What’s Next for Smartphones

Given how quickly mobile gadgets are developing and evolving, consumers, IT employees, and developers are wondering – what does the future hold for smartphones?

What will those devices look like a year or two from now? What new features will they include? What hardware and software improvements will be introduced?

That topic was discussed by a panel of experts at the recent Interop IT conference in Las Vegas. Here are some of the key smartphone trends the panelists and other industry experts predict for the near future:

1. Bigger screens – up to a point

As device manufacturers work on making phones as thin as possible, they’re also striving to devote as much surface area as possible to the phones’ screens, said Keith Straw, multimedia content editor for IDG Enterprise. These days, consumers care most about the functionality of their phone’s apps, and many apps now require a larger screen.

However there will be a limit to the increases in screen size. Any device that won’t be able to fit in an average person’s pocket won’t become popular, said Craig Matthias, Principal of the Farpoint Group.

2. Higher resolution

As screens get bigger, they’re also getting better. For example, rumors say the upcoming iPhone 5 will be equipped with a 4-inch, 720p screen.

However, as Matthias pointed out, there will eventually be a point where the average user won’t be able to see differences in resolution.

3. Cheaper phones

As new higher-end phones start to incorporate those big, sharp screens, as well as other impressive specs like quad-core processors, manufacturers will also start offering scaled-back models at lower prices.

Some models may even be available for under $200 – without subsidies from carriers. For example, earlier this year Intel announced plans for a low-priced 1GHz chip that’s expected to power phones sold for $150, unsubsidized.

4. Improved batteries and power management

One unfortunate side effect of more powerful smartphones with bigger screens and faster connection speeds: They suck up a lot of battery power. Therefore, manufacturers will need to find ways to increase battery capacity or better manage power consumption, or the devices will become nearly useless.

One possibility for the future is the use of fuel cells to power mobile devices, said Straw. One company, Lilliputian Systems, recently announced the release of a portable fuel cell that will charge a smartphone 12 times before it runs out.

5. Better integration with the Cloud

Cloud computing’s become not just a key strategy for businesses, but a popular tool for consumers as well. People want to be able to access their files from any device, anywhere they go.

Therefore, Cloud storage services like DropBox, Apple’s iCloud and Google’s Drive are becoming popular and increasingly integrated with users’ smartphones. Also, in business environments, more applications will be housed in the Cloud and accessed through the web for security reasons, said Andrew Borg, Research Director for  Enterprise Mobility & Communications at the Aberdeen Group. That will avoid having to store sensitive information on a smartphone that could be lost or stolen.

6. Enhanced security

One of the biggest smartphone trends occurring now is the increased use of personal devices for businesses purposes. While many companies are allowing employees to bring personal smartphones into work – and many employees are doing it whether they’re allowed to or not – experts say that won’t really catch on until smartphone security improves.

One potential development is geography-based authentication tools that enable or disable certain features based on whether a person is in or outside the office, Borg said.

Another thing we may start to see is more devices that can essentially be split in half and separated into work sides and personal sides, said Matthias.

7. Better apps

While improvements are still being made to hardware, industrial design has its limits and it’s unlikely many big leaps forward will be made in that area, said Matthias. Instead, the biggest improvements will be made to applications, which will get better and easier to use.

8. Mobile payments

While mobile payment systems such as Google Wallet have not caught in big numbers, many analysts say more phones will soon appear that are equipped with Near-Field Communications (NFC) capabilities required by those systems. Once that technology is widespread, mobile payments could become common.

9. More location-aware features

More and more applications are taking advantage of phone’s location features, which can be both helpful and less so for users. For example, many games track location data for advertising purposes, and that can create security risks if the data is breached.

10. Smartphone takeover

Increasingly, smartphones are becoming more critical to users than traditional laptop and desktop computers. In fact, more smartphones were shipped in 2011 than PCs. Tablets are also becoming the primary computing device for many, and devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note are blurring the line between smartphones and tablets.

Long story short: Smartphones will continue to do more and more things that other computing gadgets are currently used to do. As Matthias pointed out, people will strive to own and carry as few devices as they can.

About the Author: Editor in Chief of IT Manager Daily, Sam covers the latest developments in business technology and produces industry reports such as Business VoIP: Features, Benefits and What to Look For.

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