10 smartphone trends to watch in 2017

Smartphones will be thinner, faster, and perhaps smarter

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Smartphone buyers have a lot to look forward to in 2017. Devices will be thinner, faster, and perhaps a bit more intelligent than you'd like.

Virtual reality will spread to budget smartphones, and they will also have better graphics, higher resolution screens, and more storage. More than ever, you'll be using your smartphone to pay for products and log into websites.

Deep learning could help smartphones get a fix on user behavior and improve the mobile experience. We could see a renaissance in smartphone designs, and wireless audio could replace headphone jacks in more handsets. USB-C will replace older connector and charging cables.

Here are 10 smartphone trends to watch out for in 2017:

1. New designs: The rumor mills are filled with new smartphone designs. The prominent rumors include Apple giving a facelift to its decade-old iPhone design and Samsung coming out with a folding smartphone. It's not certain these will happen, but like every year, expect something new.

This year, the hot trend was customizable smartphones like Moto Z and LG G5, which were partly inspired by Google's now defunct Project Ara. Some innovations were unveiled this year, including Lenovo's CPlus, a prototype folding smartphone that can be worn like a watch. LG and Samsung have also talked about smartphones with folding displays.

2. Faster chips: Graphics will be smoother, and applications will run much faster on next year's smartphones. Qualcomm has already announced the Snapdragon 835, which could be installed in some premium Android smartphones from top mobile companies. Some may opt for Mediatek's Helio X30, which has 10 CPU cores, the highest number among mobile processors. That's a lot of processing firepower, and handsets will move closer to PCs in overall performance.

3. Virtual reality: The point of speeding up mobile devices is to allow them to run applications like virtual reality, which demand heavy resources. It'll be possible to plug handsets into Google's DayDream View VR headset to watch movies, play games, or roam VR worlds.

VR is now limited to a few handsets like Samsung's Galaxy S7, but it'll come to more high-end and mid-range phones next year. The VR smartphones will need to have high-resolution displays to deliver a stunning visual experience.

4. Faster LTE: LTE speeds will get a serious boost with new modem technologies. Smartphones like the Galaxy S7 and Apple's iPhone 7 can download data over LTE networks at a maximum speed of 600Mbps (bits per second), and upload data at 150Mbps. Download speeds could reach close to 1Gbps with Qualcomm's new Snapdragon X16 modem, which should reach devices in the second half of 2016. Achieving that speed also depends on the network capabilities of a carrier.

5. USB-C: This is the year USB-C will replace the aging micro-USB 2.0 ports in Android handsets. USB-C is extremely versatile -- beyond charging, it can be used to connect mobile devices to high-definition monitors, headphones, flash drives, and external storage devices.

6. Wireless audio: There's a good chance a majority of smartphones will still have headphone jacks, but like Apple, some may make muster up the "courage" to remove it. Those handsets will switch to Bluetooth earphones. That means the extra headache of buying and recharging wireless headsets, but getting rid of the headphone jack could result in thinner and lighter handsets. Some LeEco and Motorola smartphones already have moved forward with wireless audio.

7. Quicker charging: Smartphones will charge much faster with USB-C cables, which can carry more power to a battery. There's also technology like Qualcomm's Quick Charge 4, which will help smartphones run for five hours after just five minutes of charging. That technology will reach smartphones next year.

8. Device smarts: Lenovo's Phab 2 Pro augmented reality smartphones can recognize objects, map out rooms, and present relevant information about objects in sight on a handset's screen. That's a good example of how smartphones will evolve to enrich the user experience.

Deep-learning techniques in smartphones could also contribute to making smartphones friendlier. For example, a device could learn how hardware is being used by a specific application, and over time, better modulate power usage to improve battery life. Smartphones can already recognize images and speech recognition via online services, but deep-learning enhancements could bring those capabilities offline.

9. Bluetooth 5: Devices could soon get the new Bluetooth 5 wireless specification, which will have two times the speed and four times the range of its predecessor, Bluetooth 4.2. A Bluetooth 5 connection could stretch up to 400 meters in a clear line of sight, but with obstructions, a 120-meter range is considered more realistic by analysts. You will be able to use a mobile device to operate a wireless Bluetooth speaker or unlock or a car from a longer distance.

10. Storage: Extra storage on a smartphone never hurts, be it to store videos, photos, or games. Currently, internal storage tops out at 256GB and SD storage at 512GB, but SanDisk this year showed a prototype 1TB SD card. The company didn't provide a ship date for the product, but higher-capacity SD cards are on the horizon.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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