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What Will Smartphones Look Like in 20 Years?

We peer into the crystal ball of tech to see what's on the horizon

iphone 7
iphone 7

When you consider the fact that there will be an estimated 6.1 billion active smartphone users by the year 2020, there’s no doubt that the proliferation of mobile technology represents one of the most seminal evolutions in history. At this point, it’s worth noting that smartphones will finally overtake the number of active, fixed line subscriptions across the globe, creating something of a tipping point in terms of adoption and market saturation.

The growing popularity of smartphones owes much to the technology that underpins them, of course, as this has advanced at a truly incredible and incremental rate during the last decade. There is simply no comparison between the feature phones that dominated the market in 2006 and the premium smartphones now manufactured by Apple and Samsung, with design, functionality and capabilities having evolved significantly since the dawn of the iPhone.

Image: Uber Gizmo

Given the strides that have been made during the last 10 years (and the proliferation of smartphones across the globe), it’s worth considering how further innovation will shape the handsets of the future? In this post, we’ll ask what smartphones are likely to look like in 20 years time, and how they’ll evolve from existing handsets.

The Rise of Superior Battery Technology

While smartphone battery life has improved incrementally as 3,000 and 4,000mAh units have been developed, the level of innovation within this space remains relatively restricted. The current generation of batteries can be significantly drained by specific apps and tools, for example, while it’s fair to surmise that battery technology has not evolved to keep pace with the capabilities of modern handsets.

This is likely to have changed by 2038, however, with battery technology already on the verge of several, seminal breakthroughs. So-called nanobatteries offer a relevant case in point, as they have evolved from the current generation of rechargeable units to become smaller and far more efficient.

These batteries, which feature minute tower structures that are hundreds of times smaller that the components found in current power packs, will allow manufacturers to create increasingly compact designs without compromising the longevity of the battery. Similarly, developers are also experimenting with innovative and diverse materials such as lithium metal foil, which are known to deliver a quicker and more efficient charge that traditional battery units.

Beyond this, Samsung has also been experimenting with hydrogen fuel cells since 2008, which would in theory create a smartphone battery that is powered by water as it reacts to a metal element within the handset. This technology remains fanciful for now, but in 20 years time it could be commonplace in premium handset designs.

Increased Network Speed and Capacity

If you look at the current range of Fonehouse pay monthly deals, you’ll notice that most contracts offer 4G connectivity even when roaming in the EU. While most of us may have just gotten to grips with the improved network speed and capabilities of 4G, however, there’s no doubt that this will be a thing of the past by the time that 2038 swings around.

In fact, handsets with 5G capacity are already expected to hit the market in 2020, with these smartphones likely to revolutionise usage and offer network speeds that are 70-times faster than what’s currently available.

With a 5G connection, it’s conceivable that you’ll be able to download a movie or an entire album from Spotify in less than three seconds, while streaming console-grade games will also be a quick, efficient and ultimately satisfying process. Buffering will also become a thing of the past with 5G, particularly once smartphones have been developed to fully leverage this technology.

This will make a huge difference to users, while it will also enable manufacturers to consider integrating even greater functionality into their handsets.

With this in mind, mobile data connections will soon be able to serve as high-speed Wi-Fi networks, and this technology is likely to improve incrementally over time.

Folding and Curved Smartphone Displays

While Google may have pioneered the concept of a modular smartphone, the brand’s notorious struggles with hardware have prohibited it from launching this concept successfully. In fact, Motorola are now blazing a trail for others to follow in this regard, although it has yet to be seen whether the brand’s ‘Z’ series will help establish modular design as a key trend for the future.

Still, there are alternative design trends that are set to take hold between now and 2038. One of these has already been utilised fully by LG and Samsung, whose range of curved smartphone displays lend themselves to viewing three-dimensional content and have become increasingly popular as augmented and virtual reality has helped to shape the marketplace.

Image: Greenbot

While curved screens are likely to become more commonplace in the years ahead, it’s folding smartphones that represent the next frontier in modern design. This idea has been mooted by the leading brands for years now, although innovation has been stalled by the significant challenge of refining interior components and touchscreens to suit such a seminal design change.

The highly-anticipated Galaxy X by Samsung is poised to become the first folding smartphone, however, although the launch of such a handset remains some way off for now. Still, this is a key focus for manufacturers across the globe, who want to develop increasingly compact designs without compromising on (and potentially increasing) the screen size.

This, along with the proposed development of holographic displays, will surely shape the future of smartphone design over the course of the next 20 years.