With the recent unveilings of the Samsung Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Z Flip phones, it became clear that the smartphone industry isn’t finished innovating just yet. In recent years it had begun to seem almost like the industry had plateaued; incremental updates to cameras and slight display upgrades were still possible, but the phones seemed about as impressive and inventive as they were ever going to get.
With a single event though, Samsung showed us that this was the wrong perception to have had, and likely gave us a glimpse into the near future of smartphone releases as well. Regarding the flip phone, CNN Business posited that Samsung could be onto something, which indicates people are open to this phone influencing the next wave of devices. And right here, we covered Samsung and Google partnering for 8K video, which could make for another significant, trendsetting feature. In short, all at once, a tech sector that was growing the littlest bit stale suddenly became fairly intriguing all over again.
Now, that’s not to say there’s a great deal of mystery moving forward. 8K video sharing will almost certainly become the norm now, and it will be shocking if other leading phone providers don’t come out with “flip” or “fold” options. These are essentially done deals. What Samsung’s big innovations force us to ask, though, is what could still be around the corner? What might be next for top-of-the-line smartphones?
Part of the fun of this whole industry is that we don’t entirely know. But we do have a few guesses that make for interesting consideration.
Inherent Augmented Reality
Augmented reality in smartphones is by no means a new idea at this point. In fact it’s been a recognized smartphone technology ever since the release of Pokémon GO. It’s established its own category of apps, and if anything already seems to have grown a little bit dull for casual users. That’s not to say AR apps aren’t impressive, but we haven’t seen monumental advances since the beginning.
This is why it struck us as somewhat strange when Hongkiat included augmented reality in its own look at potential smartphone innovations. The write-up presented a specific hypothetical: You walk into a museum, hold up your phone, and see details about the exhibits and works of art you’re looking at.
We’re not entirely sure how this hypothetical was intended to be received, but it got us thinking about the notion of inherent augmented reality in near-future smartphones. What if, that is, your phone could recognize where you were or what you were doing and respond by providing this sort of information, without the need for an app? It’s an exciting idea and something that is almost certainly possible even via current smartphone technology.
Improved Circuit Performance
This one is a little bit more technical, but could be vital as well. It’s not uncommon, when a new smartphone hits the market, to hear about its faster performance, improved processor or chip, and so on. But what we might see in the coming years is a wide-ranging shift toward a higher level of performance in internal circuitry.
More specifically, we may see more smartphones making use of HDI (High Density Interconnector) design in their PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards). The guide to HDI design using the Altium Designer, clarifies that this variation on traditional PCBs involves a number of new materials that don’t appear in conventional multilayer circuit boards. These are meant to produce designs that are more lightweight, yet enable a higher level of electrical performance in the devices in which they are used.
According to some projections, those devices are likely to include more smartphones in the near future. Specifically, Yahoo Finance’s analysis of the HDI PCB market indicates growth to a $15.6 billion market in just the next four years. And this projection specifically mentions the likelihood of “opportunities in smartphones.” It won’t be the kind of change we see, or even tangibly feel, but this potential shift in the very materials that make smartphones work could make them more powerful than ever.
It may be that we continue to see certain structural changes to smartphones as well, even if we may just be getting started with a new era of flip phones. More specifically though, we may start to see new innovations designed to make phones more dynamic and adaptable (whereas the flip phone seems largely like a change for the sake of change).
One example could be a phone that literally stretches. Android Authority wrote about a Samsung prototype of this sort back in 2017, so it’s clear that it’s already been on smartphone creators’ minds for quite some time. There are no indications right now that we’re particularly close to seeing a stretchable phone hit the market, but the technology seems to be inching along, and it could ultimately introduce all kinds of exciting new possibilities, from more durable devices to more immersive streaming.
Another change we might see that would make smartphones more dynamic is the introduction of LED-driven color changes. Right now, phones come in certain colors and we can use cases to change how they look. Before long, however, we might see phones that can actually change in appearance – likely by way of glass exteriors that could be affected by internal LED lights in a range of colors. It’s not necessarily an important concept, but it’s certainly one that would excite consumers and make smartphones more interesting than ever before.
Again, we can’t say for certain which if any of these changes we’ll actually see in the near future. But they’re among the likelier and more feasible possibilities, and they further demonstrate that the smartphone market isn’t done innovating just yet.