Mobile Technology

The best smartphone tech coming your way in 2017

The best smartphone tech comin...
The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge was one of the hits of 2016, but what does 2017 have in store?
The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge was one of the hits of 2016, but what does 2017 have in store?
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The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge was one of the hits of 2016, but what does 2017 have in store?
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The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge was one of the hits of 2016, but what does 2017 have in store?
Samsung will be back with more than one flagship phone
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Samsung will be back with more than one flagship phone
Apple is expected to launch at least two new iPhones in 2017
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Apple is expected to launch at least two new iPhones in 2017
LG unveiled the G5 in 2016 at Mobile World Congress
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LG unveiled the G5 in 2016 at Mobile World Congress
2016 also saw the arrival of Google's new Pixel phone
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2016 also saw the arrival of Google's new Pixel phone
Qualcomm's Keith Kressin and Samsung's Ben Suh show off the Snapdragon 835, in New York
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Qualcomm's Keith Kressin and Samsung's Ben Suh show off the Snapdragon 835, in New York
Siri and the other digital assistants will once again play a big role
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Siri and the other digital assistants will once again play a big role
View gallery - 7 images

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.

Samsung will be back with more than one flagship phone
Samsung will be back with more than one flagship phone

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.

Apple is expected to launch at least two new iPhones in 2017
Apple is expected to launch at least two new iPhones 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

As far as smartphones go, predicting the future has got a lot easier since all the major manufacturers settled into the same yearly cycles. As a result, you can expect flagship launches from all the major players in 2017: Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC and Sony.

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.

LG unveiled the G5 in 2016 at Mobile World Congress
LG unveiled the G5 in 2016 at Mobile World Congress

The Asian manufacturers all pushed hard to expand into new markets in 2016, particularly Huawei and OnePlus, and again you can expect a flagship launch (or maybe two) from each during 2017. Xiaomi, Oppo and Lenovo (which now owns Motorola) will have plenty to show off as well.

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.

2016 also saw the arrival of Google's new Pixel phone
2016 also saw the arrival of Google's new Pixel phone

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.

There's always a small chance of a Kickstarter coming out of nowhere, but we wouldn't hold our breath for one over the next 12 months. The smartphone business is a tough one even for the biggest players, and that makes the bar for entry a very high one – though it's not impossible to get over.

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).

Qualcomm's Keith Kressin and Samsung's Ben Suh show off the Snapdragon 835, in New York
Qualcomm's Keith Kressin and Samsung's Ben Suh show off the Snapdragon 835, in New York

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.

Siri and the other digital assistants will once again play a big role
Siri and the other digital assistants will once again play a big role

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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6 comments
Gaëtan Mahon
Getting real tired of this bias in reporting... Why not pull the finger out of your asses and start talking about a company that actually pushes for new and actually useful stuff has been doing so for quite some time? Wireless Charging? Windows Mobile had that for at least 5+ years or so. OLED? Yea... We had that tech for some time as well. Iris Scanner? Part of the last few Flagships. If rumors is your thing, why not talk about another actual game changer with Microsoft planning to push x86 Programs onto an actual Phone thus truly creating a unified experience across all their Services? Desktop PC, Portable PC, Handheld ( PC ) & Console! Sure... You may not be able to use them on your Phone's small screen without attaching it to a larger screen but c'mon... Once you do you can actually work with the full blown Programm and not just a lousy App missing like 2/3 of it's features.
Peter Kelly
'Hugely important assistants, Siri, Google assistant, Cortana, and Alexa'... The real question should be whether that is actually the case, or if such 'help' is only in the imagination of the designers. Has anyone done any research to find out how much they are actually used, as a percentage? While I see people using mobiles almost every moment of the day and hear them converse (quite often with far too mch detail!), I have yet to hear anyone issue a 'wake' command.
Bob Flint
If you have to think about folding it, it's already too big. Battery life is most likely the number one area of improvement sought by probably everyone.....
habakak
My assistant should be called 'Jarvis'. Or is it 'Jervis'? I demand it!
John in Brisbane
Waterproofing should be standard. My s7 isn't perfect but it's still waterproof even with a cracked screen. It's been in lakes, showers, pools. Speaking of screens, the curved corners look nice but badly hinder the phone, unless in a cover, which negates most of the nice look. A dead end trend. The trend in wireless charging in 2017 is reasonable pricing. A wireless car dock is maybe 6 times the price. Totally nuts. With decent Bluetooth headphones now cheap, wireless charging will complete the transition away from those sockets that wear out so quickly. And horsepower. Lots more horsepower lol.
Grainpaw
All I want is a flip phone that makes calls and can be shoved into a pocket with keys, coins, pocketknife, and bits of hardware. I never saw a flip phone with a cracked screen. The only app I want is something to block telemarketers and scammers.