Dec 29, 2017

What to expect from next year's smartphones

An Apple employee adjusts an iPhone X on display in London in November. Photo: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg via Getty Images

You don't have to wait until 2018 to get a good sense of what next year's smartphones will look like.

What to expect: Because the chips that power such phones have already been designed, we already know that high-definition displays, augmented reality capabilities and support for faster networks will be key among the key features. Also on tap for next year: more competition from Chinese brands and advances in facial recognition technologies.

More bandwidth: Qualcomm executive VP Christiano Amon says to expect more phones with 4K resolution displays as more video is being delivered in mobile format and more network providers have the bandwidth to support it.

  • To that end, one nerdy-but-important feature will be support for gigabit LTE — a faster version of today's 4G networks and a piece along the road to the next version of cellular networks, known as 5G.
  • "Many devices have already come out, but it will become mainstream with all top handsets coming out next year," mobile strategy consultant Chetan Sharma told Axios.

Cameras and sensors: Qualcomm has already said that its new high-end chip will feature improved security as well as support for two features found on the latest iPhones — a portrait mode camera and the use of facial recognition for unlocking the device.

  • Current Analysis' Carolina Milanesi says the better facial recognition is an easy outgrowth of companies wanting to put improved sensors on the front-facing cameras to support augmented reality.
  • Speaking of which, Google is looking to add augmented reality support to more Android phones. (Currently ARCore, its rival to Apple's ARKit, is supported only on the Pixel 2 and a couple popular Samsung models.) Look for a lot of next year's high-end phones to support that as well.

More choices: You can also expect more brands in the mix, especially some Chinese brands that have been popular outside the U.S. "Chinese players – Huawei and Xiaomi — are likely to make a big push for the U.S. market," Sharma said.

AI hits the phone: Artificial intelligence will also make its way deeper into the operation of smartphones. "Consumers will feel this in more personalized and better performing apps," Sharma said.

The X factor: Given its more open ecosystem, it's easier to see what's coming to the Android world. Less clear is what Apple will bring when it updates the iPhone in the second half of the year.

  • That said, one likely trend is to see iPhone X features like facial recognition make it to more of the lineup. Apple has also said it sees augmented reality as a big deal, so expect to see advances on that front as well.

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