Smartphone technology has moved at a rapid pace over the past 15 years, with today’s large HD displays, voice assistants, powerful cameras, virtual assistants and 5G connections making the first smartphones look primitive by comparison. Yet the pace of technology has not slowed down and there are many exciting developments being brewed in labs around the world.
The future isn’t set in stone, and futurologists differ about how smartphones will evolve. Some believe they will become remote controls for our lives, while others think they could disappear into wearables like glasses or watches. The only certainty is that we will see lots of exciting progress.
Here are a few things we might see emerge in our devices over the next 10 years.
1. Flexible frames
Many smartphone users crave a larger display for their devices, yet also want a device they can easily carry in their pockets. Building on the early flexible OLED screens already in the market, we’ll see a range of exciting smartphone screen options emerge in the next few years. You may be able to stretch out a small screen, roll it out, or simply unfold it like a piece of paper to transform a small smartphone screen into a larger, tablet-sized display.
2. Over-the-air charging
Wouldn’t it be convenient if you didn’t need to carry a charger around with you in case your smartphone runs out of juice? The good news is that many companies are working on over-the-air, or wireless, recharging solutions, that allow you to charge a device without a cable or even putting it on a charging pad. The technology uses radio waves to charge your phone. You could simply set up a transmitter in your home for no-fuss charging. It’s easy to imagine the tech becoming as commonplace in public venues in years to come as Wi-Fi is today.
3. OLED and e-ink in one
Your smartphone screen is great for viewing images, videos and other digital content, but it’s not quite as comfortable for reading a longer book as an e-ink reader like the Amazon Kindle. Several companies are already exploring the idea of double displays that let you switch between LCD/OLED and e-ink as you wish. The technology breakthrough to allow this may be a few years away, but it’s something to look forward to.
4. Self-healing screens
That sinking feeling when you accidentally drop your smartphone screen-down and find an unsightly crack in the display may one day be a distant memory. Researchers have already developed a self-healing electronic material that can fix its own cracks and other physical damage. This is not only good for your wallet—reducing the number of smartphones replaced each year due to breakages could help the environment, too.
5. Holographic displays
Some consumer electronics companies are already working on holographic display technologies for smartphones that bring to mind the holograms in Star Wars or Blade Runner 2049. These displays may depict 3D images or video that could float above the screen and be viewed from any angle without needing 3D glasses.
6. Smarter AI
Artificial intelligence (AI) is already a key feature in smartphones—not only at the level of voice assistants, but also in powering applications like augmented reality, photography and real-time language translation. It will become even more powerful over the next 10 years, unlocking a wealth of new features.
Your assistant will, for example, be able to make more complex and human-like decisions as it manages your life. The smartphone may be the centre of a set of smart devices—entertainment, home automation, connected car—you use every day. It could make restaurant bookings for you, manage your schedule, recommend new experiences, manage your grocery deliveries, recommend routes to work and more, based on a deep understanding of your behaviour and preferences.
It sounds crazy to be talking 6G when 5G, and depending on where you are, 4G, are not yet common. However, labs at several telcos and manufacturers are already starting to explore the next generation of mobile networking technology. Some experts guess 6G could be as much as 100 times faster than 5G, reaching speeds of 1TB per second. That’s enough to download 142 hours of video in one second.