Mobile World Congress--the annual mobile phone convention that's the CES of phones--is wrapping up, and we've seen new handsets announced from many of the biggest names in smartphones.
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We've learned some important stuff. Apple's number one nemesis, Samsung, announced the Galaxy Tab S3 tablet, but didn't show us the Galaxy S8 (which will roll out later this spring). There's the new Moto G5 and the Huawei P10. BlackBerry is back with its KEYone. Honestly, the list of new handsets goes on and on.
But today, rather than focus on specific handsets and particular new products, we'd take a broader look at home phones will change in 2017. Here are 14 things we expect to see in smartphones this year.
1. Get ready for more choices
The average consumer might be able name perhaps three or four smartphone brands, but that's only a fraction of the companies fighting for attention. For every Samsung or LG there's an Oukitel or Ulefone looming in the distance. It wasn't all that long ago that Huawei, OnePlus, and ZTE were unknowns in North America, but they're all quickly becoming household names. The world is shrinking and we've got UMi, Bluboo, Xiaomi, LeEco, Meizu, and others looking to crack the US market.
The price of a solid unlocked phone is more affordable than ever, with a decent mid-range unit running around $200 today. A $400 handset like the ZTE Axon 7 or OnePlus 3 is just as powerful as one that costs $700 from a bigger name. And, as more buyers become aware and familiar with the concept, the unlocked space will be occupied by more brands. Don't be surprised if you stumble over an amazing phone in later this year from someone you've never heard of before.
2. More brands will sell direct to consumer
More and more, manufacturers are selling their devices direct to consumer, taking carriers out of the equation. Why bother purchasing the Moto Z Play Droid from Verizon when you can finance from Motorola and have the peace of mind knowing you can switch carriers with the unlocked Z Play? Further, why limit yourself to a small selection of phones when there's a plethora of products, most of which are affordable to purchase outright?
3. Phones will have more power than ever
Remember when it was considered overkill for a phone to have 2GB RAM? Tomorrow's flagships are expected to have four times that, clocking in with 8GB of performance enhancing memory.
The low end is now occupied with 2GB models with the middle ground hovering about 3GB and 4GB. Truth be told, most consumers don't need more than that, and would probably not see the benefits of 6GB.
4. There’s no such thing as too much space
Pictures, videos, apps, and games. So much of what's important to us requires storage space on our phones. Some of these fancy racing games or first-person shooter push well beyond a gigabyte. As much as developers and device makers might like for us to rely on clouds for files, there's nothing quite like the peace of mind that comes with internal storage.
If you're the type who likes to stay on the forefront of mobile gaming, you'll probably end up with 64GB, 128GB, or more this year. And that's not even factoring in external storage cards that can reach terabytes.
5. The processors will rival your laptop
Just like you'd find when shopping for PC's, the processors in phones just get more powerful with each new generation. The next class of top-tier handsets deliver eight cores of horsepower at speeds up to 2.45GHz. That's crazy fast. Do you need it? Probably not, but they're more efficient than ever and also allow for all of the other hardware you might be interested in. The low end of the spectrum is now occupied by quad-core CPUs and the days of dual-core may have come to an end.
6. Big screens will get (a little) bigger
Screens will continue to creep ever closer to the edge of devices; some will even reach the elusive edge-to-edge status. Samsung popularized it with its Galaxy Edge, but more brands have already hopped on the bandwagon. Look to the Xiaomi Mi MIX, ZUK Edge, and Nubia Z11 for examples. Rumor has it that this year's iPhone will have no bezel, with a curved screen taking up the entire front of the phone.
If the last few years are any indication, display sizes may continue to creep ever so slightly larger. A "small" phone will probably hover around 5-inches with 5.7-inch screens the new norm for plus-sized models. Not to worry, though, the thinner bezels won't make them feel unwieldy.
This year will see more curved displays and glass, and should be prominently featured in the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S8. Get used to seeing the term "2.5D" when describing the glass as it's aesthetically pleasing and feels great to the touch.
