5 smartphone innovations to look out for in the next 5 years

5 smartphone innovations to look out for in the next 5 years
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Compare mobile phones released this year and the year before and you may feel like nothing much had improved, just the same old saying of better battery, faster processor, maybe a new feature or two. But then look back just 5 years ago and the difference is quite incredible!

From the Apple iPhone 3G, which is the best-selling phone of 2008, to the Samsung Galaxy S4, currently one of the best-selling phone of 2013 (as of July 2013), there has been much innovation made on each phone, features that seemed normal and even expected now, but back then, we doubted its possibility or at the very least, thought it would only come many years later.

Within 5 years we broke the 10mm slimness barrier, increased screen sizes to a slightly impractical degree with full HD (1080p) and increased the capabilities in mobile imaging technology (such as the Nokia with the 41mp camera). There had been so much innovation over the past 5 years.

What sort of innovation can we expected over the next 5 years? Here are the 5 mobile phone innovations to look out for!

#1 - Batteries. Smaller In Size, Bigger In Capacity!


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Till this point, components of a mobile phone, from the materials used to make the shell to its processor have had enjoyed tremendous improvements. The same cannot be said about batteries, which is still the single largest component that makes up your mobile phone. But all that may change in the very near future!

Introducing supercapacitors – a type of battery that may one day take over the current standard lithium-ion batteries. Unlike lithium-ion batteries, super capacitors get fully charged 100 to 1000 times faster than traditional charges. And you don’t have to worry about the compromise of its capacity. A small flat piece of supercapacitor, made from graphene, was able to power a Light Emitting Diode for 5 minutes after only being charged for 2-3 seconds.

These graphene supercapacitors are carbon-based, as such they are considered as “green”. You can literally just throw it into your garden and it will be absorbed back into nature. But most important to our topic in discussion – this is a great advancement in mobile phone technology because super capacitors can be small, thinner, light, flexible, and more durable compared to current mobile phone batteries.

Once implemented into mainstream devices, the limitation for the shape and form of a mobile phone will be shattered, and how devices will look in the future will truly be left to the imagination!

*On a separate but related note, there are also reports that Nokia is working on a phone with an infinite standby time. They achieved this by harnessing the frequencies from 500 megahertz to 10 gigahertz acquired from television stations, radio stations and other sources through an ultra-wide band antenna to power the phone enough to keep a phone in standby mode indefinitely.

Currently they have achieved 5 milliwatts, with the short-term goal of 20 milliwats. Find out more about this advance in technology here!

#2 - Wireless Charging. Mobility Recharged!


Imagine being free of portable chargers, the charging plug in your bag, and the desperation to search for an available power socket which does not seem to be there when you need it. Imaging being able to charging your phone on any table you may find just simply by placing your phone on it! Introducing wireless charging, which when coupled with the innovation of the previous point of graphene supercapacitors, will essentially mean that we will truly no longer be held down our power hungry devices.

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Wireless charging is the future, and we are already in the transition to mainstream adaptation. If you haven’t already noticed, there are a few phones that you can own right now that come with this capability – Most notable is the Nokia Lumia series, which re-introduces wireless charging capabilities on mobile phones after the torch was dropped by the HP Palm series. If you own a Samsung Galaxy S4, you can also buy the official wireless charging kit (not available locally in Singapore though), which provides you with a charging station and a “Qi” wireless charging back cover.

What is Qi? Well just like your various electrical plugs, wireless charging also has different formats. Qi (pronounced as chee) is the wireless charging format under the Wireless Power Consortium, a major player in the ongoing race to get the biggest slice of this lucrative pie that is not only growing, but is bound to explode into the mainstream lifestyle very soon.

Wireless Triple Threat

Wireless Triple Threat

Competing with the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) are the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) and Power Matters Alliance (PMA).

Each organization is giving everything they got to get major players in the major industries to be their members and use their formats exclusively. Just to name a few, WPC has Nokia, A4WP recently welcomed Intel, and AMP has Samsung, HTC, and LG. You can see the full list of members at each of the respective links.

Click here for Member List of Wireless Power Consortium (WPC)

Click here for Member List of Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP)

Click here for Member List of Power Matters Alliance (PMA)

While each of these formats has the same intent of charging your device wirelessly, each comes with a slightly different method and a different set of pros and cons. And as different formats are not compatible, it is a gamble that may be costly for those on the wrong side, not only for players in the mobile industry, but also all corporations who may benefit from this upcoming technology. Businesses such as Starbucks and international airports all over the world are now installing table tops and other furniture with wireless charging capabilities.

Essentially putting money where their mouths are, each new installation/commitment is the equivalent to each corporation having placed their votes for what they believe will be THE standard for wireless charging.

Who will ultimately triumph? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, we consumers will benefit tremendously, regardless of the outcome.

