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Evolution before the revolution

Foldable displays are not the only development in smartphones. Here, Futuresource Consulting highlights key trends for 2019 and beyond

Despite the increasing homogeneity of smartphones, flagship vendors continue to differentiate themselves through clever engineering of cameras, screens and AI.

Smartphone cameras now have various methods for capturing and editing high quality photographs in daylight and at night time. At the hardware end of this competitive landscape are Samsung’s 2018 handsets, which rely on dual aperture hardware more commonly found in high-end DSLRs: in low light, the aperture widens to capture as much light as possible; and in direct sunlight it narrows. Optical image stabilisation and the ability to alter the bokeh give the consumer more control over their photos at a hardware level.

The Apple iPhone XS is more of a software-oriented camera. A dual lens arrangement and large sensors are still necessary, but the magic happens in its Neural Engine and faster HDR sensors, which capture two pictures within one-thirtieth of a second and stitch them together almost instantaneously. This raw material is passed to the Neural Engine, which analyses the frames to balance the exposure and stabilise discrete elements of the image, such as 3D facial features. Post-photo, the consumer has retrospective professional-level control over bokeh and depth effects.

One final noteworthy handset is the Google Pixel 3. Unlike other flagship smartphones, the Pixel relies exclusively on a single camera lens and applies high performance vision processing algorithms to achieve the same effects as its rivals.

The second key feature trend is innovation in screen technology, primarily the advent of foldable screens like Royole’s Flexpai and Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. Both vendors have approached this in different ways, Royole preferring a screen that bends around the outside of the form factor while Samsung has a foldable screen on the inside (like a book) with another screen on the outside. This development is designed to satisfy growing demand for bigger and better screens on a pocket-sized device and is unlikely to impact how consumers use their phones in the short-term.

One genuinely disruptive development in 2018 was the improvement of Google’s voice assistant AI, with the Google Duplex expected to be available on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3Xl in certain US cities during the early developmental stage. While this feature may not be fully rolled out in 2019, it provides an early indication of how voice assistants will develop. The Google Duplex won’t just be able to make appointments, it will also place a reminder in your calendar, acting as the ultimate pocket-sized personal assistant.

Given Google’s ability to capture a wealth of data from consumers, we can expect the interactivity of the Duplex to develop rapidly to the point where it can easily fulfil most functions of the phone and potentially even anticipate and predict your needs.