The last 12 months saw the release of some of the most desirable smartphones ever conceived. From Samsung’s curved Galaxy S8 to Apple’s face-tracking iPhone X, to Google’s astonishing Pixel 2 camera smarts — 2017 has been a very good year for smartphones.
But there’s always more ahead.
As we stride forth into 2018, we’ve been speculating about what the next dozen months might have in store for us. There will be further refinements, mass adoptions of certain trends, and a whole new batch of tempting handsets. Here’s what we expect to see this year in smartphones.
Under-glass fingerprint sensors
One of the strongest mobile trends in 2017 was the shift towards bezel-less phones with screens that span from edge to edge. Coupled with a fresh 18:9 aspect ratio, which we expect will be standard from now on, this allowed manufacturers to pack more screen into devices that could still be used one-handed. But this trend necessitated the displacement of the fingerprint sensor to the back of the phone, or, in the case of Apple’s iPhone X, its disappearance.
There’s another solution – manufacturers could put the fingerprint sensor under the display. We’ve seen this kind of technology from Qualcomm and Synaptics, and both Apple and Samsung have been the subject of related rumors. We expect at least one top-tier smartphone maker to roll it out in a 2018 flagship. If it works well enough, wider adoption is sure to follow.
Facial unlocking tech
Apple wasn’t first with the idea of Face ID, but it did improve on existing facial recognition tech in phones with biometric authentication that’s secure, fast, and usable in a variety of lighting conditions. We’re not sure if facial recognition is the new security standard, but we are sure that we’re set to see more of it this year. Many manufacturers offer some form of facial recognition already, though it’s generally not as secure as Apple’s Face ID. Samsung also offers iris scanning, which is more secure, but not as fast and convenient to use.
It seems likely Apple will roll Face ID out in more iPhones this year, and we think all the top manufacturers will feel compelled to follow suit with something similar. As more people use it, facial unlocking tech should improve, but we think it will remain one of several biometrics on offer, rather than the only one.
More augmented reality baked into your phone
Augmented reality has been around for a long time, but we’ve yet to see a truly killer app. With increasingly powerful smartphones and big plays in the form of Google’s ARCore and Apple’s ARKit, that could change in 2018. There are some fun ARKit apps on iOS already, and Google Lens shows how AR might merge with the artificially-intelligent assistant in your phone. We think there’s plenty more augmentation to come, and AR could take off in a big way this year.
Dual cameras on every phone
For anyone who loves to be able to zoom in on their subject, or achieve a blurred background bokeh effect that emulates a DSLR, dual cameras have delivered in 2017. We’ve seen great examples in devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8, Apple’s iPhone X, and the Huawei Mate 10 Pro. A dual camera is fast-becoming an expectation, and not one that’s confined to the flagship fleet, as evidenced by the Moto G5S Plus with its dual 13-megapixel snappers.
A dual camera is fast-becoming an expectation
We expect to see dual cameras of varying quality in a host of smartphones this year, although we don’t feel they’re essential – the single-lens Pixel 2 XL is our current pick for the best smartphone camera.
Wireless charging becoming a staple
We’ve long enjoyed the advantages of wireless charging, not least the ability to pop your phone on the bedside table in the dark without any fumbling with cables and have it fully charged the next morning. Now that the top two smartphone manufacturers, Samsung and Apple, have embraced it, we think wireless charging will become a standard expectation. We’re also starting to see many more great options for wireless charging pads.
Even more exciting is the prospect of wireless charging across distance. We’ve seen a few different technologies pursuing this over the last few years. Could 2018 be the year that we finally see a working example in a mainstream phone? Probably not, but we can hope.
Artificial intelligence could make life easier
Google’s Pixel 2 or 2 XL represent the current pinnacle of software smarts, with artificial intelligence lending a hand to create better photos, recognize objects, and help you schedule your day-to-day. We’re also seeing a big AI play from Huawei with the dedicated Neural Processing Unit (NPU) in its proprietary Kirin chip, which it hopes will help us to make mundane unconscious decisions so we can get on with our lives. Amazon is also trying get Alexa into as many smartphones as possible.
It can be tricky to cut through the hyperbole with AI, but there is real potential here, and it’s something that every smartphone manufacturer is working on. We’re sold on the possibilities, but we hope to see more concrete examples of AI in our phones actually benefitting us in 2018.
The concept of a foldable smartphone has been around for a few years now. What if our regular smartphone could fold out to the size of a small tablet? Or maybe people would like a phone that folds down like an old clamshell for greater portability. Thanks to some patent filings, rumors suggest the Samsung Galaxy X may include this feature, but we don’t think you should hold your breath. Developments in foldable displays could well enable new designs and shapes, and greater durability, but we’re not really expecting a flurry of foldable phones in 2018.
Towards the end of 2017, the ZTE Axon M took a step in this direction by combining two 5.2-inch displays with a hinge, but it failed to impress and didn’t feel useful. An actual folding display would surely look better, but is it something we need? We’re not convinced that there’s a compelling reason for a device like this, and if we do see one in 2018 it’s likely to be a novelty.
We hope that battery life will increase every year, but all too often efficiency gains are squandered by increasingly svelte designs. One area where battery tech in smartphones has notably improved is the speed of charging, and we think that will continue in 2018. There’s no end of exciting research into how to squeeze more out of lithium-ion batteries, or replace them with something superior, but we’ve been to enough rodeos now to know better than to predict it will happen this year.
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