Smartphones change almost as frequently as the tides. We’ve seen them in nearly all shapes, sizes and colors. Over the past few years we’ve seen several major trends in the industry, both big and small. In fact, do you remember when phones rarely came with a full sized 3.5mm headphone jack? We do. Over the past several years we’ve seen the mass adoption of 4G LTE support, huge phablet displays that now range past six inches in size, 3D screens that were quickly shunned and more. So what’s the next big trend?
I think there are two to watch out for. First, I hope to see wireless charging adopted across the industry. Right now two big consortiums are battling it out, the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) and the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC).
Second, I think we’ll continue to see the advance in nanocoatings to protect devices from water, dust and other hazards. Right now we call those phones “life proof” but there’s really little reason that all devices can’t support the technology.
Let’s address wireless power first.
Today, if you buy a smartphone with wireless charging support, odds are your device supports the Qi standard, which was created by the Wireless Power Consortium. It was the first to market, but as we’ve seen in this past, this doesn’t always mean it will be the winner. The Lumia 920, Nexus 4, Galaxy S4, LG Optimus G Pro and others currently support this standard, though it’s very debatable that the Alliance for Wireless Power has a better idea and bigger backers. Again, that doesn’t always mean one standard will win over another, however.
Qi is great, but it has some setbacks. First, it often requires a rather expensive charging cover and plate. That’s great, but the plate can only charge one device at at a time right now (though Energizer has some that will work with multiple devices). Meanwhile, A4WP is thinking about a much more advanced use for the technology.
Imagine if the cupholders in your car could charge your phone with a simple drop. Or if you could head over to Ikea and buy a new coffee table that will charge all the gadgets you drop on it. That’s the kind of stuff A4WP wants to see.
It’s likely to happen, too, because A4WP has a ton of big-name tech giants backing it up. Intel recently announced that it joined the cause, and that’s in addition to Samsung, Broadcom, Qualcomm and others. Qualcomm provides some of the most popular chips in your smartphone today, Samsung has the leverage to build the tech into millions of devices, and Intel and Broadcom can help build the tech into embedded devices, laptops, tablets and other products.
So the big question is when? I think Qi is doing a great job getting consumers interested in wireless power, but I still feel like A4WP’s efforts are going to be the most beneficial. A4WP is behind right now, though, even if it’s technology seems to be the better option. We still don’t have any commercial products out yet that take advantage of it, though everyone from car makers to device designers have signed on for support.
Here’s another big move I see in technology: nanocoating protection. Motorola has had a few devices with this on board, the Xperia Z offers it and Samsung’s Galaxy S4 Active takes advantage of it too. To put it simply, companies such as Itri, P2i, Liquipel and others are able to spray down the components of a device so that, should they get wet, the entire phone isn’t damaged. It’s why we’re now seeing advertisements for devices that are “life proof” against a light spill or a dunk in the toilet.
I absolutely love and support the technology. For the first time ever I’m able to take a device with me without having to worry about a big bulky waterproof case. I can go swimming in the pool with the Galaxy S4 Active in up to three feet of water for 30 minutes. I could even take it on a surfboard if I wanted to, provided that I didn’t lose it to the ocean.
Sure, you may wonder why device makers would want to do this, especially since there’s a lot of money to be made when a consumer damages his or her phone through exposure to water. I think, ultimately, though phone makers are going to win consumers over when they show that a shiny new expensive smartphone can actually withstand a lot. It will help build brand loyalty and consumers will appreciate being to take their smartphones, tablets, cameras and other devices to areas where they weren’t previously able to.
I think there’s a lot going on in today’s smartphone market, and a lot of innovation is going to be made on the software front. We also can’t forget about mobile payments, though that has largely been left in the dust here in the United States because banks, smartphone makers, carriers and others are still trying to battle out who gets paid what. Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T are betting on the ISIS joint venture to help, but we’ll judge the success when it launches — Google Wallet has largely been viewed as a failure.
No matter what, at any time, you can bet there’s a lot of innovation going on. Every day we’re covering a new report on some sort of patent, flexible display (we’re still limited until we get flexible components!) or software service that could potentially change our lives forever.
We at the forefront of exciting times in the smartphone indeed.