Whether you’re holding out on a major upgrade or are just interested in what’s to come, here are some pieces of smartphone technology that will be appearing in upcoming devices in the very near future.
We finally appear to be nearing the point of seeing this technology in viable products. There’s obviously been a ton of talk behind closed doors, Lenovo, and Samsung have showed off its stretchable display technology.
Under screen fingerprint scanners
With the move towards bezel-less displays, OEMs are having to come up with new solutions to continue implementing existing technologies. Fingerprint scanners and physical home buttons are two of the first things to be sacrificed for more screen real estate, but in- and under-screen solutions are being developed.
Samsung is said to be working on an under-screen fingerprint scanner to solve this problem, but it unfortunately seems like Samsung’s technology won’t be ready for the arrival of the Galaxy Note 8 either.
LG is working on an invisible embedded solution of its own, and Synaptics, which provides scanners for a number of consumer electronics OEMs, already has its FS9100 model that works under 1mm of glass. There’s also support for Qualcomm Sense ID in a wide range of chipsets, which support ultrasonic 3D fingerprint mapping. Most recently, Qualcomm announced its next generation of ultrasonic fingerprint scanners and smartphone manufacturer Vivo demoed the technology in a working prototype handset,
While physical home buttons with integrated fingerprint scanners are certainly going to stick around for the foreseeable future, especially in lower cost models, it won’t be long before we see flagship smartphones sporting some fancier, hidden alternatives.
Zoom lens cameras
Dual camera technology hit the mainstream last year, with a number of flagship, mid-tier and even more budget oriented models sporting a variety of configurations. While some dual camera setups aim to improve image quality or offer up new shooting modes, the other trend we’ve seen adopted by just a few OEMs is their use for improved zoom functionality.
Telephoto lenses have been available as third party smartphone accessories for a while now, but they’re often a bit inconvenient to carry around with you. Apple and Oppo have shown that this technology can be packed down inside a smartphone, with the iPhone 7 Plus, Oppo R11, and OnePlus 5 all boasting 2x zoom capabilities, even if not all are 2x optical zoom.
While the current 2x capabilities touted by smartphones are a nice extra, this relatively small zoom in doesn’t change the photography game massively, and digital zoom is still used for capturing more distant objects with the usual loss of quality. Oppo is currently working on a 5x dual camera zoom feature called Precision Optical Zoom, and Huawei’s Kirin 960 SoC announcement revealed that the chip supports processing for up to 4x zoom capabilities.
Furthermore, rumors report that Samsung may bring its own 3x optical zoom capabilities to the Galaxy Note 8, Corephotonics has repeatedly shown off its own 3x implementation that can supposedly reach up to 5x, and Apple aquisition, LinX, has the technology to scale up to even three and four cameras for enhanced zooming capabilities.
Today’s 2x optical zoom smartphones are just the beginning. We’ll almost certainly see more handsets appear offering even better zoom options in the not too distant future.
VPS indoor navigation
VPS uses a combination of computer vision, machine learning, and mapping coordinates to figure out the user’s location and route to their destination, even in areas where a GPS or data signal may be lacking.
At Google I/O 2017, the company unveiled its augmented reality VPS indoor navigation technology that will be enabled on Tango-equipped smartphones. The idea is that large shops, businesses, or warehouses can provide layouts of various products or important indoor locations, which Tango users can then use to navigate to desired items for purchase or other indoor locations easily. As well as indoor mapping, Google also says that it can envision the technology being used to assist the visually impaired with navigating their way around a variety of locations.
Augmented Reality Apps
Augmented reality encompasses a much wider range of technologies without necessarily requiring specialist hardware, all of which will revolve around superimposing information over imaging data from your camera. While virtual assistants and speech recognition already offers quick searches and reminders, augmented reality applications promise to be far more contextual.
Google Lens is a prime example of this type of technology heading our way soon. The application leverages Google’s computer vision and machine learning technology to provide information about what you’re looking at. This can range from simple things like identifying a plant type or landmark, to scanning WiFi access codes, or bringing up reviews for a restaurant across the street. We’ve already seen a more limited implementation with Samsung’s Bixby, and use cases should sit well alongside advancements in smart assistants.
Adaptive Displays (variable refresh rates)
If mobile virtual and augmented reality are to take off, then variable refresh displays – which some manufacturers call adaptive displays – is going to be key. By syncing the GPU output to a display’s refresh rate, “screen tearing” issues that can appear when performance temporarily drops are removed, and a smoother, more consistent looking frame rate helps avoid nausea in VR.
Even outside of VR, variable refresh displays can have a number of benefits for mobile. Higher refresh rates can make animations look smoother and UI elements feel a tad more responsive, as well as improving the fluidity of games and video. At the same time, reducing the display refresh rate when the UI is static can help save on battery life, as pixels don’t have to be updated as often.
Apple recently debuted its 120Hz “ProMotion” adaptive display with the iPad Pro, but we’ll have to see if this technology makes its way to future smartphones. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 introduced its own version of the technology called Q-Sync, so technically we’re just waiting for compatible displays to make their way to the mobile form factor.
Nokia’s next smartphone is rumoured to be called the Nokia 9 and it’s said to be more premium than the recently-announced Nokia 8. That might see the display adopt curved edges with an 18:9 aspect, see the introduction of waterproofing and keep that metal body.
Nokia is also sure to keep the Zeiss partnership going and it will probably offer the both ie function of the Nokia 8 – although we suspect that this newer flagship will also be about premium performance.
Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+
The Samsung Galaxy S9 is thought to be coming in two sizes once again and sticking with the Infinity Display. Having seen the debut of Samsung’s dual camera on the Note 8, we’re also expecting to see these zoom skills coming to the S9 too.
Rumours are a little light on the ground, but there’s already chatter that it will be running Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 and we’d be expecting to see it launch around April 2018.
Next Sony Xperia
Having announced the Xperia XZ1, XZ1 Compact and XA1, new then appeared suggesting that Sony wants to change its smartphone design. That’s big news, because we’ve essentially had the same OmniBalance design in Sony Xperia phones since the Xperia Z.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9
The Note 8 has barely gone on sale, but Samsung is already talking about the Note 9. In an interview, the development team confirmed that they’d moved straight into planning for the next Note model, including working on enhancing notable features, like the S Pen.
So there’s no firm details at the moment, but we’d expect Samsung to be unveiling the Galaxy Note 9 in late August 2018, with more enhanced S Pen features.
HTC has added the HTC U11+ to its 2018 line-up, shifting to an 18:9 display and boosting a number of areas of this phone. Rumours are light on the ground at the moment (including the name), but HTC has come forward and said that it will be making a return to dual cameras in 2018. HTC was the first to put two cameras on the back of its phone in the HTC One M8.
Apple iPhone 9
The iPhone X is a celebration of 10-years of iPhone. It’s also super-premium and expansive. But Apple has confirmed that this phone lays the foundations for the next 10 years of the iPhone and we suspect that the 2018 iPhone update will take a lot from the iPhone X.