Mobile Technology

What we want from smartphones in 2018

What we want from smartphones ...
The Pixel 2 was one of the stand-outs of 2017, but what does next year hold?
The Pixel 2 was one of the stand-outs of 2017, but what does next year hold?
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The Pixel 2 was one of the stand-outs of 2017, but what does next year hold?
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The Pixel 2 was one of the stand-outs of 2017, but what does next year hold?
The iPhone X starts at $999
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The iPhone X starts at $999
Screens are growing and stretching, as the LG G6 showed
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Screens are growing and stretching, as the LG G6 showed
AI is making a difference on phones like the Note 8
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AI is making a difference on phones like the Note 8
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For smartphone fans there's every reason to get excited about the next 12 months: Apple, Google, Samsung and the rest will all be back with flagships for 2018, and we're looking forward to seeing what's in store. Here are our wishes for what we want to see, and we hope some of them come true.

Of course, there are restrictions on what smartphone makers can do with their handsets. Despite these pressures on cost, design and the rest, we're hopeful of another bumper crop of phones in 2018. Still, as impressed as we were with the flagship phones of 2017, there's definitely some room for improvement.

1. Better value

Prices for the iPhone X start at $999 and go up from there, and the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel 2 XL aren't all that far behind – buying a flagship phone in the first year of its life has become a very expensive business.

Does it have to be this way? We're not sure exactly how much it costs Apple, Samsung, Google or anyone else to design and build their handsets, but we're guessing there's quite a hefty margin when it comes to the difference between how much these phones cost to make and how much they sell for.

The iPhone X starts at $999
The iPhone X starts at $999

Oh for the days of the Nexus 5, the flagship phone Google unveiled in 2013 and put on sale for just $349. Even adjusting for market prices four years ago, that was an awful lot of phone for not much money.

Unfortunately, phones that are both high-end and affordable are hard to find these days, though congratulations to OnePlus for finding a way to do flagships on a budget – the OnePlus 5T starts at just $499 and is one of the best value phones of the moment. Let's hope other manufacturers start to follow its lead next year.

2. More battery life

Ever since Apple put the smart into smartphone with the original iPhone in 2007, it feels like handset makers have been in a constant battle to find the right compromise between power and power draw. Phones have come a long way since then, but having just about a day's worth of battery life between charges remains the norm.

Can we expect anything better in 2018? The phones that are going to appear over the next 12 months will be faster and more powerful than what has gone before, putting more demands on the battery packs inside them, especially as displays continue to get bigger and more vibrant. Keeping all those pixels illuminated is no easy task for a battery.

Screens are growing and stretching, as the LG G6 showed
Screens are growing and stretching, as the LG G6 showed

Smartphone makers continue to get better and better at optimizing for battery life, and every year processors become more adept at squeezing extra performance out of their silicon without demanding too much extra power, but even so we can't imagine that the bar is going to be raised much higher as far as battery life goes.

Still, we can hope – perhaps in the not too distant future smartphone users won't be habitually plugging their handsets in to charge every single night. What we really need is a breakthrough step forward in battery technology, but despite some promising experiments, next-gen technology that works well and works safely inside consumer devices still seems to be a few years away.

3. Smarter smartphones

We heard a lot about artificial intelligence from smartphone makers during 2017, and we're expecting that to continue in 2018. AI – a term which covers a vast range of types of smart computing and machine learning – has the potential to make a huge difference in the way we interact with and use our phones.

Think about phones that really are smart: Not just able to run your favorite apps but knowing which apps you need and when, and exactly how you want to use them. Camera apps that can work out the best settings for a particular shot, and tell what you're taking a picture of, in an instant (something we're already starting to see with phones like the Google Pixel 2).

AI is making a difference on phones like the Note 8
AI is making a difference on phones like the Note 8

Then there are digital assistants that are really useful, able to book your flights, and arrange your calendar, and find web posts you're going to be interested in reading with less and less input from you. It's been some time since we saw something truly new from the likes of Siri, the Google Assistant, or Cortana, but 2018 could be the year.

With phone hardware designs continuing to follow very similar templates, the real innovation is likely to come on the software side, whether it's something smart Android can do with your installed apps, or a way your phone's camera can overlay augmented reality figures on top of the real world. We're looking forward to seeing what's next.

