You don't have to travel too far back to find a time in your life when your cell phone simply made phone calls... and that was that. In fact, when you think back to that time, roughly a decade ago, could any of us have even imagined that we'd all soon be carrying around a device in our pocket that has more power than a desktop PC, enables us to instantly send a text message to anyone in the world, captures, stores and shares all our photo/video/music files and listens and reacts to voice commands to surf the web for just about any information we desire?
Seems insane. But as you are all already well aware, such a device exists and we're all guilty of taking all of the above for granted today as our smartphones have become more important to us than anything else we've every owned in our lives.
"Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. It's very fortunate if you can work on just one of these in your career," the late Steve Jobs once explained when asked about the iconic iPhone.
While the debut of the first iPhone in 2007 certainly lifted this category to unthinkable heights, the race for supremacy in this market is on, as most of the major players are regularly coming up with exciting new tech at breakneck speed.
Thus, it seems almost selfish and borderline boorish to have the gall to ask, "So, what's next?" But we know you're all curious so why not take a peek, right? There's innovation at every turn in the smartphone market and the category continues to enjoy staggering growth numbers every year so here's a brief look at a few of the new wrinkles the appendage attached to your hand might see in the coming year.
New Video CODEC
The chip in your smartphone that is responsible for compressing all that video you're watching is called a CODEC and the one that currently dominates the handset market today is called H.264. While this tried and true CODEC has done a wonderful job handling the video workload for the device that has become the love of our lives, there's a new sheriff in town and its name is HEVC, or the more familiar H.265.
What does this mean to you? Good question. The short answer is greater video capability for your smartphone to view and capture video with a higher quality and the ability to do it more smoothly and quickly. The new H.265 is dubbed high-efficiency video encoding (thus the appelation HEVC) and according to those in the know is set to double the efficiency of the H.264, especially when it comes to mobile delivery of video content. Essentially, we're talking about cutting bandwidth in half and accomplish that while delivering higher quality video.
The cost savings for companies like Netflix and YouTube will be significant. They clearly have the most to gain economically from the adoption of the new CODEC because they incur the massive costs of video distribution at scale.
But consumers will also be the big winners here. "Consumers will see significant gains in the form of much faster downloads and much more compelling streaming experiences," began Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, Secretary-General, ITU, a United Nations specialized agency for information and communications technologies. "With H.265, a significant number of consumers will, for the first time, be able to experience high quality online video without the stutter and stop experience - making true 1080p video available for more consumers, unlike adaptive formats which adjust to lower quality for lower bandwidth conditions."
The first smartphones equipped with HEVC are beginning to hit the market now from manufacturers like Samsung and LG with more smartphone makers lining up for releases later this year.
Beyond improved image video compression technology, the race for manufactures to out innovate each other includes literally every part of the smartphone, including the most obvious -- the display screen.
When Apple recently wowed us with their retina display on iPhones, attention quickly turned to the quality of the on-screen image. And considering the amount of still and video imagery consumers were taking in on their smartphones, this certainly made sense as a point of focus.
The recent move to 1080p, offering full-HD display, was well received but apparently, the bar is being raised here yet again as you can look for screens displaying 1600x2560-pixel resolution (WQXGA) by mid-2014. Our guess is that these new displays would appear to be better suited for the larger screen size we're seeing on phablets. So we're expecting 6-inch screens might see this tech initially as this category could be poised for an explosion in 2014. Not sure the average eye was detecting a huge improvement in quality on a 2- to 3-inch smartphone screen from 720p to 1080p. This may simply be a case of adding additional whip cream to the sundae but the tech gurus just can't help themselves.
Better Battery Life
One of the few complaints coming out of Smartphone Nation is the battery life the device currently offers which falls short of expectations. Sony is hinting that they are working on a solution here that we may see as early as second half 2014. The company is quietly claiming that they are huddling with a company called Rohm Semiconductor on a wireless charging device that cuts charging time down to less than an hour and provides a significantly longer lasting battery life.