Many thought smartphones have reached their peak, but 2017 was a game-changing year for the hand-held devices. Almost every brand came out with their own unique interpretation of how a smartphone should be. Most brands shaved off the bezels and put two cameras at the back. Some offered new ways of interacting with the phone, while others brought news ways to unlock the phone. Artificial Intelligence was at the thick of it all and almost every phone was marketed to have AI superpowers. The year also saw the demise of features we have gotten used to, like the home button on the iPhone, and the 3.5mm headphone jack on Android phones. There was also a steady adoption of future-ready display technologies like OLED panels and HDR support. All in all, 2017 was a banner year for smartphones. So what does 2018 have in store?
By the looks of it, 2018 is going to be more of an iterative year for phones. Companies will look to fine-tune the innovations they brought forth last year. Some of the refinements are already announced and it’s only a matter of time till we get to use them, while some are shrouded under rumours and leaks. Nevertheless, like every year, companies will want you to believe you are at the bleeding edge of smartphone innovation with every new launch, but it remains to be seen how relevant they really will be.
These are the major smartphone trends to look out for in 2018:
In-Screen Fingerprint sensor
Synaptics created ripples in the industry late in 2017 when it announced it is ready with its in-screen fingerprint sensors for bezel-less phones. The company made it clear the technology will feature in major flagships in 2018, starting with a phone by Vivo followed by Honor. The in-screen fingerprint sensor was thoroughly missed in 2017 as displays took up the majority of the real estate. Brands like Samsung had to inconveniently cram a physical fingerprint sensor at the back for which it received a lot of flak, while Apple ditched the authentication mechanism altogether. An in-screen fingerprint sensor will make lives easier for both brands and consumers, giving a reliable option if newer technologies like facial recognition fail.
3D Facial Recognition
What Apple does today, Android does tomorrow. That has been a long-term trend we have seen in smartphones. Heck, the smartphone we know and use today exist because of the original iPhone. But over the years, Android OEMs have led the way in innovation while Apple mostly refined the technology to work flawlessly on iPhones. Not last year though. In 2017, Apple launched the iPhone X (review) which leveraged a bunch of sensors to make a 3D map of your face for facial recognition and to animate emojis. It isn’t surprising hence that Android OEMs will rush to implement the same feature on their offerings in 2018. In fact, Honor has already announced that it’s actively working on a similar technology. OnePlus is also rumoured to adopt the technology and it’s only likely that more OEMs will follow suit.
More powerful hardware
With Qualcomm announcing that its Snapdragon chipsets will now power Windows PCs, the line between PC hardware and mobile hardware is blurring. And for good reason. Smartphones in 2018 are expected to be as powerful, if not more, than PCs. Apple’s A11 Bionic chipset is already faster than the 2017 MacBook Pro as per benchmark results. Like every year, Some Android phones will use Qualcomm’s new chipsets while some will rely on MediaTek’s offerings. Snapdragon 845 is already announced and it’s likely that the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ will be powered by it in some markets internationally.
Phones are also expected to ship with more storage and memory. Samsung is reportedly ready with 512GB storage modules for smartphones while the new Snapdragon 845 will support more RAM. Considering how OEMs love to cram more RAM on smartphones and center their marketing around it, it won’t be surprising to see a phone with 10GB or even 12GB of RAM.
No Home Button
With phones going bezel-less and fingerprints finding a home under the display, the time has come to bid goodbye to the Home Button. The trend to remove the home button will also be bolstered by the fact that Apple did it with the iPhone X this year. We have arrived at the juncture where making space for a physical button means sacrificing screen real estate, which will be counterproductive for users who are demanding phones with bigger displays in a smaller form factor.
If a 3.5mm headphone jack was the feature that was dropped by most OEMs in 2017, it will be home button in 2018.
A long-rumoured technology, foldable displays, could become a reality in 2018. There have been multiple leaks, patent filings and even live demos from companies that have led us to believe that 2018 will be the year of foldable displays. Moreover, ZTE’s Axon M launched late last year with a foldable display. It’s not perfect, but it’s an indication of what the future holds. Samsung had demoed a bendable display long back and there have been a flurry of patent filings by the Korean giant which could be sign of a Galaxy phone that can fold. Huawei too has already announced its plans for making a foldable phone. Both Samsung and Huawei are planning to use a single, bendable OLED and AMOLED panel instead of two IPS panels for their offerings.
Artificial Intelligence is not new. We have been hearing about it for ages and in 2017, we were steamrolled by the phrase during every smartphone launch. Every company detailed how machine learning and neural nets made phones faster and smarter. 2018 is only going to make AI more prevalent and complicated. To do that, devices will require dedicated chipsets to handle AI-tasks. And that will be the underlying trend among smartphones in 2018. Both Apple and Huawei, which make their chipsets in-house launched phones with a dedicated AI-chip. Google also joined the party with a dedicated AI chip for its camera while Qualcomm made it available for everyone with the Snapdragon 845.
Localised AI will be the next big frontier for phones to battle on. It will not only make phones perform faster but also act as a blessing for privacy freaks as the data analysis and computation will be done on the phone itself.
This is a no-brainer. Ever since OEMs were struck with the idea of implementing more than one camera on a phone, we have been seeing the number of cameras on a phone increase every year. In 2016, there were dual cameras. In 2017, there were quad cameras, two on the front and the back. In 2018, depending on the rumours that are going round, the successor to the Huawei P10 will sport three cameras at the back. One to capture in RGB, one to capture monochrome and another to zoom into an object.
We might also see the implementation of Oppo’s 5X optical zoom which the company demonstrated at MWC last year, as well as strides towards combining the front camera with an IR sensor to do 3D facial mapping.
Having said that, software-based image processing could also be a big alternative to brands like Google who have refused to dabble with dual cameras so far.
2017 set the foundation for augmented reality with both Apple and Google announcing their own AR platforms. ARKit for iOS already have a good headstart with iPhone users enjoying a variety of AR apps and games. ARCore for Google is relatively new and apart from AR stickers on the Google Pixel 2 camera, there isn’t anything yet. That could change in 2018 as Google will rally its developers to make apps and games with AR at its core. The search giant already killed its ambitious hardware-based Project Tango and it’s only a matter of time now that the Google Playstore will be filled with AR apps and games.