As we all know, every major smartphone manufacturer releases a major new model at roughly the same time every year. We can pretty much guarantee that there will be a Samsung Galaxy S9 releasing at or around the time of next year's Mobile World Congress trade show, with a Galaxy Note 9 following in the second half of the year. Similarly, Apple will almost certainly refresh its budget iPhone SE offering early in the year, and trot out its iPhone 8 and iPhone X replacements in or around September. HTC, LG, Sony, OnePlus and Xiaomi will also release new flagships in the first half of the year, depending on when Qualcomm can ship its upcoming Snapdragon 845 processor in sufficient volumes.
It's a bit too early to know exactly what shape or form any of these phones will take, though we do have a few leaks that seem legitimate. Apple's products have gone from being some of the most secretively developed in the world to the most widely leaked, and there are strong rumours of three new models in 2018, all designed like the iPhone X. Two are said to have OLED screens and glass bodies, while the third would be a lower cost model with an LCD screen and a metal body in multiple colours. It's likely that all three will have Face ID since there won't be room for a Touch ID sensor.
Samsung is said to be working on an enhanced iris recognition system for its upcoming Galaxy S9, to compete with Apple's Face ID which is much more advanced than anything currently used by Android manufacturers. There could also be a slightly tweaked design, and dual rear cameras. Later in the year, Samsung could be ready with a fingerprint scanner integrated into the screen of its Galaxy Note 9. There's also the promise of the enigmatic Galaxy X, purported to have a huge screen that's bendable enough to allow the entire device to be folded, though you have to wonder if that will be a bridge too far for 2018.
As for the rest of the industry? We can expect Chinese companies to continue fighting it out, with new models releasing almost every day. The spec wars will continue, and users will benefit greatly from getting more value at each price point, but some companies might find the competition too tough. Nokia will continue its resurgence, but will have to compete on price. Sony has been stuck in the past, and we hope to see a complete design overhaul. Lenovo will continue to leverage the Moto brand.
We might not yet know exactly what each individual company will launch, but we have a pretty good idea of the technology that we'll see from the industry as a whole, and trends that will emerge across the market. Here's a quick rundown of what you should expect to see in your next smartphone.
Flip phones are a thing of the past, or so we thought, but it looks like the clamshell format could make a comeback soon. We have seen Samsung introducing a high-end flip phone running Android quite recently - it's sold only in China, but if it proves to be popular enough, the company might launch it internationally. Samsung has also been working on foldable OLED panels for a while now, and if successful, the aforementioned Galaxy X could even be a smartphone that opens up to turn into a tablet. While there is very little detail out there about foldable phones even in concept form, we might get to know a lot more about them in the coming year.
The biggest shift in smartphone designs in several years was the introduction of the new 18:9 display format, which nearly every company has tried to emulate in 2017. This allows phones to have bigger screens and smaller borders. The LG G6 was the first smartphone to launch with such a screen, which LG calls FullVision, but now we have already seen phones at nearly every price level adopting them. This is only going to increase in 2018 as others attempt to keep up, and we can see 18:9 becoming mainstream across the market next year. We'll also probably see a few iPhone X "notch" imitators.
Smartphone manufacturers constantly look at new ways to improve their designs and stand out. Samsung and LG have experimented with curved glass in production smartphones, and while LG's G Flex series did not make a lot of sense, Samsung ditched flat versions of its top-end models altogether with the Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy Note 8. Curved glass and bendable panels would work well together to enable all-new designs, but they have to work well and be practical.
Smartphone manufacturers have to go for the best processor in the market to power their flagship devices if they want to be competitive. In 2017, that was the Snapdragon 835 processor from Qualcomm, and with the new year right around the corner the company has just announced its successor, the Snapdragon 845. This new processor will of course be more powerful, and will feature an impressive new integrated Adreno 630 GPU as well as an improved DSP to handle Artificial Intelligence related tasks. The Snapdragon 845 will support for Qualcomm Quick Charge 4 and 4+ technology for rapid charging. With the exception of Apple, Samsung, and Huawei who manufacture their own processors, the Snapdragon 845 will be found in all serious flagship devices in 2018.
While network carriers in India are still slowly rolling out basic 4G services in India, the world is gearing up to adopt 5G as the new standard for mobile and IoT communication. With 5G, the aim is to lower latency in data transfers compared to 4G networks, while reducing battery drain. It will be faster than our existing networks and is expected to allow millions of new devices to be connected to the Internet. Trials should begin in some parts of the world, but expect it to be a while before 5G networks come to India.
