With 2016 in front of us, it’s a good time to take a look at some new developments and trends in mobile phones, and how they could change the way we use and interact with each other and the world around us.
1. Flexible Design and New Form Factors
The undeniable success of Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and Galaxy Note Edge tells us a lot about consumer demand for new form factors. Samsung has managed to fuse form with function into a single cohesive unit that is both beautiful to look at and a pleasure to operate. LG takes a very similar approach with their Flex series of mobile phones. Their gentle vertical curve improves ergonomics of touchscreen operation and regular phone calls.
These existing technologies are, however, just a hint of what’s to come in the future. Samsung’s own “Foldable Valley” device should launch early this year, and it is planned to have a bendable plastic display that is going to open and close like a book. This would allow users to enjoy benefits of a large screen while simultaneously not compromising when it comes to portability.
Some smartphone manufacturers such as Oukitel and Yota are experimenting with the use of e-ink displays on the back of their devices. The e-ink display can stay active at all time and give users convenient access to notifications, calendar events or current time information without draining the phone’s battery. It’s unlikely that the use of e-ink displays will ever become a mainstream affair, but it’s expected that we will see more smartphone take this approach in the future.
2. New Battery Technologies and Improvements in Battery Capacity
Many existing consumer surveys prove the simple fact that low battery capacity of current generation smartphones and tablet devices is the single biggest annoyance users have to deal with on a daily basis. The year 2015 got us out of the 2000-something mAh territory, and we expect this trend to continue in the future.
Some manufacturers go the route of ultra-high capacity smartphones while others try to innovate the way we charge our phone and even the battery technology itself. A good example of the former approach is Oukitel with their 10,000 mAh battery capacity smartphone called Outkitel 10000. If your smartphone lasts about a day of regular usage, you can expect this behemoth to have enough battery power for up to 3 days of continuous usage.
Batteries of such a large capacity can take a very long time to charge, which is exactly when fast charging technologies such as MediaTek Pump Express Plus and Qualcomm Quick Charge come into play. These technologies speed up the charging process by up to 75%.
Wireless charging technologies are also constantly evolving and shaping how often we charge our devices throughout the day. Wireless chargers based on the Qi technology have become fairly ubiquitous, and customers got used to the convenience of simply laying down their smartphone on a charging pad. The WattUp wire-free charging system promises to bring wireless charging to the next level by delivering energy over the air in practically any space. Charging could finally become something that happens completely automatically as we go about our daily lives.
However, despite obvious improvement in many areas related to mobile batteries, one thing is clear: the current Li-ion battery technology is simply not able to keep up with advancements in mobile processing power. Sodium-ion batteries are just one of several new, promising battery technologies that could potentially give our devices the long battery life we all wish for. These batteries use sodium ions as charge carriers, and their main advantage is the abundance of battery grade salts of sodium and the ability to discharge to 0% without damaging the active materials.
3. Smartwatches as Companions to Our Smartphones
What started out as simple fitness tracking companions have evolved into a useful daily device that can largely replace our smartphones when it comes to basic communication and task management. The fusion of voice control technology, mobile internet access and advances in mobile hardware have made smartwatches into one of most trending products of 2015.
We except a strong continuation of this trend and further advancements in the hardware capability of smartwatches and their move toward a mainstream audience. Currently, the most visible obstacle standing in the way of mass market adoption is the lack of useful applications and high cost. This is expected to change as manufacturing becomes less expensive and new augmented reality wearable devices enter the market.
Crowdsourced Apps and Smartphones as a Control Hub
Crowdsourcing is becoming the leading business model for the second half of this decade. AirBnB, TaskRabbit and Uber show just how versatile and cost-effective this model can be. Mobile platforms are the natural environment for these services and applications.
A very similar shift can also be observed when we look at the Internet of Things. This term is used to describe the invisible network of physical objects embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect and exchange data. It has the ability to profoundly change the way we interact with our surroundings.
4. Faster Wireless Networks
LTE-A (or LTE Advanced) is a planned enhancement of the current LTE standard. It was standardized in March 2011, and it focused on bandwidth improvements, with peak data rate of 3 Gbps for download and up to 1.5 Gbps for upload. There are already some compatible devices available on the market, however, the availability of LTE-A connection is limited mostly to the biggest metropolitan areas in Asian countries.
LTE-A achieves its high speeds thanks to a technology called “carrier aggregation”. Essentially, it simplifies the way in which your device is able to send and receive data from two different frequencies at the same time.
Keep in mind that LTE-A isn’t the only wireless network standard of the future. There is also the 4GX, the XLTE and VoLTE, which stands for Voice Over LTE. As the name would suggest, this technology would allow users to transmit their voice over LTE network instead of using traditional cell phone networks.
Phablets Will Dominate the Market
Looking back, it’s interesting to see how the position of phablets changed just over the past year or two. Previously, every device with screen larger than 5” was instantly ridiculed and deemed to be unusable. It seems, though, that customers just needed to overcome their initial concerns about portability of large smartphones. Today, 5.5” screens are considered to be the norm, and we have learned to appreciate the usefulness of large displays.
The year 2016 could mark the mainstream acceptance of 6” smartphones. This will largely be caused be technology advancements allowing manufacturers to make bezels almost non-existent.