7. Phones will start to last more than a day
The fear of getting through a full day without having to charge your phone may be behind us. Capacities have jumped from 1500mAh to around 3500mAh and beyond. Heck, some of them are treading on the edge of 4000mAh. What does this mean? How about two or perhaps even three days of usage out of a charge. Additionally, charging times have increased dramatically and now a half hour plugged into the wall is often enough to get you another day.
8. Expect a lot of dual cameras in the rear
Your next phone could have two cameras on the backside. One sensor may capture the general subject in the image while the other helps determine depth of field. Or, in other cases, one grabs all of the color while a monochrome sensor discerns details. Either way, pictures on smartphones are going to get a lot better.
Phone makers started employing the dual setup over the last year or so, but the trend will likely take off more so in the coming year. LG, Xiaomi, HTC, and Huawei are among those currently already utilizing the configuration.
9. The battle for the headphone jack rages on
Apple did away with the traditional headphone jack for its iPhone last year and a few other handset manufacturers did the same. And, while it's not quite across the board for everyone, the industry looks to be headed that way. But, it's still too early to call for the demise of the 3.5mm port. Expect to see plenty of models introduced this year which offer the old standard.
10. There will be better protection against the elements
Sony has been making its smartphones waterproof and dust resistant for generations and Samsung has
Similarly, last year saw Apple make its iPhone water resistant. Looking ahead, more phones will be able to handle splashes and spills. This is fast becoming the norm, especially for handsets made from unibody cases.
11. We won't get many modular phones
A few years ago, a modular, build-your-own-bear style phone seemed like a good idea. While LG might be scrapping the idea of modules for its G5 successor, Motorola appears to be doubling down with its Moto Mods endeavor. It could take another generation of devices, though, before we'll know if anyone actually cares. That said, the promise of a choose-your-own component smartphone from 2014 seems to be mostly dead in 2017.
12. Augmented and virtual reality are coming bigtime
Not only are phone screens getting bigger, but the resolution has gotten better. Flagship phones routinely have 2560 x 1440 pixels in them. You might not see the difference in your normal daily usage, but put the phone into a virtual reality (VR) headset and you'll appreciate all those extra pixels.
This year will also see a rise in augmented reality (AR). Thanks to Google's Project Tango, mobile devices are more capable than ever and can be used to enhance, or augment, the world we live in.
Want a scaled-down version of the solar system in your living room? How about a phone that can play games on a coffee table? Perhaps you'd like to see how that couch might look in your home before you buy it. Augmented reality can help do all of these things, and, potentially, so much more.
13. Digital assistants are here to help
Apple has Siri and Google has evolved Google Now into Google Assistant. What was once a simple case of voice to text or search help has morphed into something much smarter. Today we can ask our phones to add items to our grocery list, schedule appointments, and more.
Although it's currently limited to the Pixel family phones, Google Assistant will ultimately find its way into all Android phones. In the meanwhile, some handset makers are baking in their own special assistant technology. Samsung is reportedly introducing a tool known as Bixby which can also perform visual searches, including objects and text.
Amazon may no longer offer its own phones, but that won't stop the tech giant from making its presence felt in mobile. Its Alexa smarts will be added to the Huawei Mate 9 as part of a future software update. Once in place the device will be able to perform functions like Alexa-enabled devices like the Echo and Echo Dot.
14. The trendsetters will change
Don't look for radical change at the top of the food chain. The big guns and taste-makers will still be Apple and Samsung at the end of 2017. Indeed, the iPhone 8 and Samsung Galaxy S8 will rule the roost.
The middle space, though, is due for a shakeup. Brands like OnePlus and LeEco are going to be aggressive, putting pressure on the old guard of LG and HTC. But, they'll have to get past Huawei and ZTE, two companies who have a head start and wider recognition among consumers.
It might sound trite or cliche, but there's never been a better time to be looking for a new phone.