Note by Klaus: Josh Ortega used to work for Apple and has an extensive mobile phone background. I asked him what he sees as the biggest trends in mobile phones for 2012 from his perspective.
Smartphones have changed dramatically since 2007 when the original iPhone was released. The birth of the consumer smartphone opened up a new era of mobility and spawned a crazy arms race that only benefits us as consumers. Five short years ago few would have had the foresight to know that mobile apps would be as immensely popular as they are, that we could video chat with our phones and that we could connect with millions of people through social networks or games from our pocket. The smartphone market has changed so dramatically that an iPhone, Android, etc. phone is literally a viable option for anybody, wether you are young/old, rich/poor, business/personal or educated/non-educated.
As developed as the smartphone market is today, there’s no telling what we as consumers could see three to five years from now. The next major development in the smartphone landscape is the idea of a “world” phone. Phone carriers still control a lot of the choices we have as consumers because they largely carry their own specific phones built for their network and technology standards. A “world” phone would create a singular device that would work on any carrier in the world. Meaning if you currently owned an iPhone but wanted to switch to Verizon you could, whereas before you would have to buy a completely new phone.
On the software side, the threat of viruses and malware on the mobile space threatens to change how we use our devices. The amount of malware on smartphones has risen by 76 percent and mobile users are largely unprepared. The future will show if Google, Apple, etc will change its software or if consumers will have to change their habits; more likely both will occur.
Malware and Carrier concerns are going to be continuing developments over the next 10 years. Let’s speculate on some technological advancements that we might see in 2012, some that are further down the road and a couple items on my wish list.
1. Mobile Payments
Most consumers are starting to see a foundation to what will become a new way of paying for goods or sending money with their mobile devices. Today apps like the Starbucks app, which allows you to pay for your coffee using a virtual gift card, are glimpses into a future where consumers will be able to ditch their wallets. Whether that’s in the form of NFC (Near Field Communications) or a wireless money transfer software, the way we shop as consumer is going to dramatically change.
Which technology becomes standard will largely depend on how it overcomes the challenges each faces. NFC will depend on retailers adopting a huge technology upgrade that could be costly and time consuming. Its reasonable that larger merchants will change their hardware to meet that demand but it could be too expensive for smaller businesses. Software that allows you to transfer money (cash or credit) from your personal device removes the need for necessary hardware improvements but opens up the issue of privacy. Consumers will largely be apprehensive about transferring money to another person or business over the air.
2. Bigger, Strong, Faster Hardware…But Better Battery Life
The current arms race in the smartphone market is getting the latest processors and increasing battery life. While this is to the benefit of consumers, it is also maddening. It’s impossible to stay up to date when manufacturers are releasing new phones with new hardware at a very rapid pace. Just after you purchase your new Android phone the new iPhone is released and then shortly thereafter another Android device. It’s also creating a contentious atmosphere between companies that are competing for patents.
Again this is all to benefit the consumer. Consumers demand bigger, strong and faster devices. The phones on today’s market already overpower most personal computers that were being sold five years ago. The yin to the yang of this arms race is to preserve battery life. Most consumers are excited about having high performing phones but complain if that performance means the battery life of their devices are significantly reduced. Bigger screens, dual core processors and better graphic performance are around the corner but the challenge is to preserve or improve battery life as well.
3. Better Photos From a Better Camera
The camera debate in smartphones boils down to hardware and software. Can the smartphone camera eventually replace a point-and-shoot camera? Can we integrate more picture editing features into the standard camera app?
Currently the iPhone 4 camera is the most popular camera to upload photos to Flickr. Not just the most popular mobile camera, but the most popular camera period. This is largely due to the fact that it’s increasingly easier to upload photos from mobile devices with the aid of apps like the Flickr app. Another reason is the quality of the pictures taken on mobile devices has increased dramatically.
Up until this point camera advancements have been targeted at increasing megapixels and adding features like HD video recording and video chatting. The future will be more of the same; but on the hardware front expect a trend towards better lenses, sensors and flashes. Having a high megapixel camera is just half the battle. Better hardware will be faster image processing, clearer images, better images in adverse conditions and an optical zoom instead of a digital zoom.
On a software side the demand will be for increased functionality built in. We should no longer need a 3rd party app to do basic editing functions such as rotate and crop. This will pave way for app developers to become more advanced with photo editing or photo filter apps. Apple is integrating Twitter photo sharing into iOS 5 this fall removing the need to open a Twitter application to tweet a photo. Expect that feature, or the like, to make its way on to Android and Windows devices as well.