What will the next decade bring for smartphones?

What will the next decade bring for smartphones?

Towards the end of each decade, anticipation starts to build about the technological developments and breakthroughs we can expect during the next decade.

The late 1990s saw feverish predictions about how the internet would evolve, and this excitement ultimately contributed to the pre-Millennial dotcom bubble.

At the end of the Noughties, the age of mobile communications was being excitedly heralded. How would apps, cloud storage and other such phenomena improve our lives?

While historians consider names for this decade (the Tens? The Teens?), soothsayers are evaluating how future smartphones may differ from existing devices.

Below, we consider five technologies and trends which may significantly alter the design and functionality of future smartphones…

5G

The fifth generation of mobile communications is already here, yet its impact has barely registered among consumers.

Potential benefits of 5G include ultrafast streaming and web browsing, plus always-on connectivity – effectively eliminating the downtime and blackspots familiar to 4G users.

Connection speeds are estimated to be 500 times faster than 4G connections, making this a viable alternative to fibre broadband.

It will almost certainly increase the uptake of cloud storage, turning devices into passive terminals and removing the frustrations of finite device storage becoming full.

Holographics

The image accompanying this article might seem outlandish, but rumours of touch-free virtual beam displays have been circulating for years.

Future smartphones might be able to project large keyboards onto flat objects, identifying ‘key presses’ to avoid having to display fiddly little keyboards on already compact screens.

Canadian academics have pioneered a holographic handset which supports touch-screen interaction.

And for an added dose of Tomorrow’s World-style futurism, their HoloFlex chassis also bends. Which brings us onto another possible evolution in smartphone design…

Malleable devices

We’ve used the word ‘malleable’, because it’s presently unclear how future smartphones will facilitate shape-changing.

It’s widely believed that devices may fold, stretch, roll or concertina into smaller spaces, improving portability while ensuring screen sizes are able to continue expanding.

Although folding phones have enjoyed mixed fortunes to date, Samsung has already pioneered a stretchable display. Other firms are experimenting with multiple screens.

The objective is to maximise versatility – a small notification screen for incoming calls and messages, a larger screen for gaming, a full-sized media streaming display, etc.

Contactless charging

The introduction of wireless charging has been enthusiastically embraced, but prototype handsets have gone further by charging through thin air.

Energy contained in radio waves is wirelessly distributed to paired devices. Specialist receivers convert the radio waves into DC power, recharging internal batteries.

Charging transmitters could operate like today’s broadband routers. One hub in the centre of a home might power laptops, phones, headphones and other cordless gadgets.

With corresponding transmitters in our cars, offices and public transport infrastructure, we could potentially enjoy a future free from today’s spaghetti of incompatible cables.

Greater environmentalism

As we become more aware of mankind’s impact on Earth’s faltering ecology, the environmental footprint of smartphone production is causing growing concern.

Packed with precious metals which are hard to obtain, today’s handsets are fashioned from plastic. They constantly require mains recharging, and offer limited scope for recycling.

Tomorrow’s smartphones might be solar powered, with growing adoption of recycled plastics and natural materials. Replaceable modular components would improve device lifespans.

Clock speeds might be compromised to optimise battery life, while the current ‘optimise performance’ monitors are likely to become increasingly prevalent and proactive.

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