What Next For Smartphones?

We have almost hit saturation point, so what's up next?


The last twenty years has seen mobile phones transform from box-like contraptions used exclusively to make phone calls, into mini computers that you sometimes hold to the side of your head and shout into. Some think they’ve reached their pinnacle and they’re now on the way out. Research firm Kantar’s recent report on the smartphone industry’s future growth prospects concluded that the market is spiralling towards its ultimate demise. They found that mobile penetration in the major economies, mainly the United States and Europe, has reached 91%, suggesting that that almost every individual capable of buying and operating a smartphone already has one. This is reinforced by Apple’s latest earnings announcement, which showed a slowdown in smartphone sales. Aside from the interminable stream of updates and gimmicky add-ons, it is difficult to see where there is left to go. However, phone companies are not throwing in the towel just yet, and they are developing new technologies that will even further entrench mobile into our day-to-day lives.

Rumors around the latest features for the iPhone 7 have, thus far, hardly set hearts racing. The removal of the headphone jack may have significant ramifications for the music accessory industry, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone rushing out to buy one specifically for the feature. Setting aside the iPhone 7 though, there are a number of more exciting developments in the pipeline.

With phones now barely discernible from tablets, they are becoming harder and harder to carry around, and phone companies have a couple of solutions. One of these is organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens - paper-thin screens that displays from both sides of the screen, so you can show pictures or videos to your friend on one side while using the other as a control. They are also bendable, so they can be folded up to fit more comfortably in the pocket. This has the added advantage of making them wearable, and we are likely to see a number of innovations that could see them used as watches.

Another option being considered as a solution for the screen size dilemma is holographic projection. According to Mobiledia Network, MasterImage 3D had previously showcased their ongoing development on a projection system that allows smartphones to display 3D holograms at the annual Mobile World Congress last February. This would allow for games or videos to be played basically anywhere with a flat service.

One of the most annoying aspects of smart phones is the short battery life. Israeli tech company StoreDot has come up with one way around the problem, developing a customized charger for the Samsung Galaxy S5, whose nano-tech battery high-striked from 0-100% in one minute. The technology emerged as a side-effect of research into Alzheimer’s disease, when it was discovered that the peptide molecules which cause the disease have incredibly high capacitance, making them great at storing electrical charge.

These new technologies, while useful, are not exactly life changing. The development of AI and virtual assistants, however, will transform our day to day lives completely over the next decade. Virtual assistants are the trendiest themes in tech right now. Apple has Siri. Microsoft has Cortana. Google has Google Now. Facebook has M. At the moment, these are largely unimpressive, but the technology is set to explode in the next few years, becoming so intuitive that they will basically organize every facet of our existence. While this is unlikely to lead to more growth - short of instigating a population boom, there’s little smartphone companies can do about market size - it will at least sustain the industry for years to come.  

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