The mobile industry seems to be at a turning point; with devices unable to get much thinner or larger, manufacturers are striving to get one step ahead of the competition by being the first to introduce new features and design changes.
Here are a few design and feature trends that are becoming more commonplace in today’s smartphones:
- Minimal bezels – in the quest to maximise screen-to-body ratio, bezels are shrinking to the point where almost the whole front of the device is display. You can now buy a smartphone with a 6+ inch display in the same size body as a 5-5.5 inch display from a few years ago.
- Display Notches – with the above comes the dreaded notch. The front camera, ambient light sensor and proximity sensor must be on the front of the device somewhere, so to achieve an edge-to-edge look, a notch is cut out of the display. Personally I don’t mind them, but a lot of people do!
- Under Display Fingerprint Sensor – the best place for a fingerprint sensor is on the front of the device, but with screens becoming edge-to-edge there’s only one place it can go – underneath the display.
- Computational Photography – a thin, light mobile can’t compete with a dedicated camera, so companies are using their increased processing power and AI to eek the most out of relatively small apertures and lenses.
- Taller Aspect Ratios – screens are now often seen in 18:9, 19:9 or 19.5:9 (the larger number being the height and the smaller the width) the standard a few years ago was 16:9, which produced a wider, shorter handset in portrait mode.
I can remember a few years back (2013 I believe) when I owned an LG G2; with a 75.9% screen-to-body ratio and power and volume buttons on the rear of the device, it felt ahead of it’s time. It’s competitors back then were the Galaxy S4 with a 72.3% screen ratio, the HTC One with 65% and the Xperia Z1 at the bottom of the pack with 64.1%. Fast forward to 2016 and there has barely been an improvement, the iPhone 7 has 65.6%, the Galaxy S6 sports 72.1% and Google’s new Pixel, a paltry 69%.
Luckily the technology now exists so that manufacturers can finally start offering almost bezel-less, albeit notched designs with screen-to-body ratios upwards of 80-85%. Oppo, a Chinese smartphone brand have released the “Find X” which has a monstrous 87% screen-to-body ratio and no notch!
Under Display Fingerprint Sensor
Huawei were one of the first to introduce an under-display fingerprint reader, which, with screen bezels becoming increasingly less fashionable, is surely the most ergonomic location it can be placed. The rear of the device has recently been the favoured location of most, but it becomes frustrating if your phone is on a table as you have to lift it every time you wish to interact with it. The speed and accuracy of an under display sensor is not quite on par with more traditional sensors, but having it hidden under the display sure feels futuristic. We’ve been chatting about this here at Cedaro and are pretty confident the next step will be under display sensors that cover the whole display so you can prod the device anywhere on the screen and have it unlock quickly and securely.
Taller Aspect Ratios and Notches
The aspect ratio of a screen describes the relationship between it’s height and width (or width and height depending on the orientation of the screen). Most TVs are 16:9 as it’s the default ratio for the content it displays, those old square TVs and monitors we used to sit and gawp at were 4:3, which is why you see black bars (letterboxing/pillarboxing) above or to the sides of videos filmed in one, but watched on the other aspect ratio.
Widescreen, or 16:9 ratio screens where introduced on smartphones to accommodate widescreen video when in landscape orientation. The only issue here is that as screens grew larger, the width of the device in portrait mode became unwieldy, reaching your thumb across the screen was very uncomfortable. In an effort to have a larger diagonal, but still maintain a comfortable to handle phone, manufacturers began stretching the height of the screen.
Notches were introduced as a way of maintaining the screen diagonal without increasing the height of the device’s body. They are necessary as an area to house the front-facing camera, ambient light sensor and proximity sensor which all need to be on the front of the device. Some devices have giant bathtub notches, like the iPhone and Pixel 3XL, whereas others, like the OnePlus 6T and Essential Phone have dainty teardrop affairs.
So far, all of the above advancements ultimately boil down to one thing; size. A mobile handset can not realistically get any bigger as it has to be pocket-able and relatively usable with one hand. Because of this, components have started to move around the device (the fingerprint sensor) or shrink (screen bezels). Unfortunately neither of these options will solve the camera issue. Basic physics prevent smartphone cameras from being as good as their dedicated cousins; the tiny lens, aperture, sensor and focal length squeezed into a mobile simply cannot create as good an image as a DSLR.
To counter this, manufacturers have started adding Computational Photography to their portfolio of camera features. Computational Photography relies heavily on software rather than hardware to create a shot greater than the hardware (lens, sensor etc.) should be capable of. This is achieved using multiple techniques, although mainly by taking a selection of frames of the same scene and blending them together using machine learning to create one image.
So your next phone will probably be the same size as your current device, with a bigger screen, better camera and a finger print sensor hidden under the screen. Beyond that? Folding screens anyone?