Can phones get any better? Really?

by: Simon HillAugust 26, 2014

oneplus one vs samsung galaxy s5 aa (15 of 29)

Innovation in the smartphone market has slowed to a crawl. Maybe it has plateaued. Smartphone penetration is extremely high in many markets. The law of diminishing returns must be kicking in for OEMs seeking an edge that will enable their latest flagship to catch the eye as it slips out into an already packed ocean. If you don’t like the look of it, no worries, there’ll be another one along any minute.

As the market fully matures the battle shifts from innovative tech to price vs brand. It’s not a foregone conclusion. There’s always room for a surprise killer USP, or a technological breakthrough that triggers an avalanche of sales. The growth of wearables presents a whole new world of possibilities and smartphones will be at the center of it, just as they’ll power Android’s move into our cars and homes.

As the market fully matures the battle shifts from innovative tech to price vs brand.

But for the most part we are keeping our phones for longer and every upgrade is less of a jump than the last. There’s a shift away from the 20 to 24 month contract cycle and subsidized phones. Some two year-old smartphones can still hold their own. If you buy a flagship smartphone today what’s going to tempt you to upgrade in two years’ time? How can our phones get better?


ThL T100S battery

This is obviously going to top any poll, including the one down below. Screens keep getting bigger, many of the latest apps and games are more demanding, and hardware is growing more power-hungry with every new release. Anyone embracing the wearable technology trend can hardly fail to notice the extra demands that devices like smartwatches are putting on our smartphones. We need better battery technology. There are three main ways this can be tackled and a mixture of the three would be ideal.

  1. Bigger capacity without a major increase in size. The battery is still the biggest and heaviest single component under that touchscreen and it will take a breakthrough to change that. We’re hearing about potential breakthroughs all the time, using everything from graphene to hemp, we just need one of them to graduate from research to market.
  2. Faster charging cycle. If you could plug your smartphone in and it was fully charged within a minute or two, then the pain of discovering you forgot to plug it in as you make to leave the house five minutes late would be blissfully consigned to the past.
  3. Wireless charging from a distance. Wireless charging technology is still mired in a battle over standards and most of what’s on the market is rubbish. Slower than a wall charger, but requiring contact. What we really want is something that charges the smartphone in your pocket.


LG G3 How To Take a Screenshot-5

We’ve just reached full 1080p HD as a standard and we’re already seeing 2K displays; you know that 4K is next. Do we really need better displays? It can sound ridiculous to think we need a higher resolution screen on a smartphone than on the big TV in our living room, but most of us (if not our kids) don’t sit with our noses virtually touching the TV screen, whereas we hold smartphone screens very close to our faces.

Apple claimed that we couldn’t see beyond Retina displays and their pixel-per-inch rating is 326. The LG G3 has a ppi of 534. There isn’t definite agreement on this point, but the general consensus seems to be that 500ppi is going to be high enough that the vast majority of people will be unable to discern a pixel. Even if we set the maximum at 600ppi it looks like 4K is overkill. Instead of focusing on the resolution we could use improvements that reduce the power required and don’t produce as much heat, not to mention color accuracy, brightness, saturation, or any of the other factors that make a great display.



This might actually be the biggest improvement we’ve seen in the last two-year cycle. There are actually a few phones on the market now that can survive a dip and be comfortably used in the rain. If they could also survive a fall without any obvious ill effects we’d be ecstatic. Of course, case manufacturers might not be so happy.

Can smartphones get a lot tougher? Do we need them to? The top causes of smartphone damage are falls, dunks, being sat or stood on, being left on the roof of a car, and children. It’s virtually impossible to find reliable statistics for broken smartphones, but we can safely say a lot of people kill their smartphones every year. Indestructability would be nice, but how much can things really be improved here without bumping the price tag up?



Since we’re going to keep our smartphones for longer, how about improving their longevity? This is a tricky one. The world of modern consumer electronics has certainly embraced planned obsolescence. It’s one of those perniciously wasteful aspects of capitalism that you can imagine future generations will curse us for. Manufacturers and carriers don’t want us to keep our smartphones and repair them; they want us to buy a new one instead.

