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Future Smartphones – Supercomputers Coming Soon to Your Pocket
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    We’ve come a long way from the ”bricks” of the eighties and nineties. The phone is no longer just a communication tool, rendering calls and text messages nothing but mundane apps among many others, and we’ve grown so addicted to our ever-slimmer, ever-smarter devices that we can no longer imagine life without them. With technologies advancing at a dizzying pace, we can’t help but wonder what’s next.

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    Appearance probably won’t change dramatically from what we know and have today, as experts suggest. However, one feature we could have in future smartphones is the flexible screen. With the ability to change size according to the user’s current need, flexible screens are the next craze-in-the-making in the field. This nanotechnology gimmick is based on FOLED, or flexible organic light-emitting diode. The OLED is incorporated in a flexible plastic substrate which allows the device to operate while being bent or rolled. FOLED has its disadvantages though. The flexible substrate and the fabrication process induce stress into the organic material, which may lower brightness and efficiency when bent. Moreover, the most commonly used material, indium tin oxide, is quite brittle. Despite the challenges, manufacturers are more than willing to take the plunge.

Nokia Morph concept

    The first producer to conceptualize its applications was Nokia, with its Morph concept phone from 2008, co-developed with the University of Cambridge, which could be curled up and worn as a bracelet. Three years later, they unveiled the Kinetic, another flexible prototype. In 2013, Samsung launched its Galaxy Round as the world's first mobile phone with flexible display. With a curved touchscreen display made of flexible material, the Android phone itself was actually solid, allowing only a slight bending and only with a lot of force, but the device was an important step towards the phone you can bend, roll or fold. Not to mention that the display won’t break, thus protecting your precious device from the dreaded ”spider app”.
     A new material may hold the answer. Made of pure carbon, graphene is a one-atom thick, nearly transparent sheet, extremely low weight but 100 times stronger than steel, earning its discoverers Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov the Nobel Prize for physics in 2010.  This wonder material could find a wide array of applications, from aircraft to artificial retinas, and flexible mobile displays are also on the list, as Samsung's Advanced Institute of Technology and Sungkyunkwan University managed to synthesise a crystal of graphene, which the company believes to be ideal for consumer electronics.
    Companies like Samsung, Nokia , and even Apple have been working on flexible smartphone displays for a years, but for the first time, there's enough real research and development in this area to, perhaps, start getting excited.
    One of the biggest challenges with a flexible phone is getting the cover glass to bend -- and it's a common misconception that bendable glass is unbreakable.
Corning's Chowdhury stresses that Willow Glass was designed as a substrate material -- glass that belongs on the inside of a smartphone -- but in its current form, it isn't strong enough to serve as the tough barrier guarding the internal materials from the elements.
    In January 2013 Samsung officially launched their flexible OLED displays, calling them YOUM displays. YOUM panels are bendable - but it's likely that the first products to use those displays will actually be rigid. The display can be "curved" thought. A plastic based AMOLED will also be shatterproof, and also lighter and thinner compared to glass based OLEDs.

samsung youm display

    Even if you get the screen technology and the glass to flex, there's still the matter of the other internal components. What do you do about the battery, the processors, the camera module, etc.Nowdays there are a lot of studies and technical research on different types oc componentes as thinner batteries, made from different materials, chemicals even from micro capacitors – some idea’s about this  types of batteries are alredy spreded all over internet, on YouTube some says they alredy develop the „future cell battery”.
    Mechanical and design engineers have worked with shaped batteries and flexible printed circuit boards before, even though both are generally rigid.
    The ideal material for a flexible smartphone or other device bends slightly without losing its original upright form over time, a sort of Lycra for the personal electronics world.

    "The question is the memory of the material," says Robert Curtis, Frog Design's executive director of product development. "How much does it hold if it's bent or unbent?" Memory, in this case, refers to the material's ability to return to its original shape, the antithesis of memory foam.
    For Apple, the next generation iPhone displays is using a special technology to achive durable yet chep and afordable  sapphire displays. It’s all in the manufacturing process that GT Advance technologies is employing called, “Hyperion.”
    A startup company called Kateeva promises to make the mass production flexible OLED screens cheaper and easier starting 2015. The company has come up with a clever process to apply protective coating on OLEDs, and it's a lot faster, too.The problem with flexible displays is their protection against moisture and oxygen. Just a dash of either could kill an OLED display, making the process of sealing the display into a safe encapsulation not only hard, but also expensive.
Kateeva's way of making flexible OLEDs makes it possible for manufacturers to integrate their "printing" process into their production lines without too much hassle. Their method of "printing" a protective layer over the flexible OLED cuts cost in half. At least that's what the company promises.

