Upgraded hardware, software and networks will come together to offer an amazing smartphone experience.
Do you remember a time when you got by with a smartphone packing a tiny amount of memory, a low-resolution screen and a form that was so large it could have been used to anchor a small boat? We laugh about those times now, but in the near future we will be sniggering in exactly the same way about our current phones. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what’s going to power the smartphones of tomorrow and how future developments will make the smartphones of today look positively archaic? Well, let’s find out.
Mobile networks will be ‘much’ faster. 4G will replace the3G networks we use now and offer ten times the speeds available today. Future smartphones will have to cope with the power such speeds require and so battery technology will also have to step up. Fortunately, a battery has already been developed that can last for a whole week and, believe it or not, recharge in only 15 minutes.
It has been built by addressing two limitations of current battery technology. First, lithium atoms are required to hold a battery charge between an anode and cathode – the two ends of the battery – and they are typically built in layers of one lithium atom to six carbon atoms, but by sandwiching clusters of silicon atoms between the layers and by not using carbon atoms, the number of lithium atoms can be greatly increased, which in turn means more power can be held.
Tiny holes have also been created in the layers of silicon to effectively offer a shortcut to the anode which makes the charging process ten times quicker than the batteries we use now; just imagine being able to charge your phone for 15 minutes every Sunday and that’s it!
Display technology will also evolve significantly and, because it is the most used part of any smartphone, we can count on greater resolutions, clarity and bright light performance. However, we can also expect them to become flexible. Displays of today are built by attaching organic LEDs to glass, but in the future we can expect LEDs to be ‘printed’ onto pliable plastic instead which will make them completely flexible. Imagine the possibilities; a smartphone you can roll up and stuff in your pocket, a device that can be used as a phone during the day and then a tablet when you require a bigger screen at night. It sounds impossible because of all the components that need to sit behind the screen, but take yourself back to the future battery technology – if they can hold ten times the charge of today’s batteries, they can also be made ten times smaller and thus never impede on the display’s flexibility.
This ongoing process of miniaturisation will also be true for all other smartphone components, such as processors and cameras, and will complete the ultra-portable setup for future phones.
As the smartphone becomes the compact camera of choice for most, so the camera technology will improve beyond what we can conceive today. Light-field cameras will no doubt be snuck into the latest high-end phones and these will give you the ability to take a shot and focus it when you get home. Such devices are able to do this as microlenses are placed within the focal plane of the camera lens just behind the main image sensor and these allow the parts of a photo that are not in focus to be analyzed later and then matched to the corresponding image parts that are in focus. From this data, a perfectly focused photo can be created irrespective of how bad a photographer you are and this will likely become as important to future smartphone camera technology as lenses, megapixels and everything else put together. You will never take a bad snap again!
Hefty processing power
Behind all of the parts you see and touch will sit some hefty processing power that will make even the fastest of today’s home computers look feeble. Quad-core processors, which spread the load of intensive tasks evenly over each core to reduce power requirements, are already available in mobile form, but the expectation of 16-core processors and above is not unrealistic. With so many powerful cores you will be able to run everything you can on today’s smartphones, but many times over. The technology will allow the most resource-hungry tasks to use as many cores as they need and still undertake completely separate operations, thus offering an experience which never slows down. This ties in nicely with the faster network speeds and will offer a super-smooth end-to-end experience that is completely unlike a computer.
Imagine, you will be able to roll up your phone or unfold it into a tablet when you want to. You will charge it only once a week for a few minutes. You will never take a bad photo or even consider hardware and mobile network speeds. Now look at what you use today. There’s no doubt that we will all look back to today and wonder at how we survived.
Inside network development
The rush to offer complete high-speed coverage continues relentlessly and network providers are using a variety of technologies to give the mobile user all of the speed they desire, whenever they need it. More Wi-Fi hotspots will pop up in businesses and town centres, using the exact same technology as a home router does. They are connected to the fixed telephone network, like your home broadband, and then the bandwidth is available wirelessly via the hotspot. Mobile network operators are increasingly offering bundled Wi-Fi services to help them cope with mobile data demand, plus city-wide schemes to offer free Wi-Fi for all, such as Wi-Fi London which is aiming to have near-complete Wi-Fi access in time for the 2012 Olympic Games.
4G will offer the most obvious benefits to smartphone users and is destined to let us all connect to the mobile internet at speeds upwards of 100 megabits per second. This will be achieved by increasing the amount of spectrum available to mobile operators – more spectrum at 800MHz and 2.6GHz, which represents the equivalent of three-quarters of the spectrum available today and took two decades to create.
With spectrum secured, operators can then start to build the required infrastructure to enable users to take full advantage of the greater speeds through a host of devices from smartphones, dongles, laptops and possibly even desktop computers. With fewer networks competing for these spectrum bands thanks to network-sharing deals, the process should complete quite quickly. Orange and T-Mobile already utilise each other’s networks, via the Everything Everywhere brand, and Vodafone and 02 have been working on jointly building new sites that they can both serve to customers. This is on top of the long-term network-sharing arrangement between 3 and T-Mobile.
Potentially, mobile data will be advanced enough to pose a serious threat to home broadband connections and could eventually signal the end of the land line for many people.