Smartphones: ringing the changes

Smartphones: ringing the changes

From facial recognition to AR technologies to charger-less charging, a whole new world of smartphone mobility, agility, and functionality lies on the horizon for 2019 and beyond. And what a horizon it promises to be. Gareth Kershaw gives us the skinny on the skinniest, slickest handsets yet...


Mobile phones. There’s just never a right time to upgrade is there? I mean, what’s the real point?

Sure they get a bit thinner, a bit quicker, a bit slicker, and a bit more fancy once a year or whatever. But they’re still essentially the same, right? Same basic interface. Same apps. Same buttons. Same annoying tendency to die pathetically when you need them most. Yep, they haven’t changed all that much for a dozen years or so when you think about it.

Only they have. They really have. And, if five key discussion points at the 2018 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona are anything to go by, they’re set to change a whole lot more.

1. Now you see me…

Some critics lament the difficulty of distinguishing one smartphone from another these days. But that will become moot if, as seems likely, smartphones learn to distinguish between us. Because manufacturers are getting closer to the nirvana of the PIN-free but sure-fire security promised by true, robust facial recognition.

Early attempts were a little underwhelming (many could be fooled by a snap of the user’s face) but new iterations scan not just facial features, but unique facial and cranial contours; even tone of voice, movements, and typing patterns.

2. Reality check

What if you could try that skirt on without actually trying it on? Or see how that armchair would look if it were actually IN your sitting room?

This is the promise of Augmented Reality (AR), which is currently threatening to go mainstream. Several manufacturers are releasing AR development toolkits for apps that let the user overlay digital objects on top of the camera’s live view
and manipulate them according to their preferences.

Digital projectors and holographic displays are in development too. It’ll be a while before such technologies are ready (or inexpensive) enough for main market roll-out, but when they are this too could have a massive impact.

3. Your flexible (foldable) friend?

Self-healing screens? A phone you can fold up and put your pocket? Really?

Yes, absolutely.

This commentator actually first saw a fully foldable display more than 10 years back (albeit in a bespoke and no doubt wildly expensive military context). And, according to Fortune, after years of hype about such technology, 2019 could see a flexible smartphone finally hit the streets.

Needless to say, all this could be a real game-changer.

4. Free of charge?

With battery life still a perennial complaint among smartphone users (battery improvements forever being offset by bigger, fatter, hungrier processors), this was another key area of focus.

Vendors are experimenting with a variety of scenarios – solar power, nanobatteries, hydrogen cells, even kinetic energy – to allow charger-less, on the fly charging.

Future batteries look certain to charge faster and probably wirelessly, so no charging ports. This is already happening in some quarters and will continue, with consumers becoming more comfortable with the concept as businesses begin to install appropriate charging facilities.

5. Virtually all screen?

Screens have been getting bigger for years, but tomorrow’s smartphones look likely to take things a stage further. Indeed, they are likely to be pretty much all screen, with display capabilities on the front, back, and sides. The upshot? No buttons. Or no physical buttons anyway.

This will see user interfaces becoming more streamlined too, with smart, intuitive, AI-driven Virtual Assistants (VAs) coming more and more to the fore and taking on bigger roles in areas like navigation and personalization.