7 sexy smartphone technologies coming your way

smartphone technology

A slew of new technological features are (or could be) coming to future smartphones. Here are seven that have been in the news over the last few years. This list is ranked on how interesting and useful each technology could be -- from least to most.

Modular hardware
Modular hardware

Today, for technical and cost reasons, mobile devices have most of their hardware features built onto a single board. But what if you could upgrade the technical features of your phone by swapping out a module that contains a specific component: Replace its camera with one that can capture more megapixels, or snap in a faster CPU. Or you could add new features, like a module for satellite radio. That’s the idea of Google’s Project Ara. So how practical would Ara be? Maybe the answer will be forthcoming: Google started releasing Ara mobile devices in late July, but only in limited quantities to developers to experiment with and test.

E-reader display
E-reader display

Released in December 2012 for the Russian and European markets, the YotaPhone has a black-and-white e-reader display on its back side, and a traditional LCD on its front. The e-reader display is mainly meant for showing app notifications, real-time information, and of course e-books. The device is a simple rectangle form that looks as if a basic smartphone and small e-reader were slapped together back-to-back. The next-generation YotaPhone will sport an improved design where the E-Ink display appears to be embedded into the curved back of the phone’s housing. The curious effect is that it looks like text shown on it was printed onto the back of the phone. Yota says it hopes to bring this sleeker YotaPhone to the U.S. in December.

Motion-gesture control
Motion-gesture control

An upcoming flagship of Microsoft’s Lumia phone line was rumored to prominently feature “3D Touch.” By hovering your finger over its screen, sensors in this Windows Phone smartphone would supposedly allow for you to “tap” in midair on app tiles. You would also be able to control phone functions by the way you gesture with the device itself: For example, when the phone rings for an incoming call, you could just hold it up to your ear and 3D Touch would know to automatically answer. The first Lumia smartphone with this technology was expected to arrive in November, but the lastest word is thatMicrosoft killed the device. So, the future of 3D Touch is up in the air.

Head-tracking 3D visual effects
Head-tracking 3D visual effects

The Fire phone, Amazon’s first smartphone, is being marketed heavily on an optical-illusion gimmick: Its display shifts background and foreground graphics to give the illusion of 3D depth. Four front-facing cameras set into the corners of the phone’s bezel track the movement of your head in relation to the phone’s in order to pull off this visual trick. These cameras also enable you to control the phone’s GUI by moving your head or looking at specific regions of the screen.

The Fire Phone was released on July 25.

3D computer vision mapping
3D computer vision mapping

Bringing together cameras, depth sensors, and a custom-designed co-processor inside a mobile device, Google’s Project Tango can display virtual-reality environments or lay computer graphics over the real world, either of which will sync with your physical movements as you hold the device. The technology can also be used to scan the interior of a room to generate a 3D-graphic model of it. Tango was initially demonstrated on Android smartphones with 5-inch screens. More recent public reveals have been shown on Android tablets with 7-inch screens.

A consumer device incorporating Tango technology by LG is set for release sometime in 2015. Whether it will be a smartphone or tablet is unknown as of this writing.

Low-power color display for outdoor viewing
Low-power color display for outdoor viewing

For the last several years, Qualcomm has been developing a color display for mobile devices that uses low power and can be viewed, with or without backlighting, outside in sunlight. Basically, Mirasol is similar to the proprietary E Ink display used for e-readers like the Amazon Kindle, but with color. Earlier versions of Mirasol used on e-readers had washed-out, faded-looking colors. Since May 2013, the company has been showing off how much they’ve been improving their technology: 5.1-inch displays with 2560-by-1440 pixels displaying more vivid colors running on smartphone prototypes. But there is currently no news about release dates.

Morphing on-screen buttons
Morphing on-screen buttons

Imagine buttons morphing out from a smartphone screen when an app shows touch-enabled buttons, and this is exactly what Tactus does. So, as you use a keyboard app, the display surface of a Tactus-equipped smartphone would raise bubble-like buttons over each individual on-screen key to give your fingers the tactile sense of pressing down on them. Tactus has been in the news for over two years, but unfortunately we’re still waiting to see a phone, or tablet, implementing it that the public can buy.