In 2019, expect mechanical sliders on mobiles and faster displays, 5G and smarter voice assistants, more
augmented reality and foldable screens and devices that prod you to switch off from the digital vortex.
One Notch Up
Year 2018 belonged to the smartphone notch. Initially, everyone thought it would be a good idea. After all, there is a functional reason for the notch. It houses the camera, earpiece, proximity sensor and ambient light sensor. At the same time, it gives a larger screen without increasing device size. Some notches are bigger than others — again for good reason. Apple’s Face ID system, for instance, needs a larger area because it has additional components like a dot projector and infrared camera.
This year, a lot of effort went into shrinking the notch. Phones like OnePlus 6T have the water-drop style notch that only houses the front camera and sensors. Vivo NEX and Oppo Find X achieved the nearly bezel-less look (complete with small bezels all around and a tiny chin) before others. They did this using motorised components that slide up to reveal the cameras. Longevity and durability were suspect though and one can’t have IP rating for devices with moving parts.
There are three ways in which smartphones manufacturers are going to address the problem of the notch in 2019: the slider, camera behind display and the dual display. We are going to see more mechanical sliders. The Galaxy S10 series are rumoured to have display cutouts for the camera. Others like the Vivo NEX Dual and Nubia X are innovating with one set of cameras and dual displays. These innovations are going to be in the top smartphones next year.
90 & 120Hz Displays
Many of us look at displays all day and some displays are better than others — they’ve higher resolution, brighter screens or newer technologies like OLED. But there is one key area where most displays (phones, TVs and laptops) lag and that is refresh rate. The standard refresh rate for displays is 60Hz. This means it can update/refresh the image one sees 60 times a second. Increasing the refresh rate can have an amazing effect on anything that’s moving by eliminating blur.
Everything starts looking buttery smooth. Once one uses such a device, one would not want to go back to 60Hz. The user can get TVs and monitors with 120Hz or 144Hz refresh rates but they are rare. Smartphones and tablets with higher refresh rates are rarer. For now, Apple’s iPad Pro has a screen with adaptive refresh rates (up to 120Hz) — they call it ProMotion. And the only phone we’ve seen with a 120Hz display is the Razer phone (though not officially available in India). All hardware now can support these faster displays but it is now up to display manufacturers to catch up. Expect faster displays in cheaper devices next year too.
Hands Off, Voice On
Voice is a great tool, especially if one regularly uses phone assistants (Google, Siri), smart speakers (Google Home, Amazon Alexa) and have connected devices. Voice assistants are going to become more capable. One way this will happen is by distinguishing between people in the household (Google Assistant already does this using a feature called Voice Match). If the assistant recognises who it is talking to, it can give personalised responses.
For example: let’s say you like to listen to jazz while your partner likes Bollywood. If you ask the voice assistant to “play music”, it will play jazz. When your partner says the same command, Bollywood music will start playing. You will also start seeing smart assistants in everything: TVs, fridges, washing machines, media players, cars, vacuum cleaners, digital projectors and action cameras, among others.
0 to 100% within a coffee break
Battery technology seems to have hit a peak, at least with the current materials. But charging can get even faster. We got a taste of this on all manner of devices this year. The key is to feed in a higher wattage than normal while charging but keeping the temperature low (and safe) and preserving the longevity of the battery cells.
OnePlus Dash Charge was the fastest around till one got a taste of Oppo’s SuperVooc, a 50-watt charging solution that typically charges a phone battery from 0 to 100% in about 35 minutes. At this rate, one no longer needs to worry about charging devices overnight. Plug in the phone, go have a coffee and return to find enough power to last the rest of the day.
One of the purposes of smart devices is to keep one addicted. For all the good that tech does, the flip side is the long hours we spend away from things that matter. You may not even realise that you need a digital detox. But the next device could tell you. One can already do this with apps but having it built into the device will allow deeper integration.
For starters, one can see exactly how much time is spent on certain apps or on certain categories of apps (gaming, social media, videos, etc). One can set limits or reduce the number of times the device distracts with calls or notifications. We may also start seeing more companion devices: simpler devices that can be carried when one doesn’t need to be constantly reachable, yet answer every email or read every news item.
