What will the future of smartphones in 2016 look like?
According to the UN, 86% of the world’s population - that’s 6 out of the roughly 7 billion people living on this earth - had a mobile by the beginning of 2015. Another interesting point is that 2014-15 was the first year to see smartphones being the number one device preferred by consumer's to browse the Internet, overtaking their bigger and more powerful rivals, the desktop/laptop duo.
It’s now finally become the time where we can honestly and without a doubt say that the future is mobile. Since its inception, it has continued to evolve, surprise and impress. It’s a piece of technology that started out big and chunky and ugly, and that now comes in all different shapes and sizes—much smaller and pocket-friendly than it was originally—and is capable of more than what a laptop computer was only ten years ago.
The question then is now not 'Is mobile the future?' The question that we must ask ourselves is 'How will smartphones look and function in the future?'
The Future of Smartphones in 2016 & Beyond
When you think back on the last seven years of smartphones, even then, in such a short period, it’s easy to see just how far phones have come since they became smart. Though the iPhone 3 is not technically the first ever smartphone, it is probably a benchmark we can all agree changed the direction in which mobile technology was headed. It led the way and showed us just what we could start to expect in the future, including seamless Internet access that almost mirrored the experience of browsing the internet on a laptop.
Another key feature of the original iPhone included its built-in camera and video capabilities along with pre-installed applications of all different sorts, like games and music players... along with the idea of apps themselves. All this seems common now, but people of our generation or older will remember a time when smartphones weren’t so smart. A time where colored mobiles with cameras were a thing of awe and wonder, a thing that only the 'cooler' and 'wealthy kids' were afforded the luxury of.
Fast-forward to now, the year 2016, and this is what we are currently looking at regarding the landscape of mobile, and what we can expect to see unfold in the near future.
3-D Projectors & Foldable Screens
Speaking as someone who just a few days ago dropped his phone face down on a cement floor, this first point I’ve got to share with you is exciting. And it’s this: self-healing phones. Yep, it’s happening and has happened already. A lot of businesses are starting to experiment with scratch and shatter-proof ion-infused glass, as well as liquid metal cases. When this is perfected and standard on all smartphones, it will render the clumsier among us foolproof!
According to industry experts we should also expect to see 4k displays (4 x HD screen resolutions) on our smartphones within 4 or 5 years, possibly accompanied by a built-in projector, large enough for us to ditch our TVs and use our phones as a home cinema. Foldable screens are another big innovation we can count on in future - all thanks to Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) technology, with Samsung announcing plans to launch a per-thin foldable display smartphone in 2017.
Building on this, the phones of tomorrow will likely come fully loaded with 3-D projector screens allowing holographic images to shoot straight out of the phone to create touchable 3-D images, much like something some of you might have seen growing up in the cartoon series, the Jetsons.
Sounds like wishy-washy sci-fi nonsense, but it’s already being developed. 3D phones are already on the table, but we’d expect that holographic technology will mean that 3D screens only see the spotlight for a short while. All these display improvements have one thing in common they pale in comparison with the potential features augmented reality will bring to the table.
This is, to me the single most exciting thing about the future of mobile.
Augmented Reality & Digital Assistants
The term ‘augmented reality‘ or AR refers to using mobile and computer technology to enhance what we perceive through our natural senses, in particular, our sight.
For example, in a hypothetical futuristic scenario, you could point the camera in your phone at a map to get a real-time information overlay of where you can find the nearest cafes or dining place. Or, you could point your phone at the front door of a business and view an overlay of its opening hours and store catalogue.
Existing smartphone assistants like Siri will be transformed and become far more accurate, receptive, and intuitive, and providing a more—for lack of a better phrase—three-dimensional augmented reality.
Our smartphones will effectively turn into little companions, to whom we share our thoughts and feelings, who we’ll ask for advice regarding life’s most difficult questions, such as, 'where’d I leave my keys?', similar to that of a Robohon... kinda of.
It might take some time for AR to become a reality, but while we wait, we can expect to see considerable improvements in using voice control to engage with smartphone assistants, including full 2-way voice conversations.
Web searching as we know it today could disappear entirely – instead, our digital assistant will find what we’re looking for online based on our verbal description alone.
Verification & Security
ID verification is bound to become Bond-esque. Already fingerprint ID verification tech —which has, admittedly, been around for a long time (though in a practically useless form)—is standard on new smartphones.
From the iPhone 6 range to the new Samsung range, most flagship phones come with Fingerprint tech as a standard feature.
Even my Note 4 has a fingerprint verification system, which isn’t 100% perfect mind you, but which I nevertheless use for things like bank access and NFC payments.
Again, it’s part of the personalisation that new smartphones will offer in their tailored, augmented worlds that are specific to the user.
This will inevitably mean we’ll have not only more inbuilt microphones and better voice recognition in our phones, but also that our phones through these features will be connected to our televisions and laptops and, soon enough, light switches and air conditioners.
In fact, most technology forecasting seems to centre around predictions of a future in which all tech, including smartphones, exists in an interconnected, symbiotic network.
Speed & Lifespan
As we have all undoubtedly noticed, all this new fancy pants stuff amounts to nothing if the smartphone’s battery life doesn’t improve in parallel. Old phones lasted for days. After a full night’s charge, you could sleep easy knowing that your phone would comfortably take you through the day into the next without taking a break to suck some power out of a wall. Fortunately, it looks like (finally!) something about battery life is being done.
While the holy grail of the everlasting battery may be some way off, the development of titanium dioxide gel (which stores charge much more efficiently than current batteries) looks set to revolutionise battery life. Apple is also working on the concept of introducing Hydrogen-powered batteries which could potentially extend battery life up to 7 days per charge.
Maybe the solution isn't volume, rather speed. Scientists at Stanford University have developed an aluminium graphite battery that is believed to be able to fully charge a battery in just under 1 minute. Their aluminium graphite batteries are flexible, long lasting and capable of charging insanely fast. The fault with them though is just how many they can hold, currently having the power of half a lithium battery.
Their's also flexible batteries, skin power and water dew powered batteries... but we might leave those for a future post.Either way, expect some exciting development in battery life and charging speed in the very near future!
Along with improvements in how long your phone can stay on for, we can also expect to significant advances in just how much work it can do while it's switched on. After all, this talk of foldable screens and augmented reality can only become real if modern smartphones have the processing power to handle all of it.
No need to worry, if you think 4G browsing today is quick, most forecasters believe the next generation of wireless mobile networks could be rapid enough to download an HD movie in under 30 seconds... get excited about the future of smartphones in 2016... and beyond.