Upcoming smartphone trends: From foldable screens to wireless charging over the air

Upcoming smartphone trends: From foldable screens to wireless charging over the air

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Are foldable screens the next big thing in mobile tech?
Photo: Reuters

Your next smartphone might be just a little different. Picture this: you pull your phone out of your pocket and unfold it like a napkin into a tablet. You press your finger on the screen, and it unlocks. You switch to the camera app, and a spiderlike array of lenses shoot simultaneously to capture one giant photo. Here are some of the major hardware changes coming in the near future that will, at the very least, make your next phone interesting. Or if not your very next phone, then the one after that.

Screens that fold up

We’ve now crossed a threshold where we can make screens that bend repeatedly – and soon we’ll be able to fold screens as sharply as a piece of paper, says Helge Seetzen, the president of the Society for Information Display.

BOE – a firm that showed a gadget it dubbed a “phoneblet” with a 7.5 inch screen that folded, without seams, into a phone and back again at a recent display industry conference – says it got rid of the traditional colour filter and backlight, and replaced rigid glass with plastic.

We’ll see more foldable devices in 2019, though the first ones may have seams. Seetzen says screens that fold like paper are five years away.

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Fingerprint scanners go inside

Recent breakthroughs allow phone makers to embed the fingerprint reader inside the screen. Just press your finger over the right area of the screen – indicated by a thumbprint image – and the phone unlocks.

Component maker Synaptics figured out how to take a picture of fingers by looking in between the phone’s pixels; Qualcomm created an ultrasonic sensor capable of scanning not only though screens but also metal … and even underwater. So far, the tech has made its way into phones from Chinese makers Vivo and Xiaomi.

The Vivo V11 has a fingerprint reader underneath the screen.
Photo: Ben Sin

Batteries charge over thin air

Battery life is the biggest problem with today’s phones but researchers have figured out ways to beam low levels of power through the air. Firms such as Energous and Ossia send power using radio frequencies, while rival Wi-Charge uses infrared light that is closer to lasers.

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For these charging systems to work, of course, you have to be in a room outfitted with transmitters. Energous says those might first get embedded into other gadgets, such as computers and speakers, so they could charge gadgets nearby. Wi-Charge says it is looking to go into light fixtures. Energous assures it doesn’t expose bodies to more radiation than mobile phones.

Cameras sprout more lenses

The Huawei P20 Pro has three camera lenses, but Nokia's next flagship is rumoured to come with five.
Photo: Ben Sin

We’ve already seen a version of this in Apple and Samsung phones with two lenses on the back. The second helps with zoom shots and measuring depth to create bokeh photos with artistically blurry backgrounds. The P20 Pro flagship from Huawei is the first to include three lenses: one colour, one monochrome (to help with depth and lowlight situations), and one 3x zoom.

A camera maker called Light has taken this idea further than anyone with between five and nine lenses – yes, nine – on the back. It says its phone design is capable of capturing 64 megapixel shots, better lowlight performance and sophisticated depth effects.

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