Foldable screens, 5G & improved AR: Tech trends that will rule 2019
2019 will be all about mechanical sliders on mobiles and faster displays, 5G and smarter voice assistants.
One Notch Up
Year 2018 belonged to the smartphone notch. Initially, everyone thought it would be a good idea. After all, there is a functional reason for the notch. It houses the camera, earpiece, proximity sensor and ambient light sensor. At the same time, it gives a larger screen without increasing device size. Some notches are bigger than others — again for good reason. Apple’s Face ID system, for instance, needs a larger area because it has additional components like a dot projector and infrared camera.
This year, a lot of effort went into shrinking the notch. Phones like OnePlus 6T have the water-drop style notch that only houses the front camera and sensors. Vivo NEX and Oppo Find X achieved the nearly bezel-less look (complete with small bezels all around and a tiny chin) before others. They did this using motorised components that slide up to reveal the cameras. Longevity and durability were suspect though and one can’t have IP rating for devices with moving parts.
There are three ways in which smartphones manufacturers are going to address the problem of the notch in 2019: the slider, camera behind display and the dual display. We are going to see more mechanical sliders. The Galaxy S10 series are rumoured to have display cutouts for the camera. Others like the Vivo NEX Dual and Nubia X are innovating with one set of cameras and dual displays. These innovations are going to be in the top smartphones next year.
90 & 120Hz Displays
Many of us look at displays all day and some displays are better than others — they've higher resolution, brighter screens or newer technologies like OLED. But there is one key area where most displays (phones, TVs and laptops) lag and that is refresh rate. The standard refresh rate for displays is 60Hz. This means it can update/refresh the image one sees 60 times a second. Increasing the refresh rate can have an amazing effect on anything that’s moving by eliminating blur.
Everything starts looking buttery smooth. Once one uses such a device, one would not want to go back to 60Hz. The user can get TVs and monitors with 120Hz or 144Hz refresh rates but they are rare. Smartphones and tablets with higher refresh rates are rarer. For now, Apple’s iPad Pro has a screen with adaptive refresh rates (up to 120Hz) — they call it ProMotion. And the only phone we’ve seen with a 120Hz display is the Razer phone (though not officially available in India). All hardware now can support these faster displays but it is now up to display manufacturers to catch up. Expect faster displays in cheaper devices next year too.
Hands Off, Voice On
Voice is a great tool, especially if one regularly uses phone assistants (Google, Siri), smart speakers (Google Home, Amazon Alexa) and have connected devices. Voice assistants are going to become more capable. One way this will happen is by distinguishing between people in the household (Google Assistant already does this using a feature called Voice Match). If the assistant recognises who it is talking to, it can give personalised responses.
For example: let’s say you like to listen to jazz while your partner likes Bollywood. If you ask the voice assistant to “play music”, it will play jazz. When your partner says the same command, Bollywood music will start playing. You will also start seeing smart assistants in everything: TVs, fridges, washing machines, media players, cars, vacuum cleaners, digital projectors and action cameras, among others.
0 to 100% within a coffee break
Battery technology seems to have hit a peak, at least with the current materials. But charging can get even faster. We got a taste of this on all manner of devices this year. The key is to feed in a higher wattage than normal while charging but keeping the temperature low (and safe) and preserving the longevity of the battery cells.
OnePlus Dash Charge was the fastest around till one got a taste of Oppo’s SuperVooc, a 50-watt charging solution that typically charges a phone battery from 0 to 100% in about 35 minutes. At this rate, one no longer needs to worry about charging devices overnight. Plug in the phone, go have a coffee and return to find enough power to last the rest of the day.
One of the purposes of smart devices is to keep one addicted. For all the good that tech does, the flip side is the long hours we spend away from things that matter. You may not even realise that you need a digital detox. But the next device could tell you. One can already do this with apps but having it built into the device will allow deeper integration.
For starters, one can see exactly how much time is spent on certain apps or on certain categories of apps (gaming, social media, videos, etc). One can set limits or reduce the number of times the device distracts with calls or notifications. We may also start seeing more companion devices: simpler devices that can be carried when one doesn’t need to be constantly reachable, yet answer every email or read every news item.
There are two key upgrades in the shift to 5G networks: higher speeds and lower latency. This alone doesn’t mean much. But what if one could get a network that's 100-times faster than existing 4G ones? The possibilities are immense because it cuts waiting time to zero. When 5G is fully optimised and with such high speeds (theoretically up to 10gbps), there will be no need to lay down expensive optic fibre cables.
Finally, the latency or delay in exchange of information is also set to reduce drastically and this is useful for things like self-driving vehicles, remotely operated medical equipment and IoT/connected products. A large number of IoT products can then talk to the cloud, to your device and to each other with minimal lag. And, finally, it an important element in recognising the dream of a smart, connected city.
We already shop for a lot of things online. Funnily enough, it is not the big cities that are driving online shopping but smaller towns and rural areas, where internet is easier to access than stores to buy any kind of product. India currently has the second-highest internet user base in the world (after China), though the number of people shopping online is still low. This means there is massive potential, if ecommerce companies can remove some of the roadblocks. One roadblock can be removed with augmented reality (AR).
Imagine looking at a product on a webpage that has an AR button. Click on it and the software adds a digital version of the product into your environment. You can explore it in detail at your own pace and see how it looks in your home (useful for home furnishings).
Displays can be made flexible. Samsung proved this with a phone that unfolded into a tablet. They called it the Infinity Flex display and the first one of its kind will launch in 2019. It can be small when you only need to answer a call or put it in a pocket but expand when you want to watch a video or view content in a group. Other possible uses are displays that can be rolled like TVs that can hide away in countertops when not in use.
We have been using fingerprint scanning and face unlock on phones and tablets for a long time. Some are more secure than others. For instance, Apple showed us the first secure face unlock system in iPhone X. They were so confident of the Face ID system that they did away with the de-facto fingerprint scanner altogether. Expect to see better versions of face scanning. We will also start seeing biometric scanners in other products, like cars. So the start/stop button in the car might soon read fingerprints. No need for a key. A fingerprint scanner on the door would let you in. The car’s seat settings, steering wheel and climate control would auto adjust according to the user. We have got word that Hyundai is going to start building this tech into some of their cars next year, starting with the 2019 Santa Fe.
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The World Of Wearables
We now have a machine that can record an electrocardiogram if one just places it on the wrist. We are referring, of course, to the Apple Watch Series 4. This is a feature being rolled out in a phased manner because of regulatory approvals. But we have tried it and it works. These kinds of connected, smart wearable devices would be a big part of healthcare in 2019. One of the biggest advantages is early detection and diagnosis of health issues. But there are other advantages too, such as remote monitoring and personalised care for each patient. For diabetics, the constant monitoring of blood glucose levels is a real chore. A connected glucose monitor that keeps in touch with the doctor on its own will be a real boon. You can hope for a healthier 2019.