If there’s one constant leading up to the announcement of new iPhones, it’s probably theoretically tech-focused commentators complaining that the smartphone is boring. Every now and then that will be leavened with some “Apple has lost its way” nonsense, but the most common statement is that the smartphone, the most exciting invention of the last few decades, isn’t very exciting right now.
We will, duh.
We are now in year 15 of the iPhone. After a few years of breathless innovations from Apple and its competitors, things have been moving incrementally for a while. That’s what happens with every mature product category, and even the mighty smartphone can’t avoid getting a little boring once it’s found its ideal shape.
But just because the pace of innovation has slowed doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the iPhone, and smartphones in general, to make progress. There are several key areas of growth potential before the phone passes it on to anything The next great technical product category.
The camera riddle
The smartphone was not only revolutionary because it brought an internet-connected supercomputer into the pocket of almost everyone in the world. It was also revolutionary because it was a camera also in everyone’s pocket.
Unfortunately, because of their overall size and shape, your average smartphone can’t match the quality of images from dedicated photo and video cameras. It is mainly the laws of physics that oppose the camera of the smartphone.
Still, phone makers are smart, and we’re starting to see phones fighting the physics. There are already Android phones that use a “periscope” approach to capture light and then rotate it 90 degrees so it can travel the length of the phone to a more sophisticated image capture system. Rumor has it that Apple is working on a similar system for a future iPhone. This is good.
But there are plenty of other places where the camera has room for improvement. Image sensors are getting better and better. And the processing of the data from those images is getting better and better. Apple puts a lot of effort into building custom image processors into its A-series processors precisely because it knows the importance of getting the best possible photos.
Watch as Apple introduces the new camera in the iPhone 14 Pro next week. It’s rumored to be a 48MP sensor, but the megapixels won’t be the main part of the story. This is how the software and hardware work to process all those pixels.
Shape of things to come
While we seem to have chosen smartphones as thin candy bars, it feels like there is still more innovation to come when it comes to smartphone shape and size. Yes, Apple will continue to push phones to get lighter and thinner, balancing the need for good battery life. I think there is more to do on all those fronts.
But as we’ve seen on the Android side, there’s folding screen technology, and it has potential. Are any of the foldable phone designs on the Android side going to take the world by storm? They haven’t yet, although they are so expensive that it may be price that is the port factor.
I am skeptical of the current state of the art of folding screens, but I think we should keep an eye on the ultimate goal: bigger screens that fit in the pocket. In the long run, the problem will be finding the right flexible screen technology that fits how people want to use their phones. Maybe folding isn’t the right answer at all – maybe roll-up screens could allow for the creation of normal-looking phones that get bigger when you pull on their sides.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
Who knows where the technology is going? But people’s wishes seem pretty clear: they like big screens, but they also need to put their phone in their pocket or bag. At the moment, those two impulses are colliding, but that shouldn’t be necessary in the long run.
Central processing unit
It’s a safe bet that Apple will continue to design ever-faster, increasingly more power-efficient processors for its devices. Their energy efficiency will help in the search for thin, light phones with a long life. The improved speed will aid in the processing of camera images. But is that all? What does it mean that the supercomputers in our pockets are getting more and more powerful?
In the long run, it may be true that every device around us will be impossibly powerful and battery efficient. But in a shorter time frame, it might make more sense that future technologies would take advantage of the fact that almost every human on Earth has a supercomputer in their pocket. Think about how car interfaces are powered by CarPlay, how the Apple Watch still relies on its paired iPhone for much of what it does, and of course, how AirPods need a buddy to come in handy.
Apple is rumored to be loading its first virtual reality headset with powerful processors, but perhaps one of the jumps to lighter, more portable headsets might be to carry over the heavy graphics and processing needed for the smartphone already in our pockets. sit. And if the future of technology is truly a constellation of devices wherever we go — at home, in the office, in the car, and everywhere else — isn’t it reasonable to take advantage of the power of our smartphones to act as the hub, and sometimes the brain, of those environments?
The end of the smartphone
Is it the iPhone for all eternity? Of course not. While I doubt every tech product in my life will have the same impact as the smartphone, it’s clear that one day there will be a product that surpasses and replaces it.
Right now all the hype revolves around AR and VR, and I think the idea of taking digital technology and putting it on our senses has huge potential. However, our biology is a huge limiting factor.
Or maybe it will be a direct-to-brain interface that completely bypasses our senses. I find that idea disturbing, which is probably only right – the truest sign of the new and different is that older generations are being driven or repelled by it.
It took decades for the smartphone to get to this point, evolving from personal computer to laptop to its current form. Whatever the future holds, it feels like the smartphone will be with us for decades to come.
Fortunately, even if the pace of innovation has slowed, there is still plenty of room for improvement.