The Future of Smartphones – Part II

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In the previous post, we have looked into some upcoming features in the software of the smartphones which will make these smartphones much more powerful than what they are today. Today we look at some of the hardware components which will make these smartphones of the future much lighter and even have that enigmatic look and feel.

The Hardware:

Curved Screens – We’re used to phones looking like flat bricks, but it seems mobile developers want to make handsets with more personality.  Leaks from Nokia, previews of handsets on sale later this year and the fact that Apple has recently built a specialized factory to churn out shaped glass, all suggest that curved screens will be the next big thing. The current trend set by Corning, which makes Gorilla Glass, indicates that by 2015 tougher glass will allow for screens that could be 50 percent thinner.

Longer-life Batteries – A team of chemical engineers at Northwestern University, Illinois have created a lithium ion battery that would endure a week’s use and recharge in 15 minutes. It uses an anode – the part that delivers electricity into the battery – made out of a graphene/silicon sandwich. This delivers more electricity into the battery in less time. Lead researcher Dr.Harold Kung says this tech could make its way into mobile phones, laptops and tablets within the next three years.

Infrared Camera – Your next phone’s camera won’t just capture more megapixels. In December, Apple was granted a patent for an infrared (IR) receiver attachment. The idea is that a railway station, for example, would have a corresponding device to broadcast train timetables to your phone. This info would then be overlaid on your camera’s live view, showing you when the next train’s due to leave. On the downside, music venues could send out a signal that would stop people filming concerts with iPhones.

No more SIM cards – In pursuit of a supermodel-thin smartphone, Apple is on the march to remove SIM cards from its handsets altogether. A SIM reader takes up a lot of space, so the company filed a patent in November for a virtual replacement. The iPhone is digitally allocated to a network on purchase. One benefit is that the freed-up space could be filled by hardware: an NFC router that would share its internet connection with a laptop or a tablet when such a device gets near enough to the phone.

Ubiquitous NFC – Near Field Communication (NFC) makes connecting your phone to a speaker, for example, as easy as tapping your handset on your stereo. When two NFC enabled devices get close, they recognize each other and connect via Bluetooth. The whole system can be automated so that your phone would automatically sync when it’s positioned next to your PC. Once shops adopt NFC receivers – as ticket machines on London’s Tube already have – you’ll be able to make one-touch payments with your phone.

Flexible screens – Since most smartphones are all screen and not much else, they have a nasty tendency to shatter when dropped. So both Samsung and Nokia have been working on a novel fix. Instead of making the glass shatterproof, both companies believe that flexible AMOLED technology is the way forward.  Since the screen material is malleable, it’s able to withstand harsh impacts. At a demo, this year working screens withstood hammer blows, with only slight scratches for damage. Further down the line, Nokia hopes that bending and twisting the phone will be an extra input method – bending a corner could skip a music track, for example.

Pico projectors – Even the best touchscreen keyboards can be frustrating at times. While watching the TV series on your mobile is convenient for train journeys, the screen is too small for home entertainment. The solution lies with a built-in projector. CTX Technologies let us play with its working prototype, which projects a virtual laser keyboard from its base and an 80-inch screen from the top. The prototype certainly wasn’t pocket friendly, but the company’s CEO Clifford M.Rhee says it’s been working on a phone and tablet equivalent that could hit shops in five years.

Super thinGraphene: It is one atom thick, transparent and super strong. Nokia is teaming up with the Nobel laureates that discovered this miracle material to develop a truly different future generation of smartphones. Nokia has drawn up a concept device based on graphene components that would be thin enough to give you a paper cut, and flexible enough to fold away into your pocket. Sadly, the first graphene parts that can be mass-produced are yet to be built, so it’ll be a good few years before the dream becomes a reality.

There will be plenty more features which are sure to come in the near future and in Search of Life we will track this convergence of technology with our lives. This article was published in BBC Knowledge Magazine and written by Daniel Bennett who is the reviews editor of UK’s BBC Focus Magazine.

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