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14 comments
Gaëtan Mahon
Concerning the battery life it's a little bit like how it works in the car industry... Each generation they manage to make engines more efficient like using 20% less fuel for the same 100% output of the previous generation. What do they do with that gain? Crank the output up to 120% and the fuel consumption back to 100%. Does anyone need a car like that? Barely anyone does...
Brian M
Perhaps the most important change would be to place functionality over style as a priority
How is it that a 2017 phone is now less usable than a 1990 analogue or even a 2000 digital phone in terms of coverage?
Use replaceable batteries - What was wrong with them? Besides giving Apple an have an excuse to slow down older phones or charge extortionate fees fro replacements. Giver phones a longer life, make them greener.
Improve survivability - the first thing a new phone buyer does is a protective case and cover. So what's the point of the styling, design phones for how they will be used.
So forget AI and other features how about a design that actually works for the user!
wilswong
i just feel there are brands that gives a lot of bang for the buck. OnePLUS may be cheap but it.is crippled. Give the other brands some fair airing as well. moto, oppo, xiaomi, huawei. the market has more stuff than these three brands
Sisko
Brian M, nailed it. Bring back the replaceable battery. There have been plenty of times my phone froze up and none of the controls worked. The only way I could get it working again, was to take put the battery and put it in again to reset it, manually. Obviously that is much harder to do with a non replaceable battery.
I like everything else Brian said, also. Especially about phone survivability. When I get a new phone, I always purchase the strongest toughest top of the line, protective case, that Otterbox makes.
Nothing like a smashed phone and shattered display, to ruin a person's day, especially if it's an expensive new phone, they just bought.
Carl246
I've never paid for a smart phone and while the prices are the way they are I never will. Don't get me wrong here, I can afford one, I simply refuse to pay for something that's clearly worth far less than you pay for it. I mean, how can you put a price on a phone for let's say $999 yet you can buy a mega computer for seven hundred. It doesn't make any sense. We all know that if the first iPhone was still the only one you could get your hands on it would cost a hundred bucks by now or even less.
Captain Obvious
I want an open source operating system that I can modify and upgrade, like I do with my PCs (Ubuntu and a couple other Linuxes). CDMA and GSM,dual sims, SD card, headphone jack. I don't care how thick it is, at all.
ArthurGD3
Judging by how the last few years have gone, I wouldn't expect much increase in battery life nor better value for money especially when we're talking about iPhones or flagship Android phones.
I would expect this new trend of sub $1000 price for flagship devices to stick around. After the initial backlash this year about the iPhone/Note 8/Pixel 2, things died down pretty quickly and seems like people adopting these new prices are fine with it being the new norm.
Bruce H. Anderson
A longer-lasting battery may mean a larger battery. In the race to get the slimmest phone something has to give. The plethora of battery-containing cases, backup batteries, and people sitting on airport floors near a plug (thankfully some airports are addressing that) should be a blinding flash of the obvious to the phone manufacturers that a few more millimeters of lithium would be welcome.
JimInWinterPark
1) Battery life... Instead of making a super-thin phone that is scary to try and hang on to, go 30% thicker and put 50% more battery capacity. 2) Support 600MHz 4GHz bands (more of T-Mobile's network will be turned on 1CQ18). This band will make a bigger difference in performance than any processor will... for me in the Mountain West. 3) Keep offering 5" screens... not everyone wants a phablet... 1080p resolution saves money and power. The ppi battle is moot at some point... battery life and cost are more important. 4) The mid-range Snapdragon processors offer more processing power than the flagship processors 3 years ago. They use less power and cost a lot less. Offer those processors on phones with flagship cameras and memory!!! 5) I'd like to see Ultra Power Save features that are more flexible/selectible. I want to choose the high-contrast, ultra low power black and white transreflective screens when I am outdoors... but I want my GPS to keep running when the screen shuts off. I want MAPS and Strava to work when everything else is off... that would give me great battery life when I need it most.... navigating.
Basically... focus on the functions being performed and less on having the best list of specs. Focus on the best real-world performance!
Cynthia Gurin
Here’s a thought... “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The iPhone (which I seriously used to love) hasn't worked worth squat since users were forced to upgrade to ios10. When ATT gave customers the latest model phone in return for extending their contracts that was fine. Happy to extend and get a new one. But tell me I have to spend twelve hundred just to get a new phone that I neither need nor want and I’ll pass, thanks. These idiots seem to think their core customer base is gamers, so they push bells and whistles. That’s not your base, fellas. Your base wants user friendly reliability and product longevity.