Phones of the future – 9 cameras, chargeable over thin air and fold like a napkin
In the past few years, there have not been many changes to smartphone bodies, but this is about to change. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the major hardware changes you can expect.
Future smartphones are likely to be very different from what we’re used to today. Imagine pulling your phone out of your bag or pocket and unfold it into a tablet like a napkin. One press of a finger on the screen will unlock it. When the camera app is activated, an array of up to nine lenses are used at the same time to shoot one huge photo.
These are all features that are already available, albeit only in prototypes, or models only sold in China. Korean analysts predict that Samsung may release a folding “Galaxy X” phone in the very near future – maybe even next year. When trying to predict the future of smartphones, one can’t help but feel that we are on the edge of the most substantial changes to both the functionality and the design of these devices since they first appeared on the scene.
This shake-up is long overdue. Although your phone is probably an extension of yourself you can’t do without, it has become so commonplace that there is no excitement left. The front of the iPhone 8 looks virtually identical to the iPhone 6 that was released some four years ago. According to recent research done by Kantar Worldpanel, Americans use their old phones longer than ever before at about 25.8 months, while the analyst firm Counterpoint pegs the average global smartphone replacement cycle at 21 months.
The mobile industry has recently been focusing on artificial intelligence and software capabilities, and there is still a lot that can be done in those arenas, but most people upgrade when phone hardware is improved. There are still massive opportunities in that area.
Tim Bajarin, a long-time futurist and tech analyst at Creative Strategies, is enthusiastic about the future of technology and predicts than when the next decade arrives, there will be a revolution in everything ranging from glasses to flexible displays.
Here are some of the ideas of the future that will make the next phones interesting. If not the next model, then at least the one after that.
Cameras with more lenses
Both Samsung and Apple phones already have two lenses on the back. The second lens assists with measuring depth and zoom shots. This enables the user to create bokeh photos with backgrounds that are artistically blurred. The Huawei P20 Pro is the first phone to use three lenses: one 3x zoom lens, one monochrome lens to help with low light situations and depth, and one color lens.
Light, a camera manufacturer, has taken this concept even further. They already have working prototypes available that use between five and nine lenses on the back of the phone. This allows the phone to capture 64 megapixel shots, provides sophisticated depth effects and allows for better performance in low light.
Combining that many lenses with the processor power needed to combine the individual shots comes at a price. Light’s stand-alone camera with 16 lenses has a price tag of US$1,950 and it will probably be released later this year.
Charging over thin air
One of the biggest problems with modern phones is battery life. Researchers have, however, developed ways in which low levels of power can be beamed through the air. Various companies, including Ossia and Energous, use radio frequencies to send power, while others, such as Wi-Charge, use infrared light.
Both of these technologies are already at the functional prototype stage. These charging systems will however only work in a room fitted with power transmitters. Energous is looking at embedding the transmitters into other gadgets, including speakers and computers, and these could charge any other electronics in close proximity. Wi-Charge could embed their power transmitters into light fixtures.
Addressing the concern that these transmitters could be harmful, the manufacturers state that they are safe due to the low levels of power. In spite of this, extra precautions are being taken, with WiPower’s solution cutting out automatically if anything comes between the receiver and transmitter. Energous claims that its tech does not emit more radiation than mobile phones do.
Although this wireless charging is slower than plugging in a phone, this would not be that important if the phone is charged all day. Tech companies have been working on this technology for years, but are only now managing to clear the regulatory hurdles. Their next challenges will be to solve the issue of how to get the transmitters into homes, coffee shops and airports, and get gadget manufacturers to use them.
Energous is said to release the first version in a matter of weeks. These will be built into hearing aids that require closer contact. Devices able to charge over medium and longer distances will probably be released by 2019 or 2020. Wi-Charge hopes to sign up electronics manufacturers by next spring.
This technology has been worked on for at least ten years, with Samsung releasing a folding phone concept video at CES in 2013. The first screens that could be bent were used for curved phones and TVs. The President of the Society for Information Display, Helge Seetzen, explained that screens that can be bent repeatedly are now possible, and predicts that screens will be able to fold as sharply as a piece of paper soon.
A gadget dubbed a “phoneblet” was shown by a company called BOE at a recent display industry conference. The 7.5-inch screen can fold, without seams, into a phone and back again. The company explained that they removed the traditional backlight and color filter, and used plastic instead of rigid glass. The pixels don’t break when the screen is bent because each one is so small.
Going from working prototypes to manufacturing millions of screens that can fold and unfold reliably is tough. Anything that uses hinges could break easier than the solid devices currently available. Using plastic could, however, make tablets and phones more resistant to shattering, even if it means they’ll scratch easier.
Foldable devices are likely to be released in a year or so, although the first ones may still have seams. Analysts predict that Samsung will start producing their folding phone (“Galaxy X”) in November. It will likely debut in 2019 at a cost of US$1,850. Seetzen predicts that screens that can be folded like paper are still at least five years away.
Inside Fingerprint Scanners
With the first full-screen phones, various Android phones installed the fingerprint function on the back. With the iPhone X, Apple replaced the home button with face-scanning sensors. These are, however, not perfect and fail often enough to become annoying.
Phone manufacturers can, however, now embed fingerprint readers inside the screen. The phone will unlock when a finger is pressed on the right area of the screen, indicated by an image of a thumbprint.
Synaptics, a component manufacturer, developed a method to take a picture of a finger by looking in-between the phone’s pixels, while Qualcomm developed an ultrasonic sensor that can scan not only though screens, but also through metal. This sensor will even work underwater. This tech is used by Chinese phone manufacturers Xiaomi and Vivo.
A report in Korean tech media states that Samsung “confirmed” that its Galaxy S10 would use an in-screen scanner. This report has not, however, been confirmed by Samsung.Source