*Side Note: There are rumors that the Iphone 6 will come with wireless charging, but living up to their name, they will have their own “better” format for all Apple products!

#3 - Waterproof. Not In The Method You Would Expect!


Ever since we had the knowledge that water and electricity does not belong together, we have all asked for this feature for a long time – the assurance that our mobile phones will be able to withstand the “death by drowning” scenario. And over the years we have seen countless manufacturing or quick fix solutions to this vulnerability.

From heavy armored devices such as the “G’zOne CA-201L” by NEC Casio shown below.

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To putting your phone in a condom (for full accessibility of your phone while making it both water and semen proof)

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But for now, the Sony Xperia Z is almost synonymous with being the first true waterproof phone that does not compromise design and usability.

But while the Sony Xperia Z certainly showcases our progress for this advantageous feature, we still have some ways to go. For instance, the Xperia Z’s approach for its waterproof feature is making its body out of glass-fibre polyamide. This, however, is only achievable due to the essentially box-like shape of a phone, of which the glass-fibre polyamide body can suitably encase.

While effective, such an approach will limit future designs, and as we have seen over the years, we can be confident that phones will be radically different in terms of both shape and design by the next decade.

But fret not, because an alternate solution is already in existence and I feel it IS THE SOLUTION to making not only our devices waterproof, but also everything that is applied with it.

Introducing Ultra-Ever Dry, a liquid-repellent coating that, at the nano level, acts as an powerful shield against water and water-based materials (paint, mud, etc). Simply by spraying this coating on to the phone devices during the manufacturing process, each of these devices will be protected by an umbrella of air so that water bounces right off!

Think this is magic? Well check out this great Ted Talk by Mark Shaw, who demonstrates the incredible effects of Ultra-Ever Dry below.

Our mobile phones will be completely waterproof in time, and that time is soon approaching. Hurray!

#4 - Screens. Flex It and Stretch It!


Ever since the iPhone was first unveiled in 2007, a mobile phone’s screen has transformed from just a simple screen that shows simple pixelated information to a window of wonders. The dynamic nature of touchscreens has also created a whole new need that was never conceived before in yesteryear, phones need to be bigger.

People want bigger screens – the increased screen real estate means more can be done on a phone and the viewing experience is greatly enhanced. However, due to the build of current phones, for a screen to be bigger, the entire body of the phone has to follow suit.

Samsung capitalized on this new trend (and way ahead of its competitors) when they released the Samsung Galaxy Note, which at the time of its release, was the world’s largest phone at 5.5inch in screen size. While Samsung is not the first company to create such a large phone, with companies such as Dell and HTC having similar attempts in the past; Samsung is undoubtedly the first to find commercial success in this area and thus is credited to the spark of this category of mobile phones called “Phablets” into mainstream attention.

Size Comparison

Size Comparison

*At the writing of this article, the biggest phone within the phablet definition is the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, which is equipped with a screen that is at a whopping 6.4inches in size!

One disadvantage that phablets though is their obviously enormous size! I personally believe that any phones with a screen size larger than 4.3inches will begin to compromise the tactical experience and usability (one-handed) of a phone.

But the demand for larger phones has never been stronger and it is still expected to grow in the coming years. This is because of the fact that phones with larger screens can simply do more than their smaller counter parts. It is great for multitasking and a pleasure to work on, and with only the issue of decreased mobility, you can expect screen sizes to grow in the future, but not using the current approach.

This is where it gets interesting! As said earlier, mobile phones are now bigger as that is needed to accommodate for the bigger screen size, but a new generation of screens are currently in testing, and fruit has been barred from much experimentations to eliminate the compromise on mobility.

Introducing flexible touchscreens! At the Consumer Electronics Show 2011, Samsung once again took center stage to unveil a bold new approach to mobile phones as we know them today. With flexible touchscreens, the possibilities of phones innovation has just been blown wide open.

This concept video made by Samsung caught my attention, illustrating the possibilities that flexible touchscreens can offer. Take a look. (The concept video starts at 2:40mins)

Phones that can be super thin, a pen that can transform in a phone and then into a tablet! The future of mobile phones as well as other portable devices is awesome! And in the next decade, there may be no more mobile phones and tablets and phablets, just one single category known as a mobile device!

#5 - Your All-in-One Device. Even More So Than Before!


Apart from converging with tablets, mobile phones have left a slew of other devices redundant in its reign. Since its invention in 1973, mobile phones had grown to more than just a medium of communication.

Phones that can be super thin, a pen that can transform in a phone and then into a tablet! The future of mobile phones as well as other portable devices is awesome! And in the next decade, there may be no more mobile phones and tablets and phablets, just one single category known as a mobile device!

The following list is does not include devices that the humble mobile phone has forced to extinction. Those victims are many and obvious. Below is a list of devices that are under the radar to be the mobile phone's hit list!