It’s going to be very tough for a modular phone to succeed because all the incumbents in the industry have a vested interest in seeing it fail.

There has been some talk about how a modular system might increase longevity. We’ve all seen Project Ara. But would that actually solve the problem? If it isn’t wildly successful then it’s always going to come at a premium compared to mass manufactured handsets from the leading OEMs, which will be comparatively more powerful for less money. It’s going to be very tough for a modular phone to succeed because all the incumbents in the industry have a vested interest in seeing it fail.

There must be room for an OEM to take up the reliability mantle. There’s one in every industry, like Honda in auto, producing goods that are built to last.

Something else

There are obviously other ways that smartphones can improve, but quite a few functions seem to be good enough already. Cameras have really jumped in the last couple of years, but they may have hit a ceiling that’s unbreakable in the popular smartphone form factor. What else do we really need? Vote and tell us what you think in the comments

[poll id=”714″]

  • Carlos Lopez

    battery is my only concern at this point. I won’t be happy till I can get a week on charge with 5+ hrs screen on a day

    • mike

      mine g2 already have 6hour SOT

      • Carlos Lopez

        yeah the phone has great battery life but i meant 5+ hours everyday for a week without charging

        • mike

          that would be awesome!

        • megatomic

          You are doomed to a LONG period of unhappiness then.

          • Carlos Lopez

            I’ll hapilly deal with one day of use with 5+ while I wait

          • megatomic

            I get that and more with my One+. ;)

    • Stanley08

      Xperia Z2, very satisfied :)

    • BatDroid

      Just spend over 12 hrs on 15% battery(Moto G). But I get your point. Battery is never enough.

  • Aar0nC

    water proofing and longer battery life and we have a winner!!

  • Влатко Стојанов

    I didn’t even see other options, voted for Battery technology instantly

  • Alain Lafond

    Hi all, I just received an invitation for an One+One. I don’t need it.The first that sends email at alainlafond at gmail will see this invite re-directed to him…
    Sorry moderator… It’s the only way I know to do this thing..

  • Xavier_NYC

    I think phones have come a long way since the Zack Morris (save by the bell) days but there is always room for improvement. That could be battery life, software optimization, build quality etc.

  • RH

    Heck, for most people, MID-Range specs are good enough in most cases. I went with a Mate2 because of reviews. Upgrading from a Note GT-N7000, it’s faster, bigger screen, runs everything I need it to run and 2-3 days battery life EASY. You don’t need an 800 dollar or more phone to surf the web, twitter, text, photos. Unless you are playing high end video games, the 200-300 dollar phones work quite well and you save a ton of money. The Chinese are starting to crack into the global market on price, but once people figure out that they are being hoodwinked buying “top line” phones. It’s like buying a Corvette, but never driving more than 35mph…waste of money, but you look good doing it I guess.

    • Xavier_NYC

      Good point, that’s why I’m looking at a Nexus device now.. Great specs at a good price.. I like the car analogy because I always wondered the same thing, why buy a 250k-1 Mil dollar car that goes 300 MPH but you legally can’t go over like 65 in most states In the US.

      • thartist

        Xavier, just consider that if you’re getting a Nexus and plan on keeping it for long, you may consider something else instead because they don’t have removable batteries and battery degradation will affect you markedly from 18 months on. Maybe a Motorola if they ever come with removable batteries, they are pretty much the same thing.
        Or just replace it every 2 years, as Nexus’ are cheap anyway.

        • Xavier_NYC

          I switch phones pretty often I just hate that I pay so much for them haha. I probably have never had a phone for more than a year.

    • wezi427

      I have a Note 2. I know that my phone won’t be update to Android L, but I’m sure my phone can handle it. I like my phone and don’t really see a good/legitimate reason to upgrade yet. I would like to see longer support of updates from manufactures. I understand why they don’t, but it would be nice.

  • Sequoia46.2

    Smaller options have too much room for improvement. Oh how I wish I could get a 4.5″ screen with very compact bezels and top specs.

