While we don't have a magic crystal ball, a combination of what we've seen in 2016, plus one or two murmurs from the supply chains, gives enough clues to be able to make some fairly educated guesses about what's ahead.
The smartphone tech of 2017
We may not see a huge leap forward in the evolution of the smartphone over the next 12 months, but that doesn't mean there won't be any surprises along the way, and here's what might be in store – though we should mention this is based mainly on leaks and rumors, so don't get your hopes up too high just yet.
Iris scanning technology hasn't appeared on many phones to date, but one handset it did show up on in 2016 was the doomed Samsung Galaxy Note 7. With the necessary components now becoming cheaper and more accurate, you can expect to see more phones feature this futuristic form of security. It's been linked with the Samsung Galaxy S8, among other handsets.
Then there's curves: If there's one running thread through all the smartphone 2017 rumors, it's curves everywhere you look. Handset makers are said to be experimenting with curved back plates, curved front screens, curved edges for displays, and more. What Samsung helped to start with the Galaxy Note Edge back in 2014 could well be the norm in 2017, whichever part of the phone you're looking at.
Speaking of displays, both Apple and Samsung are rumored to be testing all-glass fronts for their upcoming phones – that means buttons, fingerprint scanners and everything else is all hidden behind one plain sheet of (curved?) glass, with barely a bezel in sight. It could be the smartphone design trend of 2017.
Another technology that's already with us but which is poised to go even more mainstream in the next 12 months is wireless charging. We're familiar with it on Samsung's flagships already but there are persistent rumors that Apple is finally going to add it next year too, and then Google may well follow suit with its next batch of Pixels. We'd say expect the same with full waterproofing as with wireless charging – it's already around, but it'll become more of a standard in 2017.
Accessories may not be the most exciting of innovations, but there have been whispers that Apple's iPhones will get the smart connector sockets of the iPad Pros (for hooking up keyboards and other add-ons) and that the Galaxy S8 will come with S Pen stylus support to fill the void left by the Note 7. If you're going to be buying a phone in 2017, expect to be able to do more with it.
You can also expect to see new mobile virtual reality headsets, including Gear VR and Daydream, that at least inch forward in the new year. We can hope for radical leaps ahead, like positional tracking or motion controls (for "hand presence") but that may be too tall an order for smartphone-based VR in 2017.
Finally, one of the more far-fetched rumors we've heard from both the iOS and Android camps surrounds foldable phones. Apparently everyone is looking into this technology and working out how to implement it, although it's very unlikely that it's going to make the cut by 2017, no matter how many patents get filed. One to look out for in the future.
The models to look out for
Perhaps the biggest unknown is where Google goes next with its Pixel line, but it's likely the company will simply slide into the same year-on-year release cycle as everyone else – that's (roughly) what it did with the Nexus line, and there's no reason to think the follow-up Pixel phones will be any different.
Brace yourselves then for the iPhone 7S (or iPhone 8), the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Pixel 2, the LG G6 and the HTC 11. Those are the phone series named in the most predictable format – it's less clear which way the likes of Sony and Motorola will go with their naming next, but we'd expect them to play a big role as the year goes on.
For several of these big firms, Mobile World Congress is the event to look out for, which in 2017 runs from February 27 to March 2. Even if there are no major reveals at MWC, we'd expect Samsung, LG and HTC to all show their cards in the first half of the year.
In the latter half of 2017 that leaves the stage clear for Apple (in September) and Google (probably in October or November). If you're thinking about upgrading then you might want to make a note in the calendar.
Upgraded hardware across the board
Apart from the key features we've mentioned above, all of the brand new handsets unveiled for 2017 should come with improved innards across the board. Apple always has a new mobile processor for its new iPhones, and may even give them a RAM bump this year, though it usually prefers to focus on internal optimizations rather than specs.
Samsung is much keener on pushing the boat out in terms of internal component specs, and one or two rumors say the Galaxy S8 could boast as much as 8 GB of RAM (the Samsung Galaxy S7 had 4 GB).
If you get excited by mobile CPUs, then the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 is the one to watch in 2017, and is set to show up in many an Android flagship during the course of the year. As with most processor upgrades, it should provide more power for your phone's apps while reducing the strain on its battery, and should enable quick charging technologies to go up another notch too.
In terms of displays don't expect anything too revolutionary, although some are predicting a jump up to 4K-resolution screens – not because it makes much of a difference on a smartphone, but because it will provide better quality for next year's mobile VR headsets. We've also heard Apple will make the switch to OLED display technology rather than IPS, perhaps to enable the curved displays we mentioned earlier.
Camera quality remains a key part of rating and choosing a phone, though improvements are likely to come in software and image processing rather than a massive jump up in the number of megapixels on offer. The very best handsets may well all adopt a dual-lens approach in 2017, allowing for more flexibility and quality.
Apple's acquisition of Israeli startup LinX Imaging back in 2015 is about to bear fruit according to a number of analysts, who say that some kind of 3D mapping or depth technology is on the way to the iPhone camera. No doubt all the major manufacturers will attempt to wow us with their mobile camera offerings next year, but we'll have to wait to get our hands on them for a proper assessment.
Finally, we should mention smart assistants: Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana and Alexa. Already hugely important, they'll become even more so over the next 12 months, and the word on the Samsung street is that the South Korean company is planning to introduce a new AI assistant called Bixby across all of its apps next year. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if some of 2017's biggest innovations came from the software side.
There's plenty to look forward to in the coming year as far as mobile phones are concerned – and as usual New Atlas will be covering everything you need to know about.
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