Ez-link & Credit Cards – With Near Field Communication (NFC) chips, your phone will soon replace your Debit/Credit cards, not to mention your Ez-link card, which you can sign up and join the beta test here. There are of course concerns about our security and the increased vulnerability of our personal information. But if history is any indication, then the majority of us will definitely determine that the pros of convenience will outweigh the cons of potential loss of personal information.

And since we have so much of our personal information on our phones, from our names to our loved one’s personal contacts, account sign-in information and any information associated with them, it sure begs the question, why not add one more?

But honestly, there are enough safeguards in place to make such information on your phone as safe as carrying it around, thus the only thing left to do is to just exercise vigilance.

Storage Devices – Mobile phones used to be completely dependent on memory cards, so much so that if you remember, they even came with the box as a package! In those days, the total memory space is hardly even worthy of being mentioned as a viable storage device. But now a respectable number of mobile phones rely completely on their internal memory space. It is huge too! From the now seemly miniscule 16GB to the huge 64GB, phones are slowly replacing the only job that our thumb drives have – to store files to transfer at a later time.

There are now more than enough memory space in our phones to store the files we used to put inside our thumb drives. But there is an exclusive benefit that mobile phones have over thumb drives, the ability to interact with the files. To be able to view and edit music, video, and document files on the move, mobile phones will soon replace thumb drives soon enough.

And with the increasing capability of cloud storage, transferring files between mobile phones and computers will also one day be so seamless, natural, and effortless that we cannot help it but use our mobile phones as storage devices over thumb drives.

GPS Systems – This is not something new, but honestly, up till recently, GPS systems on our mobile phones were not that reliable for driving purposes – they were slow, inaccurate compared to stand-alone GPS systems, and requires constant 3G/4G connection, which means greater strain on your phone’s battery and potentially higher data charges. It was also the core reason as to why stand-alone GPS systems are considered more reliable.

But GPS systems are increasingly much more reliable as time goes on. The most notable case is Nokia Drive (now Here Drive). It does not require data connection and by downloading the country’s map, it is also internationally useable. Coupled with the increased memory space that was talked about earlier, GPS systems on our mobile phones will definitely be much better and more aesthetically pleasing than stand-alone GPS systems.

Point and Shoot Cameras – This is the same story as GPS systems. It was not new, and the journey has been long. But we are soon reaching the tipping point when the majority of mobile phones are decisively better than point and shoot cameras. Mobile phones are now more portable than standard point and shoot cameras. They are also equipped with more software features (be it in-built or in the form of downloaded apps).

We are also now seeing a resurgence of what seemed to be essentially camera-featured phones, though compared to those before the smartphone era, these camera-featured smartphones are very versatile, powered by very creative applications and social media connections, though the same set of compromises do apply, most notably in the form of increased weight and thickness.

2 of the most notable camera-featured phones are the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom (which is essentially the Samsung Galaxy Camera with calling capabilities) and the soon to be released Nokia Lumia 1020 (which is equipped with a whopping 41mp carl zeiss lens camera equipped with optical image stabalisation)

It is noteworthy that both phones are taking very different routes in tackling one key area that has been a weakness of mobile phone imaging technology for years, the ability to zoom and shoot with clarity. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom had chosen the route that requires users to accept the compromise of size and portability for the capability of optical zooming. The Nokia Lumia 1020, however, had chosen the route that believes that users will ultimately choose portability, and to achieve the same zooming capabilities as optical zooming, the Nokia Lumia 1020 will intelligently use the 41mp to create an image that can be zoomed in through pinching without losing any detail.

One approach being hardware, the other being software, which will consumers ultimately settle for? Only time will tell.

Moga Controllers
Moga Controllers

Portable Entertainment Systems – Same story as the previous 2 points, but how mobile phones will replace the portable entertainment systems is slightly different. Because unlike the previous 2 points that sees the phone increase in its capability, to replace portable entertainment systems such as the PSP and the Nintendo 3DS, it needs an accessory. Accessories like the Moga controller will transform your phone into a full-fledged gaming controller. Play games with true controls that touch buttons on your phone simply cannot compete.And with the increased cross compatibility of various media devices, it could be possible that future console controllers will follow suit, utilizing your phone for the ultimate second screen experience! Find out more about the Moga controllers here!

Remote Controllers – Remote controllers are one of the most recent devices to be in the mobile phone’s target of replacement. Equipped with infrared transmitters, mobile phones now are transitioning and replacing universal remote controllers. Because of how infrared transmitters and receivers work (which you can find out about it here), it may be a recent trend, but its simplicity of implementation will make remote controllers one of the first victims of replacements in this list.

Thought of something else that you think a mobile phone will replace or a feature that will go mainstream in the next 5 years? Then comment below and tell me more =D