Beyond iPhone 5: What more can we pile on?

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Opinion on what is coming in smartphones beyond the current iPhone 5 and similar devices.

It has been several months now since I traded my older Apple iPhone 3GS for the iPhone 5.  The iPhone 5 is an excellent phone and seems to do everything well.  The 3GS was nearly as good but the new iPhone 5 is thinner and lighter.  Both have excellent battery life.  Even the Apple maps worked OK for me but I did download the Google maps apps which are better.

I suppose my greatest disappointment is the screen.  It is larger (4 inch diagonal) but it is the same width as on the older models so does not really look larger.  When you compare it to other larger screen smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy models, the iPhone 5 screen looks small.  Yet resolution is astoundingly good.  The Siri function is stupid and almost totally worthless.  A gimmick at best.  A waste of technology.

Perhaps the best part about the iPhone 5, in my opinion, is the LTE capability.  We have extensive coverage with LTE here in Austin, Texas.  Speeds are amazingly fast on any Internet access.  It encourages Internet access.

All this got me thinking about what can possibly be next, not only for the iPhones to come but other smartphones.  These phones have quickly morphed from basic function phones to those with multiple capabilities.  All of them have other wireless features that include Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS with navigation.  And great cameras, both front and rear.  What else can we add?  Or how can the smartphone be further improved?

Most of the latest generation of smartphones are comparable.  They all do the same thing.  They all look about the same.  The main difference is screen size and how the GUI looks on the larger screens.  To what will these phones evolve in the near future?

Let’s take for example what the iPhone 6 might look like?  My guess is that the screen will get even larger.  Second, it may have NFC.  Many other smartphones already have this short range wireless feature that is designed to implement mobile touch payments to replace credit cards.  The iPhone 6 probably won’t have VoIP or VoLTE as most carriers have not yet implemented voice on the LTE IP network so still rely on the existing 2G and 3G switched circuit voice.  Maybe later.

What we probably won’t see is the latest Wi-Fi technology.  The faster 5 GHz 802.11ac needs MIMO which will add antennas to an already crowded mix of antennas.  The 60 GHz 802.11ad does not seem like a practical addition.  Another no-show is probably am FM radio or over the air TV receiver.  I believe many would use both even though there are Internet options for radio and TV.

What I have concluded is that the evolutionary curve is flattening and we are now into incremental changes from model to model.  It is hard at this point to come up with any really major innovation or addition.  It will become increasingly more difficult to distinguish one smartphone from another.  Users will buy by brand loyalty or company rather than specific stand out features.

Perhaps the best next step is to make smartphones cheaper, if that is even possible given the expensive parts and all those patent royalties.  A smaller cheaper iPhone may be in the works at Apple from the rumors I have heard.  Or maybe it is an iPhone 5S with some upgraded feature.  We shall see.  Next week RIM will introduce its BlackBerry 10 smartphone.  It will certainly be interesting to see what they are doing to compete with the latest batch of smartphones.  There are still lots of current and former BlackBerry users who still love their phones.

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Lou Frenzel

Lou Frenzel is the Communications Technology Editor for Electronic Design Magazine where he writes articles, columns, blogs, technology reports, and online material on the wireless, communications...
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