  • JSo

    I think the most important thing about a phone is the OS. Specs don’t really matter all that much to me as long as the OS is attractive and smooth.


    Wow, you’re an unimaginative lot.

    There are dozens of things I’d like to see smartphone do or do better. However, the way this article is written misses the big opportunity for smartphones, which is to better integrate with existing devices, so changes are needed in both the phone, but also other devices.

    For example, I’d like to see a combination of NFC and something like Miracast, so I could take my phone, tap on any screen (TV, Computer Monitor) and that screen instantly becomes my phone screen.

    I’d like to see far better integration with cars, so I can fully interact with my phone via my car while driving, and also the car can report all its data to my phone, so I can track maintenance, fuel consumption etc automatically.

    I’d like to see a built in projector in my phone, so I can project a video or image to a wall.

    I’d like to see cameras with optical zoom lenses.

    And Yes, I realise some (maybe all) of these are possible now, but I’d like to see these kinds of thing standardized and easy to do for novice users.

    • Yes!Great but still not to forget about that battery issue,and projector will be costly changing the bulb etc.

    • Michael Samsara

      Very good ideas. Probably haven’t been focused on too much since they are not as flashy or their benefits can’t be summarized as easily in a sound byte – like “Lighting Fast Processor Yields Blindingly Dazzling Speeds that leave other phones mere specks in the rear view mirror.”

      Got to admit that is going to get someone’s (especially a guy’s) motor running more than – “And you can tap your TV screen and transfer … lol

      Fortunately/hopefully?, now that the best devices are becoming more similar in their capabilities than they are dissimilar, manufacturers will start focusing on selling substance rather than sizzle. Things like removable batteries that help with longevity and really useful functions will possibly start to find themselves into more and more units as discriminating shoppers – now over the gee whiz stage of the market segment – focus on refinements that will help enhance their use of the devices and benefits derived therefrom over the long term.

  • the5th

    Flexible displays. But not in a normal phone. I want a display like those old snap bracelets; you snap it around your wrist when you’re on the go. The electronics could be housed in an unobtrusive strip about the size of bottom bezels on phones now. Obviously requires miniturisation of everything, particularly batteries. Anyway this pairs with something mounted on your head. A tiny bluetooth IEM for those favouring discretion, or something like google glass for the more ostentatious. Even a contact lens if we want to get really sci-fi. So when you’re on the move the phone detects that it’s on your wrist and shrinks the used display area accordingly, to make it kind of like a big smart watch. You answer calls through your headset. When you’re at home you take it off and you have a normal phablet.


    The battery

  • Dimitrios Pandioras

    I’m a minimalist, so I’m quite happy using my GS3 with CM11. But honestly, these companies need to focus on battery technology. I mean, it’s 2014. Come on. Our smart phones are used for pretty much everything these days.

  • Yeah,A smaller,lighter and more capacity Battery is what can take the market by storm,I just hope any of those companies come up with this feature in the IFA

  • lacompacida

    Solar panel that will prolong battery life. Sensors, Better camera lens (put lens at the edge to allow longer lens with a prism), better flash light, lighter, more rugged case, water resistance, better batteries, better processor/RAM. All of these are current technologies. Just have to incorporate them.

  • Dado

    Mobile phone dock with monitor connected. GIving you full PC expirience when docked.

    What ubuntu is trying to make!

    Also battery :D

  • DroidGuy360

    “We’ve just reached full 1080p HD as a standard”

    lol, not for iphones, they are just getting an 720p display this year. what a joke of a phone. it will be another 4 years till they get 1080p, and then all the iSheep will camp out for days and buy 100 million phones and talk about how amazing 1080p on a phone is. morons.

    • Andrew T Roach

      Less resolution = Better performance and battery life. Battery life is the main concern for compact devices. The A7 easily supports 1080P, even higher on all iPads.

      • DroidGuy360

        then why does battery life suck for iphones? Your whole reasoning is retarded. Iphones have low resolution screens and have crappy battery life. My note 3 has a 1080p screen and great battery life. So no, battery life is not the main concern for “compact” devices. Apple just makes crappy phones.

