Why We’re Really Excited About the Future of Phones

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Look at your smartphone. Just look at it. What you’re carrying around with you to post Facebook updates and play Words With Friends would have been considered a supercomputer not too far in the past. Hardware and software have come a huge distance since the Windows Mobile days, and things are only going to keep getting better.

In many ways, we’re at a bit of a crossroads in the evolution of smartphones. Since the days of the first iPhone or the HTC Dream we’ve seen processing power reach new heights, screens grow in size and resolution, and the user experience delivered by these devices really grow to meet our expectations.

In fact, we’re starting to get to a point (if we aren’t there already) where your average smartphone really is “good enough” as it is. Data speeds and screen dimensions are satisfactory for viewing even non-mobile-optimized web pages, and unless you’re really pushing things with cutting-edge games, you might rarely run into situations where your phone really lags.

From rugged phones to super-thin slates, 3.5-inch pocket-friendly handsets to 6.5-inch giants, we also finally have a whole lot of options when it comes to the smartphones available to us. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that smartphones have hit an impasse; far from it. Things are going to keep getting better, only now in some new and interesting ways.

What’s Next:

Battery life is one area where there’s still tons of room for improvement, and we’re seeing some good progress. Manufacturers aren’t afraid to make a thicker phone if that means space for a massive battery, and beyond just throwing larger and larger batteries at the problem, they’re getting smarter about power, too. We’ve got chips like the Exynos 5 Octa which dedicate a huge portion of their silicon just to offer low-power cores to really squeeze extra time out of a charge, charging systems that can bring a phone back up to full power faster than ever, and new materials being used to deliver more power without increasing device size.

For the longest time, it seemed like just having a camera on a smartphone was enough. Then you needed a front-facer, too. Then everyone wanted the highest-resolution sensor around. Finally, though, we’re starting to place a premium not just on megapixel count, but image quality. Phones like the Lumia 920 made us think twice about the value of image stabilization and low light performance, and now companies like HTC are going out on a limb and cutting-back on resolution in order to try new ways to improve camera performance. There are any number of ways the industry could go from here, but we’re just excited to see that it’s really experimenting with making things better.

When companies are less focused on doubling performance every year, or working on gimmicks like 3D screens, they can take the time to refine some less sexy, less marketable qualities that are nonetheless due some serious overhauls. Sound quality is a big one there. For years, phones simply had to have a speaker – if it was stereo, that was a plus, and even if it wasn’t very loud, we could always just say “well, you’re really supposed to use headphones, anyway.” Now we see HTC really putting sounds front and center with the One, bringing its owners not just stereo sound, but really LOUD stereo sound, able to stand out and be heard. As other manufacturers react to the One, we should get even more phones with really great audio performance.

There are also changes coming that see what once were niche features start to go mainstream. Sure, rugged phones have been around for ages, but with models like the Xperia Z, we’re seeing some of those features – waterproofing in particular – become available in attractive packages. Waterproofing has always been big over in Japan, but this could be the year it finally sees global demand. Surely, anyone who’s ever lost a phone to an unforgiving toilet will be excited to see the Z in stores.

Staying on the subject of durability, glass technology is reaching some impressive new heights. Gorilla Glass keeps getting better every generation, and we’re finally starting to see sapphire screens come to phones. For the moment, they’re a luxury item, but if the demand is there, these well nigh scratch-proof sheets could start showing up on phones that you or I might actually consider buying; that’s the direction things seem headed, anyway.

Beyond all that, there are some fascinating new technologies just over the horizon. Will we ever see flexible screens bring us bendable smartphones? Probably, but the real question is going to be who finds a well to make such a thing more than a gimmick, and become a really desirable feature to seek out.

All in all, this is an awesome time to be a smartphone user. Things are great, and even better times are ahead. Companies which have spent years developing phone after phone are hitting their strides. With phone-making so second-nature by now, they can turn their attention to the sorts of improvements I just highlighted, making the next generation of handsets even more impressive than what we’re seeing now. Be excited.

Image: TechnoBuffalo

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!