameras. But the moment you try to zoom in on any particular detail, it becomes blurry. Cameras offering over 100 megapixels, wouldn’t have so many problems. In fact, they could actually achieve better outputs than their analogue equivalents eventually, if the pixel count goes high enough.
Phones with more than 500 megapixel cameras, for instance, would allow users to capture half a billion points of information in a single image, making digital zoom a real possibility. And it could all happen by 2030 if camera technology continues improving at its present rate.
We are currently living through the rollout of 5G – the most advanced network technology currently available. However, 6G will dominate the world of the 2030s.
What it will mean for smartphones remains to be seen. But essentially, it will deal with the issue of lag between phone inputs and outputs. And that could open up new use cases for phones.
We are already seeing some brands take advantage of 5G technology in interesting ways. SMARTY Wifi calling lets people talk using WiFi connections even with people answering via the conventional mobile network.
Whether 6G becomes a thing depends on the popularity of 5G and how much people use it. It could change how we use our phones forever, or it might have zero impact. We simply don’t know at this time.
Elon Musk’s Neuralink is already working on mind-machine interfaces in the lab. But there’s a chance that this technology could come to market before that company launches its first product. It’s all to do with the development of existing AI bots, like Bixby and Google Assistant. At the moment, we’re using voice commands. But there’s no reason why we couldn’t just wear something on our skulls that allows us to communicate with our devices using the power of brain waves.
The problem at the moment isn’t so much reading brain activity, but interpreting it. It turns out that how people think about different subjects differs from person to person. So providing generic solutions probably won’t work. Instead, currently, users have to train systems to get them used to their particular patterns of thought. It is only when they do this that they can begin giving their devices commands.
The hope is that new breakthroughs will improve “thought recognition.” There may be a way of discovering a common “language of the mind” that devices can simply read.
Battery life on most modern smartphones isn’t great. Engineers are constantly having to balance a phone’s performance with the available battery energy, ensuring that it can operate for a day of regular use.
Over-the-air charging, however, could put an end to the battery issue once and for all.
The way it would work is quite simple. Mobile networks or phone companies would install remote charging devices around cities. Then all phone users would have to do is get close enough to them to begin charging their phones.
The technology sounds futuristic, but it has been known about ever since Nikola Tesla. It’s only now, though, that people are getting to grips with the engineering side of the idea and trying to make it a reality.
What’s cool about this technology is that you could use it for just about anything. It would work on watches, headphones and even electric cars.
Phones That Stretch
Phones that bend seem futuristic enough. But imagine if you had a phone that stretched. Well, now that’s looking like a distinct possibility.
Phones that bend already imply a degree of stretching. That’s because when the screen bends back, it has to traverse a longer distance than before.
The idea in the future is to be able to take a regular phone and then stretch out the size of the screen so that it is more like a tablet. Whether it is technically feasible remains to be seen. But it is an exciting development that will help phones to expand beyond their current form factor.
Work is already underway to make stretchy displays a reality. Samsung, for instance, created a proof of concept screen able to stretch out more than 12 mm without breaking. But whether we will get something that’s more like an elastic band remains to be seen. Remember, it’s not just the screen that needs to stretch, but the rest of the phone with it, including the glass and electronics.
E-Ink Display Options
Have you ever noticed that reading off an Amazon Kindle device is a totally different experience from using a regular smartphone? That’s because Amazon equips its readers with e-ink displays, a special kind of display that mimics regular page ink. Amazon originally introduced it to make reading from its screens more comfortable. But now mobile phone brands are starting to see the utility.
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The current screen technology standard in the smartphone industry is OLED. As far as screen technology goes, this is a good one, because it gives users deep, rich blacks. However, it still relies on a backlight. And that can make staring at the screen less comfortable.
E-ink displays, however, work differently. These you can read in direct sunlight comfortably, like a book, because they work on fundamentally different technology.
Many engineers now want to combine the benefits of e-ink technology with OLED to create hybrid displays suitable for any situation. This way, people could use their phones as e-readers, without the need to buy a separate device.
Maybe Smartphones Will Disappear Entirely
So far, we’ve been assuming that smartphones will largely continue to exist in their current form – roughly brick-shaped objects that fit in your pocket. But there’s actually no fundamental reason why this should be the case. In all likelihood, they will continue to look the same. But by 2030, many people could be wearing their smartphones in the form of watches or even pieces of jewellery. Brain scanning and mind reading technologies may even advance to the point where it is possible for earphones to carry out the functions of a regular device.
Naturally, screens will still be a requirement. But smartphone technology could also quite easily fit into sunglasses. And it would be so discreet that it would look just like the regular object. You wouldn’t look like you’d just escaped a Borg cube, like people who tried Google Glass did.