        • StepOne

          You do realize that the Iphone 5 has a 1440mAh battery where your note 3 has a 3200mAh…..So unless you can more than double the usage time of an Iphone 5 (which I know you can’t, so don’t even try to lie), your reasoning my good sir, is also very retarded…. :)

          Please don’t hate on Iphone just because you have a personal grudge against it.

          BTW I am an absolute android fan so don’t say I picking favors.

          • DroidGuy360

            No one said anything about doubling the usage time fag, i just said the note 3 has better battery life than an iphone. Duh it has a bigger battery.

      • thomas sim

        They don’t make crap phones, just squeezing out every penny out of it. Seeing iSheep ditching $700 for it, they won’t make good enough phones, because iSheep will get desperate and buy the next iPhone again and again.

        • panait ciprian

          they do make crappy phones in sweatshops and ask for lots of money for a 10$ phone.

      • DroidGuy360

        Watching a 1080p video on a screen thats not even 720p. Thats like plugging a bluray player into a big old tube tv. It looks so fantastic ya know.

      • DroidGuy360

        Its ok, we know you will be one of those first appletards camping out for the new iphone, probably jacking off in your tent just thinking about holding that new, thin, bigger, longer, harder iPhone. You probably just came pervert.

      • Paul Ballow

        But less resolution doesn’t look nearly as nice on a 5+ in screen. We want to keep advancing with technology, not halt it because it’s good enough. The reason for a higher resolution is because we have our smartphone crammed in our face all day log. I want it to at least look nice. LG G3 looks fantastic.

  • Stanley08

    I get FANTASTIC battery life on my Z2. 10 to 11 hours screen time in 1 full day of use. But yes. I want to see it get even better. :)
    How to Extend your battery life here –

  • Lilith_Black

    I’m looking for a longer battery life rather than faster charging time.
    And frankly, the QHD is already an overkill (the contrast and saturation have been tweaked)
    I wish that G3 could have the monster battery life like the G2 (I think 1080p is more than enough they shld have stuck to that and just added the 3A for even more fantastic battery life)

  • Foosa Noble

    Give google now Scarlett Johansson’s voice.
    That would be epic. Take that cortana!

    • GJV

      Her voice? How ’bout her t!ts!?

  • Ivan Budiutama

    Battery life, definitely.
    On related event, anyone knows how far they have accomplished? is the technology is ready for adaptation in real?

    I mean, their last news on web like 1 year ago, if they are ready to implement this, I think it will be pretty cool

  • Jack Parker

    Fingerprint scanner on the screen. Unlock it anywhere with your fingers

  • Databoy2k

    This reminds me of a story my father has told me. Back in the early 70’s, he got into a brand new Lincoln Continental with his father and marvelled at the technology in it, the comfort, the sounds. He said to his dad, “This is the pinnacle of vehicles – they cannot get any better than this.”

    His dad laughed and said that he remembered in the early 30’s when his family got its second vehicle. It included a kerosene stove that could be tucked under the dash and provided, for the first time in their experience, heat in the cab of the vehicle. He looked at his dad (my great-grandfather) and commented that, “This is the pinnacle of vehicles – they cannot get any better than this.”

    Fellow Millennials – remember this well.

    • StepOne

      Amen brother!

    • Michael Samsara

      The beauty of capitalism and the competition it breeds and the advances that proceed therefrom. There will always be “new and exciting” features to answer needs we haven’t even anticipated can be met – or that we have. Before there were computers with word processing there were IBM selectrics – which if you ever used an old manual Royal typewriter – was light years ahead of the Royal.

      For the time being, I predict that the focus is going to shift to greater and greater refinements that will help distinguish each brand or segment of a brand.Personally, I am waiting on the Note 4, which I expect will last me about 3 or 4 years – but which time something truly “revolutionary” – rather than just phony revolutionary – will have come along. For a little time it will be “The pinnacle of phones” – until it is not anymore.

