Smartphones were very different 10 years ago. Z Folds and Nothing Phones were the stuff of crazed tech conspiracy theorist ramblings.

But the excitement around the future in 2013 was much the same as it is today.

The iPhone 5s had just been announced, becoming the first smartphone to include fingerprint sensors via Touch ID, as well as the first to use a 64-bit processor. It led to all manner of wild speculations, such as the annual claim that holographic phone screens were ‘honestly just around the corner!’.

Whilst holographic displays haven’t happened (yet!), we have seen a range of extensive innovations. And that makes it easier to predict what the future may realistically hold for smartphones.

So, indulge me for a moment, as I gaze into my Silicon Valley crystal ball.

Folds, folds everywhere

If we’re all honest, when the Samsung Galaxy Fold was announced in 2018, most people thought it was going to be a gimmicky flop. Surely the screen would break? Would folding really make it more portable?

Well, it turns out that people actually quite like them. Both the Z Fold 4 and Z Flip 4 have built much larger sales numbers than their predecessors and are beginning to make a dent in market shares.

Usually, the sign of a successful new feature is the reaction from competitors. So the release of the Xiaomi Mix Fold 2 and Oppo Find N Fold should be no surprise.

And patents from Apple for foldable devices show that the feature is here to stay. As we know, Apple rarely does things in half measures, so it’s reasonable to assume they will take foldable tech to its zenith. In doing so, they may well make foldable tech the mainstream.

The price will have to come down first of course and it will do with time. But the truth is, developers like to focus on ‘utility’; how to make phones more useful. After all, smartphones are central to how we live. A larger display, bigger keyboards and split screen capabilities all play into that idea, so you’d assume they are features that are here to stay.

Ok, that was an easy one. Let’s get more Sci-Fi.

Artificial Intelligence: A true Nothing Phone?

This may sound like a kneejerk reaction to recent AI developments but the truth is, AI is already embedded in modern phones. It helps take better photos, improves call quality and powers Siri, Bixby et al.

But here I’m talking about some real, beefy AI incorporation. Generative AI to be specific. 

Qualcomm, a tech company, has already shown a generative text-to-image AI software working on a phone. So it really won’t be long before similar stuff gets integrated elsewhere.

I’m thinking actually useful AI assistants. Siri is alright but no one really uses it for anything other than searching the internet. In future, ChatGPT-like software will learn our messaging mannerisms and be able to do it for us seamlessly on command. 

Like an Apple Watch, ChatGPT on a phone could be used to detect health emergencies, contact emergency services or direct them to where they need to go. In work, it will be able to make spreadsheets or entire presentations, simply through a few commands on a device that fits in your pocket. 

Also in terms of accessibility, ChatGPT will make phones far easier to use for those who are impaired.

In general, the murmurings from those involved in AI suggest that the aim is to actually reduce the intrusiveness of phones in our lives. AI is causing a dash for a real nothing phone. Not the one with all the flashy lights, but a phone that actively tries to be so seamless that it feels like it isn’t even there.

Which links nicely with…


Following from that last very philosophical point is virtual/augmented reality. 

We know that these technologies are forming significant parts of Apple and Meta’s future strategies beyond smartphones. Meta has the Quest goggles and Apple is supposedly striving for the fabled ‘Apple Glasses’.

But VR/AR integration on phones all hinges on one thing; having a sleek, unobtrusive headset. No one wants to walk around with chunky boxes full of heavy stuff hanging from their heads. Once that happens though, which isn’t far away thanks to Nreal, concepts like the metaverse may actually take off.

Think. In your pocket, and on your face, will be a portal into a world that blends the physical and virtual. You can watch videos, play games, video call your family, attend meetings and work on documents in a way that is designed to be less physically disconnected.

Yeah…to be honest, I’m still not convinced. It’s a tough sell in my opinion. It just doesn’t seem that useful. But hey, they said the same about lightbulbs so, you never know.

Nonetheless, combined with AI, the intention is to remove what is perceived to be the awkwardness of phones. Sliding your phone out of your pocket, unlocking it, tapping on a screen, finding apps, that sort of thing. VR innovation will seek to remove the screen as an interface whilst AI will reduce the amount of effort needed to do things.

Which leads me to my final point…

Holographic Smartphones!!

Na, just joking. 

Although, people do still think that this would be a good and, most bafflingly, practical idea. It wouldn’t be, sorry. Holograms are just bad quality versions of screens/the incoming VR glasses. I mean, haven’t you seen Star Wars?!

Even so, the incorporation of VR/AR is playing into the ideal of holograms. 

As I was saying earlier, removing the barrier between user and screen is a priority for developers. The end goal seems to be a merging of human and phone into an indistinguishable, blended organism.

Back in 2013, the phone philosophy was to make things bigger, brighter, louder; black holes to suck in your maximum attention.

The utopia envisioned now will transform the phone from an object that we look at and touch into an extension of ourselves. Not some silent butler, no, a harmonious extra limb that we don’t think twice about using.

How do I feel about that? I’m not sure. I hate screen time but don’t try to reduce it (hypocritical I know). So the thought of having a phone screen transposed in front of my face through goggles is sort of depressing. And the reduction of in-person interaction is, I think most will agree, objectively sad.

But maybe I need to get in the spirit, or face being left behind. Maybe it’s time to reimagine what the word ‘phone’ even means. Maybe the word will become redundant altogether. Besides, how often do you actually phone anyone on your phone these days?

The future eh? Sound good to you?

Next: Mark investigates Apple’s planned new journaling app!

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