There are two key upgrades in the shift to 5G networks: higher speeds and lower latency. This alone doesn’t mean much. But what if one could get a network that’s 100-times faster than existing 4G ones? The possibilities are immense because it cuts waiting time to zero. When 5G is fully optimised and with such high speeds (theoretically up to 10gbps), there will be no need to lay down expensive optic fibre cables.
Finally, the latency or delay in exchange of information is also set to reduce drastically and this is useful for things like self-driving vehicles, remotely operated medical equipment and IoT/connected products. A large number of IoT products can then talk to the cloud, to your device and to each other with minimal lag. And, finally, it an important element in recognising the dream of a smart, connected city.
We already shop for a lot of things online. Funnily enough, it is not the big cities that are driving online shopping but smaller towns and rural areas, where internet is easier to access than stores to buy any kind of product. India currently has the second-highest internet user base in the world (after China), though the number of people shopping online is still low. This means there is massive potential, if ecommerce companies can remove some of the roadblocks. One roadblock can be removed with augmented reality (AR).
Imagine looking at a product on a webpage that has an AR button. Click on it and the software adds a digital version of the product into your environment. You can explore it in detail at your own pace and see how it looks in your home (useful for home furnishings).
Displays can be made flexible. Samsung proved this with a phone that unfolded into a tablet. They called it the Infinity Flex display and the first one of its kind will launch in 2019. It can be small when you only need to answer a call or put it in a pocket but expand when you want to watch a video or view content in a group. Other possible uses are displays that can be rolled like TVs that can hide away in countertops when not in use.
We have been using fingerprint scanning and face unlock on phones and tablets for a long time. Some are more secure than others. For instance, Apple showed us the first secure face unlock system in iPhone X. They were so confident of the Face ID system that they did away with the de-facto fingerprint scanner altogether. Expect to see better versions of face scanning. We will also start seeing biometric scanners in other products, like cars. So the start/stop button in the car might soon read fingerprints. No need for a key. A fingerprint scanner on the door would let you in. The car’s seat settings, steering wheel and climate control would auto adjust according to the user. We have got word that Hyundai is going to start building this tech into some of their cars next year, starting with the 2019 Santa Fe.
Stress Patch, Solar Supercapacitor & More: Tech For Well-Being Is The Next Big Thing
The World Of Wearables
9 Aug, 2018
From a stress-detecting patch to AI that mimics the human brain, the technology of the future is geared towards health solutions.
Intelligence In Wearable Electronics
9 Aug, 2018
A team of US researchers has developed an ‘artificial synapse’ that does not process information like a digital computer but rather mimics the way the human brain completes tasks. The discovery can lead to energy-efficient AI devices. The graphene-based neural networks can be employed in flexible and wearable electronics to enable computation at the ‘edge of the internet’ — places where computing devices such as sensors contact the physical world.
“By empowering even a rudimentary level of intelligence in wearable electronics and sensors, we can track our health with smart sensors, provide timely diagnostics, regulate and optimise the manufacturing process,” say the researchers.
Detect Stress Level From Sweat
9 Aug, 2018
Scientists have developed a waterproof wearable patch, which when applied directly to the skin, absorbs sweat and within seconds assesses how much cortisol — stress hormone — a person is producing. “This offers a novel approach for the early detection of various diseases and evaluation of sports performance,” says lead author, Onur Parlak from Stanford University, US.
Wearable AR For Autistic People
9 Aug, 2018
Google Glass can rekindle the hopes of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) globally, including in India. According to Ned Sahin, founder and CEO of Brain Power, a US-based science-driven company, Augmented Reality (AR)-powered wearable computers can help those with ASD gain confidence, clarity, understanding, social integration and self-sufficiency.
