Futureproofing the smartphone

Future of smartphone

In a world where the smartphone market is becoming saturated, and the future of these pocket devices is under constant review, device innovation has never been more important.

Consumers, understandably, tend to focus on the next-generation release by their preferred smartphone manufacturer – what new bells and whistles it will bring and whether they will be enough to tempt them to spend their cold hard cash on an upgrade. But little do they know the real battle behind the scenes is not just to create the next handset, it’s to save the smartphone from becoming as obsolete as walkmans, fax machines and dial-up modems before them.

With technological developments coming down the pipeline that will exceed our wildest sci-fi fantasies, companies need to move fast to apply these to the smartphone to deliver something completely new to the market.

Short-term refinements

In the short-term, smartphone manufacturers are looking to troubleshoot today’s most common smartphone problems, including easily smashed screens and short battery life.

Nearly everyone who owns a smartphone has experienced the sheer terror of the drop incident. Your phone falling onto hard ground, saying a silent prayer for its survival, only to discover the screen has completely shattered and now you’re faced with a costly repair bill or even a complete replacement. On top of this, as brands bring more expensive handsets to market, it’s becoming vital to prove a device is durable in order to persuade consumers to willingly pay more. This challenge has been surprisingly difficult to tackle, and one of the few things that has actually worsened through the generations of smartphone releases.

Glass has been the only real choice for smartphone makers thus far, but to solve the problem new high-performance plastic solutions are coming to the rescue. SmartKem’s truFLEX® technology offers the display and electronics industry a new organic thin film transistor platform with world-leading electrical performance and unbeatable form factor advantages. It is solution-coated on current display makers’ lines, on to low-cost plastic, changing the way the display and electronics industries are thinking. This enables the lighter, thinner, more flexible displays the smartphone market is demanding for the next generation of handsets.

Battery life improvement is one of the most significant areas for growth in smartphone development, yet until now it has been one of the most widely neglected. Although battery technology has been improving over recent years, smartphone makers have been more focused on adding more and more capabilities and components into a slimmer chassis, so the battery life has stayed roughly the same.

Many of the technologies in development to improve battery life are still very much at the research stage and not likely to be ready for commercial applications until the medium-term at least. These include motion charging to harness the kinetic energy we create as we move, and tiny batteries based on supercapacitor technology, which would charge in seconds and last for days.

Medium-term advances

Having fine-tuned the issues of smartphones as we know them, in the medium-term companies will need to up the ante on development for the next-next generation of smartphones. To ensure these devices remain needed in the long-term, this is where the bulk of development and innovation will need to happen.

We are likely to see the use of augmented reality (AR) hit the mainstream, with companies including Apple rumoured to already be working on integrating AR capabilities into camera applications, allowing smartphones to observe and interact with the world around us. Early developments in this exploding field of technology have already seen significant success with AR enabled apps like the global summer obsession of 2016, Pokemon Go. Instead of being a novelty, we are likely to see AR becoming an integral part of the smartphone, once again changing the ways we can use these handheld devices to interact with and understand the world.

In the medium-term smartphone manufacturers are also likely to finally release the much-anticipated bendable and foldable handsets we have all heard so much about. Samsung’s Galaxy X is rumoured to be likely the first foldable smartphone to make it to market, with a reported, though unconfirmed, release scheduled at Mobile World Congress 2019. The concept is said to have a fold-in design with three 3.5-inch displays, one of which is on the outside to allow interaction with the phone when it’s folded. The remaining two screens then fold together to form a large 7-inch screen. The expectation is that the design will be facilitated through a hinge device rather than a truly folded screen, but lets see what emerges.

Don’t expect tech-giant Apple to be far behind Samsung, as the company has had its own patent for a flexible screen device in place for some time, though it’s not yet clear whether this is intended to be for an iPhone or iPad device. The patent and accompanying pictures show a flexible OLED screen that retracts into two hollow casings and when fully unfurled is latched into place and supported by support slats. The concept also seems to involve the device’s microphone, speakers and even cameras mounted on the outside of these casings.

With sales of the company’s iPad tablet, and tablets generally, struggling for growth this potential device could bridge the gap between smartphones and tablets by combining portability with a large screen for a superior TV and video experience.

SmartKem’s truFLEX® technology is set to revolutionise the possibilities for flexible display designs, enabling an impressive screen bend radius without pixellation or creasing.

Long-term goals

The future of the smartphone market is exciting, although challenging. Once the full potential of smartphone-integrated AR has been reached, we could see a complete change in the way we interface with the digital world.

All the major technology players are today working to build standalone AR headsets that have the potential to not only replace the smartphone, but also your TV, computer and anything else with a screen. MicroLED or MLED is certainly a key talking point in the industry to facilitate this step forward; a new emerging flat panel display technology consisting of arrays of microscopic LEDs forming the individual pixel elements.

Promised to provide a new level of sharper, brighter imagery with perfect black levels and without the viewing angle and uniformity issues of LCD, the challenge is set as to whether it can out perform OLED across a range of device types and screen. Sony and Apple are both

To try and secure the smartphone’s place in this advanced future, smartphone technology manufacturers and the brands must find new ways for their devices to excite and amaze consumers and to seamlessly blend real life with technology.  At SmartKem, we believe the near term future looks bright for truFLEX® OTFT technology in next generation lightweight, thin, low power, flexible and foldable devices.