Trends in Smartphone Technology

For the past few years, innovations in smartphone technology have been ramping up. If you look at phones from about 7 years ago and compare them to phones from 3 years ago, there are clear differences. However, there aren’t nearly as many differences when comparing today’s phones with those of 3 years ago. Trends such as radical phone designs to improvements on camera quality all add up to what is considered a smartphone right now.

Pictured: HTC One M8’s Duo Camera, Source

Dual Cameras

The first trend from the past few years that has been incorporated into more and more smartphones is the addition of dual cameras. Dual cameras date all the way back to February 2012, with the LG Optimus 3D, but the dual cameras on that phone were mainly used to create “3D” images that can be played on the “3D” display that it had [1]. Suffice to say, 3D cameras and screens didn’t really appeal to many people, and they have been repurposed to much more useful things. The rise of the modern implementation of dual cameras came to be with the HTC One M8, announced in March 2014. This phone utilized its secondary camera for refocusing capabilities after taking a picture and for artificial bokeh effects, where the primary subject is in focus and the background is blurred [2]. After a couple of years of no dual cameras, with even HTC reverting back to a singular camera with the HTC One M9, it was eventually popularized again with the introduction with the iPhone 7 Plus, announced in September 2016 [3]. In the case of the iPhone, the second sensor is called a telephoto lens and allows for an increased zoom without loss in quality.

The iPhone 7 Plus implementation is not the only type of dual camera. Other types, such as one camera being a color sensor and the other being monochrome, allow for more detailed pictures, as in the case of the Huawei P9 [4]. Others allow one sensor to be a regular sensor, and the other is a wide-angle sensor, as in the case of the LG G5 [5].

Pictured: Samsung Galaxy Note7’s Iris Scanner, Source

Iris / Face Scanning

Most people know about this technology from the infamous Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and the iPhone X – both of which were recently announced – but did you know that the first phone that had this technology was actually announced in May 2015? That’s right – the first phone that had iris scanning was the Fujitsu ARROWS NX F-04G [6]. However, since Fujitsu isn’t well known worldwide for their smartphones, it is safe to say that that phone did not gain much traction in the mobile world. This is where the Samsung Galaxy Note7, announced in August 2016, filled in those gaps. By having a global presence in the smartphone, they exposed the world to iris scanning. Iris scanners work by beaming a ray of near-infrared light and getting an iris pattern, which is then converted to code [7]. The phone then compares that code to a record in the phone. That technology was later implemented in phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8, but later in September 2017, the iPhone X brought about face scanning, which is different from iris scanning. Rather than scanning your eye for a pattern, face scanning (called “Face ID” by Apple) shoots invisible dots at your face to create a depth map of your face [8].

Pictured: OnePlus 2’s USB Type C Port, Source

USB Type C

If you have ever owned an Android phone within the past few years, you’re likely familiar with the charging connector that they use – narrow on one side, wider on the other, and a pain to plug in at night. Enter USB Type C (shortened USB-C), the new USB standard that is aimed at improving charging speeds while making the connector reversible. The first phone that utilized this is the OnePlus 2, announced in July 2015 [9]. Ever since the first introduction of USB-C, more and more phones and laptops use this plug for USB (take the Late-2016 Apple MacBook Pros as an example) and the USB standard behind it is getting faster and faster with new technologies incorporated with every new release.

Pictured: iPhone 7 (left) vs. iPhone 6s (right), Source

Removal of the Headphone Jack

The removal of the headphone jack has to be, in my opinion, the saddest recent trend that has come up. The headphone jack has been an essential part of many people’s lives including mine – I use it every single day when traveling to and from school. While the iPhone 7 is infamous for removing the port, it wasn’t the first one to do so. As a result of the rumors that surfaced from the iPhone 7’s elimination of the headphone jack, other companies tried to beat Apple with their own trendsetters. This did end up happening, and the first device that came without a headphone jack was the LeEco Le 2, announced in April 2016 [10]. However, with the removal of the headphone jack, alternatives were needed. Improvements on Bluetooth and wireless headphones were made and adapters were made to replace the jack [11].

Pictured: Xiaomi Mi Mix, Source

“Bezel-less” Screens

The most modern trend by far is the introduction of the “bezel-less” screen. Before talking about this however, you need to know about 2 terms: “bezel” and “screen-to-body ratio.” The former refers to the space between the screen and the edge of the phone. The fewer bezels there are on a phone, the higher the “screen-to-body ratio” is. Even though the rise of “bezel-less” screens (or, at least phones with relatively fewer bezels) was very recent, they have been around for a few years, with phones such as the LG G2, announced in August 2013. Although that phone did not have a “bezel-less” screen per se, it did have a very high screen-to-body ratio (~76% in fact) and spurred later phones that did come out with “bezel-less” screens [12].

One phone that existed before the modern movement towards these screen types is the Sharp Aquos Crystal, announced in August 2014. It boasted an impressive 78.5% screen-to-body ratio and was the first phone to truly encompass the definition of a “bezel-less” screen, having little to no bezel on three of the four sides of the phones [13]. If you look at images of the phone, there is almost no left, right, and top bezel, and everything you would typically see on the top of the phone was moved to the bottom. After two years of no development of this technology, there was a sudden resurgence in this trend with the Xiaomi Mi Mix. Announced in October 2016, it boasted an impressive 83.6% screen-to-body ratio [14]. Shortly after this phone came many devices with “bezel-less” screens, specifically the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6.

Pictured: Essential Phone, Source

The Culmination of (Most of) These Trends: Essential Phone, Samsung Galaxy Note8, and iPhone X

All of these trends are nice to look at, but what phones are out there that encompass most, if not all of these trends? There are three phones out there, particularly the Essential PH-1 (Essential Phone), Samsung Galaxy Note8, and iPhone X. However, each have one trend missing. The Essential Phone, announced in May 2017, has every single trend from dual cameras (using the color/monochrome sensor implementation), USB Type C with the removal of the headphone jack, and a “bezel-less” screen [15]. In fact, the Essential Phone may have the highest screen-to-body ratio that is out there today, boasting an extremely high 84.9% and beating out Apple’s “Infinity Screen” on the iPhone X, which has an 82.9% screen-to-body ratio. The Essential Phone is only missing iris/face scanning. The Samsung Galaxy Not e8, announced in August 2017, has every trend sans the lack of a headphone jack, and the iPhone X has every trend (and is the first phone to incorporate face scanning – see section on Iris / Face Scanning) besides the implementation of USB Type C.  This is to be expected, given Apple’s creation of its own charging port: the lightning connector [8] [16].





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