The 2016 mobile tech trends with the most staying power
Which of 2016's mobile technology innovations have the most staying power? Let's cut through short-lived fads and gimmicks and identify which of the past year's mobile trends have long-term implications for the way we engage with our devices every day.
These following features may not have hit their stride just yet, but we think they have the most potential for gaining major momentum in 2017 and beyond.
What do Pokémon Go (the mobile game with a rabid fandom) and the hulking Lenovo Phab 2 Pro (a niche phone for tech lovers) have in common? They both hit the scenes in 2016 showcasing the current state of augmented reality technology.
Augmented reality (AR) is also called mixed reality – it places virtual reality elements into your real-world surroundings. In Pokémon, you navigate the real world to catch fake creatures. The Google Tango technology in the Phab 2 Pro also places simulated objects in your real environment, complete with indoor and outdoor spatial mapping.
Pokémon Go was wildly popular, but most fans don't realize that the concepts and technology within are part of a much larger shift toward a new kind of computing. Meanwhile, Google Tango is being used in fantasy games, shopping apps and measurement tools. These primitive expressions of AR have proven evocative and marketable, but more importantly, AR has fascinating implications for everyday technology as well. It's already being tested in instruments like car windshields and cycling glasses.
In the future, we expect augmented reality will play a core role in mobile technology ecosystems. On the short-term, we could see a proliferation of AR apps, Google Tango or similar technology in more phones, or even AR variants of mobile headsets.
It's a consumer electronics goal that's been pursued for decades: Smaller devices, bigger screens. Smartphones, laptops and tablets are no exception, and 2017 could be the year we see a large crop of edgeless and nearly-edgeless displays.
Some manufacturers are already close. Each year, the Samsung Galaxy flagships' screens hug the edges more closely. In 2016, Xiaomi launched a concept phone that's nearly bezel-free on three sides, but there's still a wide border on the lower edge. The Lenovo Yoga 910 laptop took a similar approach.
Some rumors indicate that both next year's 10th-anniversary iPhone and the Galaxy S8 will have dramatic edge-to-edge displays, but it's wise to be skeptical about the rumor mill – especially this far in advance.
Dual lens smartphone cameras and aperture tricks
iPhone 7 Plus' dual-lens camera was one of the best smartphone camera innovations of the year. It wasn't the first to improve mobile photography by adding an extra lens, but it was the most attention-getting, and its optical zoom feature is sure to inspire some copycats. In addition to helping you take better photos from longer distances, dual lenses can achieve sharper images with richer, fuller tones.
Achieving larger camera apertures – or at least mimicking large-aperture effects – will also be a growing trend in mobile photography. The iPhone 7 Plus' Portrait mode is one take on approximating the type of bokeh seen on a DSLR, but the Huawei Honor 8's dual lens camera also creates compelling aperture effects. We expect to see even more depth-of-field manipulation features in 2017 flagships.
Removing the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus has kept Apple in the headlines for months. Still, we don't think bad press will deter other manufacturers from eventually following suit. The headphone jack takes up valuable internal real estate, and removing it is simply not a big deal.
Thanks to ever-improving Bluetooth technology, there are many kinds of excellent wireless headphones available (and yes, they're much better than Apple's disappointing AirPods). Since USB-C/Lightning charging ports are growing increasingly universal, we'll continue to see more USB-C audio accessories. Considering how much simpler and more universal ports could be, the headphone jack seems like a strange artifact indeed.