  • Android Developer

    I think that sooner or later the smartphones will be able to replace the PC.
    It already started in some way : Ubuntu phone (fully operational OS on the PC), Asus padPhone (can be switched to tablet mode), LG G2 ( can be controlled by PC) …
    Really hope Google would make this step. I’ve even made a thread for it here (star/comment there if you like the idea) :
    About hardware, I think the most important thing that companies don’t put enough effort to improve is the battery. It should allow us to use the device for at least as much as feature phones.

    • mistkerl

      Hardcore gamers will immediately reject your claim, but that’s because they imagine that most people are like them and use their computer for graphics-intensive applications, whereas the opposite is the case. The average person might use one or two applications for personal use that don’t yet have a functional web-based equivalent.

      There just needs to be a standardized method of connecting phones to external displays, and for the OS to automatically rescale itself and alter its user interface in response to varying display sizes.

      • Android Developer

        True, but maybe some day, the smartphone will have a good enough hardware even for them.
        About the standard, I agree.
        For now, I think that a middle step could be to show a window of what is shown on the device, to just control what is done there, even if the screen is turned off.
        That’s also a part of what I’ve written on the thread.

  • In poor counrties like Hungary, people CAN’T buy a normal smartphone. (normal is minimum 1gigs of ram,dual core processor with 4 gigs of internal storage) An average hungarian person’s wage (not the poorest) is 400-500$!!! So we can buy only laggy shitphones like lg optimus l5 II (it’s my phone and I hate it). I look at the tech sites and I see new super-cool phones and gadgets every day. But if one of them is avaible in my country, it’s going to be too expensive to buy it. Of course there are rich hungarians, but most of people have only under 500$/month. So I think one of the most important thing is the affordable price, because most people on Earth are not rich.

  • Ruz

    There is a room for a lot of improvement.. Battery is one department and the other areas are better cameras, better audio dac, better louder speakers for handsfree calls, better quality mics and recorders, better UI and experience (smooth and feature rich, better ruggedness, better display quality, lighter weight for one handed operation, better sensors, good gps reception, etc

  • Luka Mlinar

    I can’t pick one thing in the poll because i think they can improve just about everything. More then that, i expect them to.

  • megatomic

    I’m currently enjoying using my OPO, but having just left a Moto X I can’t help but miss the software features that make the Moto X so great. If I could get the Moto Assist, etc on my OPO I’d find this to be the perfect phone for me. All the other checkboxes seem to be checked by OPO. :)

  • mistkerl

    4K display with near indestructible sapphire material, Nintendo 3DS’esque 3D functionality (which I keep turned off most of the time, but still like having), a projector, 64 bit OS with multi-account functionality to keep work and personal separate, 4-8 GB RAM, a 1 TB SSD, 5G wireless connection with unlimited data for everybody, WiFi-direct abilities to bypass the wireless carriers via peer-to-peer until we we do have unlimited and unthrottled data, standardized method of outputting to any external display, standardized mobile payment methods, wireless game controller standard embraced by game developers, etc.

    I also find it really annoying to have to type in my PIN all the time to access my phone, and I would like me phone to have a secure method of automatically recognizing me as its rightful owner in order to bypass that requirement.

    • mistkerl

      And wireless charging from a distance also has to happen.

  • Ahmed Hankar

    1:display resolution I think it has hit the ceiling with 1080p i believe this is more than enough since most display sizes range 4.7″ to 5.5″.
    2: Camera more than 10MP is fine, the improvement needed areas could be low light situation and color accuracy, and one more thing I wonder why bigger smartphone manufacturers are not giving us 5MP Selfie, LG, Samsung, Iphone, Sony.
    3: water resistence feature it is really much needed feature i wish all manufacturers could adopt this.
    4: Display size, before i pick any display size I think i should mention the physical DIMENTION, specialy these days we have seen bigger display been squizzed into smaller dimention phones (thin bezels). i think the ideal dimentions should be 140mm 72mm, bigger than this dimentions some people will consider it phablet and I’m sure it will be, any display size which can be squizzed into above mentioned dimentions and big enough 5.2″ or bigger will be most welecomed, just like LG G2.
    5: Battery I dont know why there is no much improvement on this thing, in terms of time it takes full charge or juices it can hold for longer usage, we need battery which can be charge in lesser time and can hold more juices upto 6000mAh or even more,
    6: display technology I think Amoled displays always stand taller than other display technologies, well done samsung with Super Amoled displays they gave us I would say other manufactures should adopt amoled displays.

