[Note: This item comes from friend Geoff Goodfellow. DLH]
Whoa! Meet the future phones that fold up, have 9 cameras and charge over thin air.
Lately, our smartphones all look alike. So our tech columnist hunted in labs, start-ups and China’s thriving phone scene to find what’s next for our favorite gadget.
By Geoffrey A. Fowler
Jun 29 2018
Your next smartphone might just throw you a curve.
Picture this: You pull your phone out of your pocket and unfold it like a napkin into a tablet. You press your finger on the screen, and it unlocks. You switch to the camera app, and a spider-like array of lenses shoot simultaneously to capture one giant photo.
These are all things I’ve seen phones do — some in prototype form, others in models you can get only in China. Analysts in Korea say we might see a folding “Galaxy X” phone from Samsung as soon as next year. When I look into my crystal ball, I’m convinced we’re on the cusp of the most significant changes to the design and functionality of smartphones since they first arrived.
The shake-up couldn’t come soon enough. You probably couldn’t live without your phone but feel as excited about it as you do running water. And the water company doesn’t hold an event every year to hype slimmer faucets. From the front, the iPhone 8 is pretty much indistinguishable from the iPhone 6 that came out nearly four years ago. Americans are holding onto old phones longer than ever — 25.8 months, according the most recent research from Kantar Worldpanel.
The tech industry has been doubling down on software and artificial intelligence capabilities, which still hold huge potential. But there’s a lot to be done on improving phone hardware, too, the number one reason most people upgrade.
Longtime tech analyst and futurist Tim Bajarin, of Creative Strategies, tells me he’s also excited by what he sees coming. “When we turn the corner on the next decade, that is when we will start to see a revolution in everything from flexible displays to glasses,” he says.
So I went on a hunt for new technologies in China (where phonemakers are more creative), among start-ups and at industry conferences where the likes of Samsung and Apple find new components. Of course, it’s hard to predict what ideas will stick and what will end up being a gimmick. I looked for ideas that could make phones simpler to use, easier to carry and better for watching video and doing work. And, of course, I looked for anything that might make batteries last long enough to bring an end to the contact sport of hunting for an airport outlet.
Here are five ideas that will, at the very least, make your next phone interesting. Or if not your very next phone, then the one after that.
Fingerprint scanners go inside
The big idea: You can have it all: a phone that’s entirely screen on front and a fingerprint scanner still right where it belongs. When full-screen phones came into fashion, some Android phones moved this key function to the back. Apple killed the home button entirely with its full-screen iPhone X, opting for face-scanning sensors that some (including yours truly) find fail just enough to be annoying.
Recent breakthroughs let phonemakers embed the fingerprint reader inside the screen. Just press your finger over the right area of the screen — indicated by a thumbprint image — and the phone unlocks. Component maker Synaptics figured out how to take a picture of fingers by looking in between the phone’s pixels; Qualcomm created an ultrasonic sensor capable of scanning not only though screens but also metal … and even underwater. So far, the tech has made its way into phones from Chinese makers Vivo and Xiaomi.