Originally published: 8th January 2014
With more than 1 billion smartphone users worldwide, it’s not surprising to see that manufacturers are doing their best to come up with even more tech innovations for the mobile phone market.
One such innovation that was introduced recently is the flexible phone. LG’s G Flex and Samsung’s Galaxy Round were the first phones to bring this innovation to the masses. The question is, do we really need a flexible phone?
While flexible display smartphones may seem like a wonderful innovation, I can think of many other innovations that I’d prefer to hear about rather than another flexible phone. Sure, we are pushing the limits with curved phones, but there are other mobile innovations in development, innovations that carry more purpose and are more desirable. For instance…
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1. Better Batteries
It’s no secret that smartphone batteries die fast (and sometimes at the worst possible moment). Researchers have long recognized the problem and have been working hard to give us powerful batteries with more charge cycles and longer-lasting battery life.
After all, you did spend hundreds if not thousands on those smartphones – better power management is always good news to power users.
Some of the many ongoing research projects include studies on larger batteries, batteries with Leyden’s electrolyte material, batteries with silicon, batteries with tin, etc. Imagine a future smartphone with a battery that charges in just five minutes but lasts for a full day!
2. Wireless Charging
If not longer-lasting batteries, then we would appreciate easier charging methods. Why are we still charging smartphones with cables when wireless charging is already available and implemented on phones such as Nokia Lumia 920 and LG Nexus 4?
Even better, while wireless charging usually makes use of the electromagnetic induction concept, researchers at the University of Washington have found a new way of charging: a technique called ambient backscatter.
Using this technique, we can repurpose the wireless signals already present around us as both a power source and a communication medium.
Imagine a futuristic smartphone with an infinite battery life because it gets charged using the wireless signals from other devices (for example, signals from a television tower). In other words, there’ll be no need for a conventional power source.
3. Unbreakable Phones
If you have ever dropped a phone, you know how much it actually hurts. Fear not, Nokia is working to utilize a material called graphene, (billed as the world’s strongest material – 300 times stronger than stainless steel) in hopes of having a breakthrough in modern computing environments.
In short, if Nokia hits the jackpot with graphene, it may be used to make phones in the future, and we can finally have an unbreakable mobile phone that can survive a drop onto the pavement without too much of a bruising (to its exterior and to our wallets).
4. Stronger Screens
Stronger phones need stronger screens because we’d of course like all parts of the phone to be intact after a bad fall. The good news is mobile devices of the future may come with stronger screens that are made of materials like sapphire.
Apple may have introduced the use of sapphire in their Touch ID fingerprint scanner slash home button in their iPhone 5s but did you know there may be plans to use sapphire for screens as well — maybe in the iPhone 6?
The man-made substance is thinner, more scratch-resistant and can be made lighter when used together with a thin layer of glass to reduce weight. Corning is also working on Gorilla Glass 3 which they claim can do what sapphire can do and more. In all cases, it’s good for consumers.
The iPad mini may be as thin as a pencil but what is the thinnest a tablet can get? PaperTab developers say paper thin. It looks like a piece of paper, and bends like one too but it is powered by an Intel processor and has a touchscreen display. Transfer of content is also as easy as touching one PaperTab to the next.
Although very thin, it still sports a 10.7-inch screen so you don’t suffer any lost in screen space. Researchers are currently working on improvising this revolutionary technology to make it available commercially.
Flip phones may have been a thing of the past but one day, we might be able to fold our tablets and smartphones, like we would paper.
6. Contextual Intelligence
No matter how "smart" smartphones get, can it make decisions on your behalf? If it has the power of contextual intelligence (also known as practical intelligence), it may be able to.
The phones will use sensors to get data about your physical surroundings and conditions, use saved information about you along with the contextual intelligence technology to make decisions for you even before you thought of the question.
7. Depth-Sensing Cameras
You know of 3D printing but have you heard of 3D scanning with a smartphone? Depth-sensing cameras will allow for handheld 3D scanning, augmented reality games, and better photo-taking capabilities in future smartphones.
Imagine an arcade game that scans your house and builds a game challenge using the objects, walls and map of your own house.
Occipital, the company behind Structure Sensor (the first mobile depth-sensing technology), has already developed apps that will enable us to scan objects or even entire rooms in 3D.
8. Augmented Reality
Augmented reality uses camera and sensors of your smartphone to add layers of useful digital information – text, videos, photos, sounds – directly on top of the items around you.
Imagine standing in front of an unknown museum and pointing your smartphone towards it, and your phone shows details of the exhibit as you line your phone up towards the item.
Also imagine pointing your phone towards a movie poster to get the movie’s release date, cast, showtimes, and ticket booking options, a restaurant to find its star rating or a hotel to find available rooms.
9. Multi-Screen Capabilities
Why limit the display you get to the screen size when you can expand your view with multi-screen capabilities? The idea is to connect and share the screen of your smartphone with your tablet, television or projector with no limitations imposed by different platforms or OS, and irrespective of make or form.
We already have Miracast, a technology that makes it possible to display videos seamlessly between various devices without wires or even a network connection. Samsung has also launched MultiScreen SDK, which allows Android and iOS apps to connect and show content on SmartTVs.
10. Infrared Support
Hate looking for the remote because it keeps running of and hiding in couches? Turn your smartphone into a remote control. Pioneered by HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, smartphones are now equipped with integrated IR blasters and remote control applications (e.g. "My Room" in Galaxy S4).
What does this mean? Well, you can convert your smartphone into a remote control which works with your regular not-smart TV. At least if this remote control goes missing, you can give it a call.
11. Dual Recording
Existing smartphones come with front and rear cameras but only one of them works at a time. Future smartphones may have better camera support to allow simultaneous recording using both cameras. In fact, some phones such as the LG Optimus G Pro and Samsung Galaxy S4 already have this feature.
Dual recording technology will give rise to innovative and specialized camera apps which will open new possibilities for creative recording. Imagine one day, recording a dance routine on the TV, along with your own dance performance in a single video using this dual recording feature.
There is a world of possibilities in the field of mobile innovations, so perhaps we need to open our ways and look beyond the headlines. Feel free to share with us any other mobile innovations you know of and are looking forward to.