Some thoughts on where it’s all going.
We’re not yet done with 2017, but we’re about to wrap up the last few big phone launches of the year. So, with a mostly complete picture of the current year in smartphones, it’s time to look ahead to the next generation. Here’s what I think we’ll see out of Android, and the smartphone world in general, in the next twelve months.
Basically everything will be 18:9
As taller, less bezelly panels become more attainable to makers of mid-tier phones, expect the Android landscape to become increasingly tall in the coming year, with ever slimmer borders. The look that Xiaomi and Samsung pioneered will become the new standard. That, in turn, will push everyone in the high-end to differentiate in other ways.
Big batteries in more things
We’re already seeing this in the phones of late 2017 — devices like the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, HTC U11+ and BlackBerry Motion — but as phones get taller and battery experts figure out how to pack more milliamp-hours into smaller spaces, phones with 4,000mAh cells will become increasingly common. That’s great, because as we’ve seen this year, that number is about the sweet spot for easy two-day battery life.
Of the bigger names, my money would be on Oppo, if anyone. Although dumb, Apple is going to (successfully) turn the notch into a status symbol of sorts, so expect the usual copycat vendors in China to have plenty of lower-priced clones ready for sale by spring 2018.
Someone will figure out — and ship — in-display fingerprint
The holy grail of biometric authentication will finally happen, and it’ll happen probably in the second half of 2018. Rumor-mongers and analysts already point to the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 as a possible trailblazer for this new technology, which over time should prove easier to develop than Apple’s Face ID.
Wireless charging everywhere
As sales of iPhones 8 and X climb, and the big players in the Android space look to reach feature parity with Apple, wireless charging will become a table-stakes feature for flagships, just as water resistance is now. Expect to see a lot of glass flagships as a result in the coming year, at least until someone figures out how to deploy wireless charging through metal in a commercial product.
A slow burn for AI
The arrival of Android 8.1, with new neural networking APIs, will see slow but steady growth in apps using AI features as a differentiator. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 is rumored to include some kind of AI hardware, and Google and Huawei are already shipping it in existing products. But Android is a big ship, and any new app features that require both hardware and OS upgrades is inevitably going to take time to propogate.
HTC and LG will make more Pixels
Despite the Pixel 2’s panel being trashed (sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly), Google’s hardware partnerships won’t change for the coming third-gen Pixels. HTC is, AC understands, contracted for at least another year of Pixel production, and the almost $1 billion that Google sank into LG Display means it’s unlikely to backtrack. Here’s hoping LG can step it up its OLED game in the next twelve months. Expect 18:9 displays in both Pixels, and dual cameras — both are obvious, no-brainer upgrades for Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
Android tablets will continue to be weird while we wait for Fuchsia
Whatever Google’s master plan is for its work-in-progress Fuchsia OS on phones, tablets and laptops may come more clearly into focus in 2018, but in the meantime, the moribund state of the Android tablet market will continue. With the Pixel C entering end-of-life status, Google kinda has torelease a new reference tablet if it wants to continue supporting this form factor. If it does, expect a low-profile launch sometime early in the year.
A make-or-break year for HTC
October’s monthly HTC revenue numbers aren’t great, continuing the downward trajectory for the troubled Taiwanese company. If HTC is to succeed — which, as a consumer who likes the stuff they make, I hope they do — it needs to become a leaner organization. The Google investment should help — or, if you’re a pessimist, it could mark the start of HTC winding down its smartphone business ahead of a full acquisition. Either way, 2018 will certainly be a make-or-break year for the company.
Android 9.0 Popsicle