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    Apart from flexibility, screens may also get 3D superpowers. After Apple’s Retina managed to beat the human eye with a resolution sharper that we can perceive, it seemed like things could not go any further. However, a couple of phones currently available already have 3D screens – the LG Optimus 3D, the Motorola MT810, and also the first Samsung AMOLED 3D. So what’s next? Holograms, perhaps? Until then, built-in projectors could compensate for the phone’s small screen.  Samsung Galaxy Beam was the first phone with such a feature, back in 2010. Its WVGA projector was able to project at up to 50 inches in size, at 15 lumens, opening the door for, let’s say, phones that turn into gaming consoles and don’t require an external monitor or TV screen. And if built-in projectors one day become 3D, holographic projections could be at the touch of a button.

     David Ginsberg, vice president for market research at Intel, believes it’s less about the actual form and more about the ”brain power”, hinting that phones will become less of a device and more of a personal assistant, with "the ability to understand who and where their user is and what they are trying to get done: identity, location and context". One of the most fascinating developments is the so-called augmented reality, which enhances our perception by fuelling up the input from our senses with extra computer-generated input such as sound, graphics, video and GPS information. Using the phone’s camera, it’s now possible to simply point a place and get tons of information’s about it – where is the closest restaurant? What did this place look like a hundred years ago? How many of the people living here like this or that band, so is it worth it to advertise their concert here? As convenient as it may seem, this type of technology raises a lot of questions regarding our privacy – must we sell our privacy to marketers in exchange for quick information, here and now? 

     How we interact with our phones will also likely change drastically. Apple created a massive buzz with Siri, the iPhone and iPad personal assistant, but voice control is nothing new, as interest for controlling computers by speaking has been there even since the 1980s. The pioneer research from MIT called “Put That There” studied alternatives for communicating with computers, but it took decades to bring it to the efficiency is has today. Apple’s technology was a breakthrough because, Siri was “trained” to interpret diction and syntax instead of relying on sound wave recognition like its predecessors. Combining voice with gesture recognition and biometric control, like fingerprint and eye scanners or facial recognition could be the next step, leading us to a future of device interaction unlike anything we’ve seen before.
    Operating systems may be another field to suffer major changes. Now we can only choose between Android, Apple iOS, Blackberry  and Windows, but Ubuntu seems to be making its way to the mobile world. Like Android, the popular operating system for PCs is based on Linux, and the mobile version will be available as open-source software. Tizen is another open-source operating system, currently only available for multimedia devices in smart televisions or cars, but chances are it could develop to phones and tablets. Firefox is also moving towards smartphones – the open-source system is developed using HTML 5 technology, and its creators designed and app store to encourage developers to create applications for their platform.
How about using your phone instead of your car keys? The extremely practical feature is about to be launched next year, as Japanese manufacturer Hyundai is working on a tag that can be linked to a phone’s touchscreen, allowing the user to open or close the car and start the engine with a simple swipe. Days of forgetting where you put your key will soon be over, it seems.
    But what about cameras? With all the developments, there is still a lot of room for improvement in smartphone cameras, especially when it comes to low light conditions and resolution. While Apple already introduced a 64-bit chip with the iPhone 5S, better processors could bring higher resolution cameras, such as 55MP. Further developments could also provide better lenses to match the sensors. Vivo Xplay3S was the first 2K smartphone, and 4K screens are rumoured to appear this year. However, the future may have even more in store for us, such as 3D tracking and mapping of space and movement, as Google’s Project Tango suggests.
However, with all the fascinating developments, one basic thing needs fixing – battery life! Smartphones already demand almost daily charging, and we can easily imagine the drainage that comes along with all these shiny new features – how are we ever going to benefit from them is nothing is done about battery life? Are we supposed to live our lives in the proximity of electricity plugs? There’s been a massive rise in wireless charger technology, and numerous products are already available on the market, but manufacturers are also working on the issue.
    Batteries are based on a simple principle: chemical energy is converted into electrical energy with a positive and a negative electrode (cathode and anode), separated by an electrolyte. As the anode collects charged particles from the electrolyte, the cathode attracts and stores them. In smartphones, the anode is made of carbon, usually graphite, and the electrolyte contains lithium salt. Silicon seems like an attractive alternative, as it can store ten times more ions than graphite, and research is underway to overcome its disadvantages. Other possibilities may be lithium-air batteries, or even lithium-sulfur, already being used in certain military applications. Graphene could also offer solutions – it can’t provide longer battery life, but it could significantly cut down on charging time by charging all the battery cells simultaneously. A start-up called Crossbar brings a new type of smartphone memory instead of the standard RAM, promising up to one terabyte of memory! RRAM, or resistive RAM, supposedly reads 20 times faster than RAM, lasts 10 times longer, and consumes 20 % less power.


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    Other types of devices are on the rise, and they will either start competing with smartphones or find a way to work together. Technology consultant Tom Cheesewright believes smartphones will become more like a control centre for other devices, spending more and more time in the pocket – " if you can see who's calling or answer it from your wrist [via a smartwatch] then why pull your phone out?"

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Published by Andreea Dobre


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