It’s become a common sight on city streets: people walking around while checking the screens of their smartphones. iPhones and Android devices—and, to a much lesser extent, Windows Phones—have turned us into a screen-led society. But something strange is happening to smartphones: while devices became significantly smaller in the early part of the century, they’re getting bigger again.
Everything from more computing power to the desire for more screen space is pushing manufacturers to make larger phones. Android giant Samsung has led the way with their phablet (phone-tablet) line, the Galaxy Note—and it’s helping Samsung beat Apple in the U.S., at least for now. But what does this mean for the future of smartphones? And will the next generation of smartphones be able to fit into a pants pocket, or will they need to be carried in a separate bag?
Smartphone Trends: Thin and Wide
While Apple’s iPhone audience will buy just about whatever the company throws at it, Android users tend to be more discerning. And size matters: a history of phone sizes shows that while being small was a selling point in the last decade, supersized phones are the new normal. Users rely on their phones for everything but phone calls—watching video content, playing games, texting and video chatting—and a wider screen with higher resolution is an important feature for smartphones.
But the thinner, the better. Advances in micro molding technology have made razor-thin phones the new normal as well: the iPhone 5 is just 7.6 mm, and Motorola’s RAZR is a super-skinny 7.1 mm. Lightweight phones allow users to hold them longer without fatigue. And thin displays now could signal the future of smartphones and other smart communication devices.
The Future of Smart: Wearable, Immersive, Projectable
Smartphone manufacturers are giving their customers what they want right now, but the trend in thin and flexible technology could usher in an era of devices that provide users with new tools they’ll need. Both Google and Apple are already leading the way in wearable tech with Google Glass and the hotly rumored iWatch; early trials with Glass are mixed, but positive reviews emphasize the ease of use and the ability to multitask.
Flexible tech is on the horizon as well; Samsung debuted a bendy prototype at CES 2013 this year, with a plastic screen that allows for easy storage, if not much else. And while projectable touchscreens are a ways into the future, desktop tech like the Leap Motion allow users to control devices without touching them. A smartphone version of the Leap could make computing on the go both easy and fast.
Smartphones have come an incredibly long way in the past ten years, with most smartphones carrying more processing power than computers did just a couple of decades before. But with the focus shifting away from processing power to screen resolution and size, manufacturers and users alike are struggling to find the next big thing in mobile. The future of smartphones may not rely on size—but for now, it’s certainly an integral part of the current trends of mobile life.
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