Digital payments took off in a big way in India this year, with Samsung launching its contactless payment service, Samsung Pay. Next year, we could also see Android Pay and Apple Pay rolling out, which would encourage millions of people to reduce cash usage and go digital. 2018 could also be the year that voice-based payments systems such as ICICI's one-step Money2India application become mainstream, making payments simpler and more accessible to Indians everywhere.
Virtual Reality (VR) on mobile phones hasn't quite taken off because you still need to dock your phone into a headset, and the visual experience is only really good enough with top-end models. The solution to this might come in the form of standalone VR headsets like Google's next-gen Daydream. Apple hasn't bought into the whole VR scene yet as its main focus is Augmented Reality (AR).
We could see some very interesting games and apps next year based on Apple's ARKit. Google is also going after this market with its own Android framework called ARCore. Apps like Google Lens will soon be able to give you realtime information about your surroundings, and will help you in day-to-day life by doing things such as recognising addresses and phone numbers in photos, and serving up contextual information about where you are.
Android Oreo can only be found on a very small number of devices even at the end of this year, but we can expect several companies to have released updates by mid-2018. We'll also be seeing a lot more devices at every price point shipping with Android Oreo out-of-the-box. It stands to reason that the next version of Android will be codenamed Android P, and that Google will show it off at its next I/O conference. It's still too early to tell what new features it will have, but given the recent Android Go announcement for budget phones, we hope to see quick and easy updates to Android P.
Google put huge emphasis on its marriage of hardware, software and AI with the Pixel 2 series, and Amazon is working hard to get its Alexa assistant into every product you own. Those companies that can pull off their own AI tricks will have an advantage in 2018, as more people begin to expect smart, predictive features. Phone cameras, object recognition, intelligent scheduling and opportunistic recommendations are all going to improve, but they're going to need to be useful and non-intrusive. The more you begin to rely on any company's AI, the more tied you'll be to its future products and services.
Very few people use the full potential of Wi-Fi 802.11ac right now, but the new Wi-Fi 802.11ad and 802.11ax standards are emerging, and manufacturers could find creative uses for them. Beyond smartphones alone, these standards could help people lead wireless lifestyles with fewer hiccups. On the same note, 5G might be just around the corner but we can still do better when it comes to LTE, harnessing multiple antennas, better modems in our devices, and backend upgrades. We also hope to see improvements to wireless charging standards.
Apple might not have been the first to offer face recognition as a security measure, but once it does something, you know that everyone else has to copy it. So far, Android phones implementing face recognition have used basic cameras rather than the elaborate 3D dot projector and infrared sensor that the iPhone X employs, and that could change next year. We can expect to see more phones implement this just because it's a selling point, and more people using it even if they had it before.
We expected at least Apple, Samsung and Xiaomi to have figured out how to embed a fingerprint sensor into the front glass of a smartphone, but that has eluded all of them so far. Just recently, Synaptics claimed to have finally achieved this holy grail, and already has a "top-five" customer on board with specific product launch plans, so the dream of an all-glass front face might not be dead after all. Apple says it has no plans to pursue that technology, but we're sure the Android world will fall all over it if it's successful, affordable, and easy to implement.
eSIMs, or embedded SIMs, are meant to replace the tiny SIM cards we keep losing. As the name suggests, they'll be embedded within our devices, out of sight, and we'll be able to hook them up to service providers of our choice and even choose our plans and add-ons through a software interface. It isn't just smartphones - laptops, tablets, and IoT devices could benefit because they'll be easier to design around. Google already made the Pixel 2 available in the US with eSIM; Apple has been hoping to ditch the SIM for a while, and we know it will jump at the chance to make its devices even slightly more minimalistic.
The one thing that remains on our wishlist year after year is a drastic improvement in battery technology that will let us ditch our chargers and power banks for weeks at a time. No company has so much as teased any such development for 2018, and we'll have to rely on more efficient hardware and software to deliver better battery life. The one thing we do know is that following the Galaxy Note 7 disaster, anyone who tries to push new battery technology is going to have to do a ton of safety and quality control testing. Portable fuel cells, anyone?
Do let us know what you expect from next year's smartphones, and what you hope to see, via the comments section below.