The top 7 most innovative smartphone technologies in development

by Eric Dean, Manager, Global Business Development and Marketing Strategy, LORD Corporation

From smartphones with augmented reality to ones with edge-to-edge screens you can roll up and put in your pocket, the latest in mobile phone features and technology is constantly evolving.

Eric Dean, Manager, Global Business Development and Marketing Strategy, LORD Corporation

Eric Dean, Manager, Global Business Development and Marketing Strategy, LORD Corporation

The Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona earlier this year sparked excitement and speculation about what’s to come from smartphone industry developers and innovators.

For many, it may seem that technology is already old news by the time it is released. This makes it challenging to develop predictions that aren’t outdated. However, it’s intriguing to follow the latest (for now) buzz on design and technology.

Here’s a look at what we think are some of the most exciting trends and most compelling innovations to in the works:

1. Displays: Although nothing revolutionary is anticipated, analysts are predicting a move to ultra 4K-resolution screens because they are expected to make a difference with mobile virtual reality (VR) headsets and augmented reality (AR).

2. Curved, foldable and roll-up phones: There are projections that technology companies are experimenting with curved backplates, curved front screens and curved edges for displays for handsets. There is also talk of bendable and foldable phones – and not the foldable, fold-in “flip phones” of several years ago – potentially being launched later this year. A phone that folds out and turns into a 7-inch tablet has already been developed and is targeted to be rolled out in the third quarter of 2017. Prototypes of phones able to be rolled up like a newspaper or to be wrapped around interior spaces have been rolled out, but they still have not yet entered into production for consumers.

Blog_LORD_IMB_cell phone post-MIT-Solid-Energy-Systems graphic_ Courtesy of SolidEnergy Systems

The history of lithium batteries from an anode perspective                  Graphic source: SolidEnergy Systems, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology spin-off focused on post Lithium-ion batteries

3. Invisible screens: A Kurdish inventor based in Turkey, Celal Goger, developed a phone screen that becomes “invisible” to everyone except the person using the phone.

An app installed on the phone turns the screen white. The user then puts on a pair of glasses that have a chip built into it, which communicates with the phone to make the screen visible. There is currently a prototype available for one type of smartphone, but the technology is not yet widespread. The inventor of this technology is also working on a nanochip variation that would be compatible with any pair of glasses. Check out the video of the “invisible” screen here.

4. Battery technology: There’s that feeling of dread when your cell phone enters into the red zone of power and you either can’t find an outlet or don’t have a charger with you. We’ve become so dependent on our cell phones and use them for so many different applications, it can rapidly drain their battery. Now, a new type of “anode-free” lithium-metal battery has been developed that is smaller than today’s lithium-ion smartphone batteries and has double the energy capacity. Taking battery technology even further is a prototype cell phone that is “battery free,” using a “backscatter” technique to enable the device to communicate by reflecting incoming radio waves – essentially drawing what small power it needs from “thin air.”

Mobile devices using virtual reality (VR)

Mobile devices are expected to play a key role in the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications, benefitting from the Internet of Things (IoT) — essentially mapping out actions and connecting to surroundings in a deeper, integrated way. Photo source: Flickr

5. Virtual and augmented reality: The Pokémon Go! craze, where the player experiences the game in the same real-world location by placing virtual objects in the real world, has “mixed reality” into the mainstream and attracted widespread attention. Social media platforms continue to integrate AR into smartphone apps with novelty camera filters that add objects to a photo in real-time.

There are even apps currently available and in continued development that enhances the visual appearance of everyday objects such as walls, tables, doors and faces to “augment” sight for visually impaired people.

Beyond gaming, mobile devices are expected to play a key role in the use of VR and AR applications – VR because of the endless commercial opportunities and AR for use in industrial design and medicine. AR and VR will also benefit from the Internet of Things (IoT), essentially mapping out actions and using your phone “to join the world in a much deeper way.”

6. Molecular sensors: The material sensing smartphone may be the wave of the future. A miniaturized near-infrared spectrometer is able to detect the molecular signature of objects. It shines a near-infrared light on materials, stimulating their molecules in the process. Through analysis of the light that is reflected off the vibrating molecules, it then identifies them by their unique optical signature. This allows the chemical composition of the material to be determined.

Development of the technology first began with a Kickstarter campaign and has advanced enough to create a version of the spectrometer miniaturized enough to fit inside a phone. Soon, you may be able to use your material sensor-equipped smartphone to check the nutritional value of food, such as which piece of fruit is the freshest or even to measure body fat.

7. 5G: This next-generation Internet connectivity would mean smartphone speeds of at least one gigabyte per second, with a latency of fewer than 10 milliseconds. A prototype has been developed and trials are being conducted, but it may be some time before smartphones with 5G are mainstream.

These are just a few of many technologies in the works, but the ones we think are the most exciting and innovative for the next generation of mobile phones. What are you hearing about? Let us know here.