Quit Smoking With Wearable Tech
9 Aug, 2018
Using wearable sensor technology, researchers have developed an automatic alert system that may help people to quit smoking by sending video messages. A smartphone app automatically texts 20 to 120-second video messages to smokers when the sensors detect specific arm and body motions associated with smoking. According to the researchers, the mobile alert system that they are testing may be the first that combines an existing online platform with mindfulness training and a personalised plan to quit smoking.
We now have a machine that can record an electrocardiogram if one just places it on the wrist. We are referring, of course, to the Apple Watch Series 4. This is a feature being rolled out in a phased manner because of regulatory approvals. But we have tried it and it works. These kinds of connected, smart wearable devices would be a big part of healthcare in 2019. One of the biggest advantages is early detection and diagnosis of health issues. But there are other advantages too, such as remote monitoring and personalised care for each patient. For diabetics, the constant monitoring of blood glucose levels is a real chore. A connected glucose monitor that keeps in touch with the doctor on its own will be a real boon. You can hope for a healthier 2019.
Foldable Phones, Notch-Free Display: Smartphone Tech To Watch Out For In 2019
Tech Going Mainstream
20 Dec, 2018
We see new smartphone features every few months – starting from CES in January to various events through the year. We are also likely to see more of Qi wireless charging, phones without 3.5mm port, IR assisted face unlock, glass backs on entry-level devices, smaller, teardrop shape notches. Here are some of the favourites that are expected to be a lot more visible in the coming year.(In Pic: The FlexPai from Royole)
20 Dec, 2018
While we first saw the notch in 2017, 2018 was when it came to even at entry-level devices. It’s now so prevalent that more people seem to hate it rather than understand why it’s there. Thankfully, we also saw smartphone brands take a step ahead with allscreen designs (without any notch). Phones like Oppo Find X and Vivo NEX and still on sale but you do have to pay a premium for the design. For 2019 we expect the all-screen design to take center stage as display prices come down. By the end of 2019, we should see mid-range smartphones with all-screen designs.(In Pic: On the left is the Oppo Find X, and on the right is the Vivo NEX)
20 Dec, 2018
Foldable smartphones have been a concept for a long time now with a few proof of concept devices being shown off at international events. Things escalated quickly in 2018 with Samsung and Huawei announcing that their foldable smartphones will debut in 2019. Samsung showcased a working prototype of their foldable smartphone at an event recently showing how close they are to a consumer device. Another little-known Chinese company called Royale surprised everyone by launching the world’ first foldable smartphone called FlexPai (it’s supposed to go on sale in China by the end of this year). We might just see the first foldable phone next year but you should expect it to be a halo product with a stratospheric price tag. (In Pic: Samsung’s foldable phone which is likely to hit markets in 2019)
Phones That Support 5G
20 Dec, 2018
4G and VoLTE is commonplace now thanks to Jio’s cross country network (and their affordable data packages brought prices down for everyone). The DoT has announced that they expect to complete the process of 5G spectrum auction by August 2019 which means that there are chances we might see 5G rollout by end of 2019. While the network rollout is not clear at the moment, the hardware for 5G is already ready. Qualcomm has already announced that they have over 15 smartphone OEMs committed to 5G for 2019. A number of them including OnePlus, Oppo and Huawei have also announced 5G phones for 2019 (we’ll see the first wave of announcements at the Mobile World Congress 2019).
In-display Fingerprint Scanners
20 Dec, 2018
As a personal choice, we prefer capacitive fingerprint scanners on smartphones (simply because they’re faster and more accurate). However, the next generation of fingerprint scanners (embedded in the smartphone display) are already a reality. We’ve seen in-display scanners on Vivo NEX, Vivo V11 Pro, Huawei Mate 20 Pro and the OnePlus 6T. Capacitive scanners also had their share of issues initially and the speed/accuracy improved over the years – we expect the same to happen with in-display fingerprint scanners. One of the things holding back the in-display scanners is that they can only work on devices with amoled screens (which are more expensive than LCD). Qualcomm recently announced ultrasonic in-display fingerprint scanning technology that can work on any type of screen and even through metal. (In Pic: On the left is the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, and on the right is the OnePlus 6T)