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What’s Next for Smartphones?

Are you satisfied with your smartphone? If not, what more do you want it to do? Would you like better performance like longer battery life or faster downloads? Or would you like to see some totally new function?  If so, what would that be?

Smartphones are reaching a maturity level where they do most of what we want and need.  New models do not have any significant new features. Most newer models are simply upgrades rather than featuring breakthrough technologies. And new apps satisfy those who are seeking some specialized function. So where do the smartphone manufacturers go from here to distinguish themselves from the competition?

Furthermore, smartphone sales are beginning to reach the saturation level. This is true in China, the leading smartphone market with 30% share of over 1 billion new phones sold worldwide each year.  Recent sales declines in China indicate that there are few new buyers, and sales are largely driven by replacement phones. We are nearing that saturation level here in the U.S. as well, although sales were up slightly in the last quarter. What new phone or features would help boost sales worldwide?

My own phone is an iPhone 5. It does everything I need just fine. I still make voice calls, text, get email, do Internet searches, and listen to music. Recently I ordered a pizza and navigated to my cousin’s new house in the boonies of south Texas with GPS and Apple maps. So I have not found the need for a larger screen or any new feature. And I am not alone in feeling a need for something better. But I have to wonder what is next.

Larger screens have been the main go-to upgrade for most users. But I doubt you will see anything larger than the current 6-in. screens widely available. Six inches is big enough and bordering on inconvenient.  However, we could see improved screen technology with greater resolution, brightness, or contrast for the fussy consumer. Some have proposed 3D screens. Forget that gimmick. Where will the 3D content come from other than possibly a few game companies?

One area of improvement that has been ongoing is cameras. The smartphone has become everyone’s de facto digital camera, so improvements are welcome (such as higher resolution for both front and rear cameras as well as a better flash).  Anything that improves or facilitates selfies is a big plus these days.

Two features that have yet to be fully implemented that may give users a reason to upgrade are pay and wireless charging. Most of the newer phones do incorporate near-field communications (NFC), but it is still not widely used. Google, Apple, and Samsung offer NFC-based “digital wallet” or smartphone pay services and their use will no doubt grow.

Wireless charging is now available in some smartphones, but it has not caught on—although predictions are for this feature to grow significantly.  One potential benefit may be new data services that could be offered by way of public wireless charging stations. This is one to watch.

As for speed, most consumers seem satisfied with download speeds provided by available LTE infrastructure. The system is fast enough for now for all but a few fanatics who demand better speed for video. Which begs the question, do we really need 5G? Greater speed will come gradually as LTE Advanced is implemented in the network. The greater MIMO and carrier aggregation for wider bandwidth will boost speeds significantly. LTE-A is not now widely available and no smartphones incorporate it yet. The same with voice-over-LTE that will eventually replace the 2G/3G voice still used today.

As for Wi-Fi, most of the newer phones already incorporate the latest and faster 802.11ac standard.  Everyone seems to take Wi-Fi for granted and assume the fastest version is incorporated. I supposed you could add a 60 GHz 802.11ad radio, but what would it do other than eat more battery power?

Apple’s new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are rumored to be available later in September. Some possible new features expected are an OLED screen, improved-resolution cameras, and a faster Apple processor.  What other new features can we expect?

My greatest wish for a better feature is better speakers and sound, yet I know there is not enough room in the phone for that. The headphones are pretty good and I do have a Bluetooth speaker for better sound. I have yet to use the silly Siri feature.

If you are seeking a new smartphone experience, why not try the smartwatch? That is an expensive feature for what little it does, but if you want to try out the latest big breakthrough gadget, the smartwatch is the way to go.

What is your wish for an improved smartphone?

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