After September, reasonably sized displays and 4G LTE connectivity will no longer be product differentiators. Like seat belts and airbags they’ll be considered standard features for a smartphone.
Some phones will still cut corners, but smart consumers will soon avoid these as fast as they avoid the entry-level sub-compact cars without air conditioning.
This leaves us asking, “What’s next for smartphones?” How will Android compete with the iPhone 5, and what Will Apple do with the next new iPhone to stand out in a sea of fast, large display devices.
Screens can only go so big before we’re all talking on tablets with 4G LTE connections, so here are the features we could see in an Android or iPhone in the next year or two.
This year 720P HD displays became the standard for high-end smartphones, and in 2013 expect to see a push for higher resolution screens.
Tablets are pushing 1080P HD displays and it’s only a matter fo time before manufacturers push pixel density to the max with 1080P smartphone displays.
The average user may not be able to discern the difference in quality from a 1080P HD movie played on a 4.85-nch display, but that doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy a better looking display for all around use.
Flexible, Foldable Smartphone Displays
Stop thinking slightly curved smartphone displays, and start thinking about displays that fold up to fit in a pocket.
Dual screen smartphones like the Kyocera Echo ultimately fail because the use of two displays remains a novelty only available to a specific few apps, but a foldable smartphone display could easily offer a larger display to work and play.
Samsung showed off a prototype foldable display at CES 2009, shown in the video below. At the time the company estimated one to two years until it could see production. The foldable display features cuts size in half, without the need for two separate screens.
In 2011, Samsung researchers published a paper showing that this foldable display can withstand 100,000 fold and unfold cycles without a noticeable decrease in brightness or a visible crease. The image below shows a foldable AMOLED display with no visible crease.
Samsung is the company most often associated with foldable displays, but this technology could also make it into an iPhone or other device through licensing.
Insanely Good Cameras
Smartphone cameras are significantly better than the phones from two years ago, and we expect another major increase in photo quality from our smartphones as the line between phone and point and shoot blurs.
The Nokia 808 PureView is best example of an amazing camera inside a smartphone, but the Symbian operating system and high price make this an unrealistic purchase for most consumers.
In the case of the PureView, there is a large bulge at the top of the phone, but as the technology matures, we hope to see the same idea of oversampling to create super pixels arrive in other smartphones with thinner designs.
Real All Day Battery Life
The Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX remains one of the best examples of what manufacturers can do with an extra 1mm of thickness. The 3300mAh battery provides more than enough power to keep even power users going through a full day of 4G LTE use.
Advances in power management and better batteries should combine in 2013 to deliver smartphones that last all day without worrying about finding a charger in the afternoon.
We could see some of this arrive as early as the iPhone 5, which reportedly uses the latest Qualcomm 4G LTE chipset, one that should offer better battery life.
I’m looking forward to the day when we can charge our smartphones a few times a week, just like our old flip phones.
Even with amazing battery life we’ll still need to charge our smartphones and even the prospect of a MagSafe connection on the iPhone 5 isn’t enough to make us forget about the prospect of wireless charging.
Many companies offer wireless charging solutions as an aftermarket upgrade, but they are far from perfect. Samsung offers wireless charging accessories for the Galaxy S III, but the functionality isn’t built-in and arrives months after launch.
Powermat offers cases that deliver wireless charging, but these add bulk and prohibit the use of other cases. WiPower showed off a charger that works an inch above the charger, which would allow a case to fit on a device with this tech built-in.
Palm and HP offered wireless charging as a standard feature for the Pre and Veer line of smartphones. We’d like to see Apple and Android manufacturers deliver a wireless charging feature that ships with the phone. If it works through a case, even better.
While we’re still in the early days, all manufacturers should get on a standard so we don’t need to buy an Apple wireless charger, a Samsung wireless charger and on and on.
Siri and Google Now on Steroids
Siri and Google Now offer virtual personal assistants capable of sending message,s rescheduling our lives and finding a place to eat Chinese food with a simple voice request.
Google Now is already bringing in information based on what we search for to offer more help. From the score of a football game to traffic for the drive home, many users don’t need to ask for basic information.
In IOS 6, Siri steps up its game with sports info, the ability to open apps and other new features, showing a hint at where we can go.
Imagine a phone with Siri or Google Now that not only understands directions all the time, but can take a slew of directions at once without the need to repeat yourself.
We may also see apps tie into voice control services so that we can ask Siri to play a specific Pandora station. As user that keeps 15 songs on his iPhone I’m looking forward to better app integration.
Our phones already offer multitasking that allows us to listen to music while using an app, but with the prospect of larger foldable high-resolution displays, we can expect more.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 offers a glimpse of multitasking on a larger 10-inch display. Sadly this implementation leave a lot to be desired. There are a limited number of apps that work with multitasking and only one app is active at a time.
Samsung’s pop up video feature, which puts a video on top of any app is closer to what we’re looking for, but only a glimpse because it’s limited to the built-in video app.
I’m the first to admit that split screen multitasking fits tablets better than smartphones, but as display sizes grow I can imagine watching Game of Thrones on HBO GO or The Daily Show on Hulu Plus on 75% of the display while tweeting on the remaining quarter.
From a productivity standpoint, when I pair a Bluetooth keyboard with this new phone I could split the small screen between a text editor and a browser.
Kinect Style Gaming
Smartphone gaming could see a major boost from Kinect Style gaming. By integrating new sensors into the phone with hooks to developers we could see more immersive gameplay.
One aspect could be placing the smartphone on a table and stepping back to play games with motion sensing for controls. Again, the screen size limits the distance users will want to move away from the screen, but there’s potential for new ways to control on screen characters without the need for on-screen controls.
We could see Kinect style voice controls make an appearance before motion controls. In Madden 2013 gamers can call audibles with their voice instead of a controller.
Imagine calling out a weapon change or to throw a grenade in N.IO.V.A. 3 instead of trying to find the right place to swipe the screen. Phones already ship with microphones capable of changing our calendar’s why can’t they select our weapons too?
Some of these new iPhone and Android features sound far off, but as competition pushes the smartphone industry the technology we’ve seen as prototypes could quickly make its way into devices that arrive on store shelves in 2013.