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Future of smartphones: How will the next generation of mobile phones improve?

We discuss the key areas in which the next generation of mobile phones will be looking to improve

Future of Smartphones

The speed of the mobile phone's technological development is scary, not so long ago sending a SMS was mind-blowing. Now we can directly speak to our smartphones and ask them for the lastest weather forecast, or take a HD video and upload it to the internet in a matter of seconds. Take a look at The best phone you can buy in 2013.

So, the editors of PC Advisor, Tech Advisor and Macworld have got together and come up with several key areas that the mobile industry is looking to develop for the next generation of phones. Keep reading to find out what direction the future of smartphones is headed. See also: What's the best Android phone you can buy in 2013?

Future of smartphones: Battery life

Matt Egan – Editor-in-Chief – IDG Tech Media

The next major battleground for all portable computing devices is battery life. All high-end smartphones can now do just about everything we need them to do. Performance is there or thereabouts for all phones, and your OS of choice will be dictated largely by personal preference and the availability of apps and media. See: New iPhone 5S release date UK: When will the new iPhone arrive?

But which of us can honestly say they are happy with the battery life of their handset? I've used phones from all the major manufacturers on all major platforms and the results are the same: you're happy if you eek out a full day of use.

This means travelling with adaptors and spare batteries (where possible), and rationing your use of your phone, which negates the point of having a great smartphone. The trouble is batteries are measured in terms of physical size of cell - and was all want slim and light handsets. So although battery capacity will continue to increase, improvement in battery life will come from two other trends.

For one thing sofware and processors will continue to become less power hungry. Intel is making a come back in the mobile world, and is bringing with it the power-saving tech it built into the Ivy Bridge platform for thin and light laptops. Expect ARM to respond. Meanwhile we've also seen Microsoft and BlackBerry tout the better performance their respective platforms can wring from inferior processors with less RAM. By definition this should improve battery life (although that's not always been what we've seen).

Neither Apple nor Google fears the threat of the two minor players in the smartphone wars right now, but be assured that they are playing very close attention to battery life and the way their software utilises resources. Expect improvements from that end. Meanwhile open-source smartphone platforms will try to crank out a wedge of the market by offering their own bare essentials operating systems. Which brings us to trend number two...

Expect a second tier of smartphones, dedicated to providing the essentials and no more, but staying alive for days if not weeks. For most people email, social media and the web are the critical functions of their smartphone. The rest is fun and window dressing. Hardware manufacturers will recognise this and build souped up feature phones that are all trousers and no mouth. You won't own just the one phone. You will carry one device such as this for critical functions - especially when travelling - and use your iPhone or Android as a personal entertainment, communication and navigation device. Just one that you need to charge up all the time.

Future of smartphones: Battery life

Future of smartphones: Security

Rob Grant – Macworld

Smartphones are an expensive, good-looking, and therefore highly desirable, piece of kit. And it's this desirability that makes them so attractive to thieves. So what steps can we expect manufacturers to take over the next few years to ensure our devices, and our personal details, remain secure?

One approach being looked at by both Samsung and LG Electronics is a ‘kill switch'. According to the Wall Street Journal this will “deter phone theft because the function is planted on the operating system or firmware and can't be deleted”.  Although Pantech is currently the only company to offer such a feature on its Vega LTE-A handset, a group of US prosecutors, including New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, is urging smartphone makers to add a kill switch to their devices by 2014. So we can expect this option to be included on our handsets in the not too distant future.

But what other security features will we see? Most of us - and if you don't you should - have to input a PIN to access our devices, but manufacturers are looking at alternatives. In the next few years, we can expect to see the widespread use of fingerprint recognition. Last year, Apple's purchase of AuthenTec, a company that makes fingerprint sensors for mobile devices, fuelled rumours that the iPhone and iPad maker would be adding this technology to its mobile devices. And if Apple is looking into this, you can guarantee that other companies will be, too.

We're still in the early days of voice recognition software such as Apple's Siri and Google's Voice Actions, but it's only a matter of time before these will be extended from asking your handset for directions and searching the web to unlocking your device.

Finally, what can we expect in the way of facial recognition. Android 4.0 introduced a feature called Face Unlock, which uses a smartphone's camera to take a picture of the device's owner during setup. This image can then be used to unlock the phone. It's probable that this will become more widespread as times goes on.

Future of smartphones: Security

Future of smartphones: Flexible screens

David Court – Online Editor – PC Advisor and Tech Advisor

Smartphones with flexible screens are closer than you might think. In fact, both Samsung and LG are already showing off prototypes of devices with bendy screen and gadget shows.

Samsung has been touted as the front runner to be the first company to release a smartphone with a flexible screen, with early reports suggesting that this could happen as early as next year (2014). The Korean tech giant has already demonstrated its YOUM flexible displays at CES 2013 and is basing its screens on existing OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) technology as it allows the displays to be slimmer and thus more flexible than other screen technologies such as LCD.

The problem that the companies are having with integrating flexible screens into smartphones is with the surrounding hardware, such - batteries, processors, and cameras etc. - which are currently not as flexible as displays are. So exactly how bendy the first flexible smartphone screen will be is still a bit of a mystery. A foldable smartphone that doubles as a tablet is a very real possibility.

However, the prototypes shown so far have focused on either wrap around displays, where smartphones have screens that encompass the front and sides of a device, or a smartphone where the paper-thin and completely flexible screens have been almost docked in a rigid block of hardware at the bottom on a screen.

Samsung is saying that its YOUM flexible screens are more durable than regular screens, with a higher resistance to been dropped or crushed. The actual pixel count of flexible displays is still unclear, but it is thought that it will not initially be as high as current rigid displays can offer.

Expect to see some sort of flexible displayed smartphone by the end of 2013 or early 2014.

Future of smartphones: Wearable tech

Karen Halam – Macworld - Editor

The smartphone of the future will be a device that stays in your pocket acting as a server for your wearable devices, be they a watch, glasses, a heart rate monitor, other health related sensor, or even a chip in your brain.

These wearable devices will become like personal assistants, anticipating your every need, but they will be powered by your smartphone.

This solves the big issue with wearable technology right now - the challenge of meeting the power requirements of these small devices without sacrificing battery life and affordability. By offloading the processing and connectivity issues to the smartphone, the wearable device can be small and inexpensive.

Your smartphone will be the brain of your various wearable devices. It will provide the power, storage and the data connection. Your wearable device won't need cellular connectivity because your phone will provide that. Your wearable device will connect to your phone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and you will be able to connect to the internet, or call friends and actually speak to them, via that connection.

Another essential feature provided by your smartphone will be its ability to accurately understand and transcribe your voice input. You won't be able to type on that screen.

Wearable technology is forecast to make a big impact over the next few years. As that technology evolves so will our smartphones. The battle of the smartphones will no longer be about the size and resolution of the screen but the way your watch, glasses or other devices communicates with it.

Might there come a time when your wearable devices no longer need your smartphone to be the server in your pocket? Could there be a not too distant future when your wearable devices connect directly to the network around you without piggybacking your phone?

Given the race among smartphone manufacturers right now to make bigger and better screens it seems contradictory that we would start to move towards even smaller screens, but what if the screens we beam the information to are no longer our iPhone, but any screen in our vicinity? Right now when we get a message on our iPhone we can also see it on our Macs and our iPads. The next screen outlet for the data that we currently check our smartphone for could be the television. When we no longer need the server in our pocket the need for the smartphone may diminish. 

Future of smartphones: Wearable tech

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