  • Fer

    If OEMs keep using Android only, the world is screwed

    • canadabikeguy

      So true. This whole ISIS terrorist threat isn’t anywhere near as dangerous as Android. Politicians have no clue…you should run for president!

      • Fer

        Sad, I’m worried about your mental health

        • canadabikeguy

          And I yours.

          In case you missed the memo, OEMs are standardizing more and more on Android. Huawei just announced they’re putting Windows phones on hold and proclaimed that Tizen is dead.

          I guess in your little world, this means “the world is screwed”.

          • Fer

            So monopolies are good you say? Just because one Chinese OEM said that, it doesn’t mean that the race is over, Android is a cancer, and more alternatives other than Android can always be welcomed, more options are good for consumers

          • canadabikeguy

            Monopolies are not good, but as Tomi Ahonen said in referring to the battle for mobile OS on August 15th, “Yeah this is so over”. The single most respected analyst in the industry is stating openly that Android has won.

  • canadabikeguy

    I’d like to be able to drop my phone from the top of the Burj Khalifa and have it land on concrete, then drop it to the bottom of the Mariana trench, leave it for a year. Come back, retrieve it and it still works perfectly.

    Um, ok, how about I drop it out of my pocket then go for a swim and it still works?

    Also, what’s with the stupid amount of storage? Phones should have an absolute minimum of 1 TB of storage, so you can actually put stuff on them.

  • mike


  • Mahmood Qadri

    I just need Nokia 3310 with Stock Android that’s it. :’)

  • BatDroid

    There is a lot to be improved on software side of things. In hardware, camera can always be better. Display color/saturation/sunlight visibility could be improved, AMOLED displays are yet to be used to their potential. flexible/transparent devices could come. Better build materials, better overall look and feel. Devices with smaller footprint could be made. And there will always be need for improvement in hardware as software improves. But this whole thing is going to slow down a bit.

  • BatDroid

    Galaxies can always be bigger.

  • Anonymousfella

    MOAR Everything!!

  • _X_

    Software support for older phones…more than 3 Android versions for older phones…Google must force OEMs to update old phones to new Android version like IOS…you can have an ols Apple product but still enjoy a new look in the software department…not so for Android

  • Will S.

    I’d like to see more focus on battery but I know its all about thinner, lighter, faster these days…

  • arcwindz

    Here’s the problem, touch your phone after an hour of browsing and it’s too hot for comfort.
    It’s not efficient enough yet, the power per wattage that is.
    I believe it’s not raw power alone that we need, it’s also efficiency. Optimized software, optimized processor, and so on.
    The future will be people having retina lens display with super speed wireless connections and that’s when smartphone will be replaced by smartstation since we won’t interract with screens anymore. So yup, long way to go.

  • roytheodd

    Other: cameras that zoom

  • IDontKnowMyName

    Out of those 3 points under battery I gotta say I want number 2 the most. If my phone really could charge in lets say even 5 mins I will be in heaven :P

  • Daniel Klassen

    expandable storage being standard………………we don’t all have unlimited data all over the world………………………..

  • Shayekh Navid

    I guess rather than buying a new phone upgrading it’s features just like …. lets say the way we upgrade bike parts will be quiet interesting …..we could change the screen type or the battery capacity or addung/removing/substituting sensors with extra costs can actually bring a new.era to the smartphone device u suppose .

  • abazigal

    Anyone thinks the most sorely needed innovation is not hardware, but apps? More precisely, mobile versions of existing desktop software reimagined for a touchscreen. Not just VNC’ing into my desktop when I need to get real stuff done, but actually doing those tasks on my mobile phone? And not having to contend with a desktop UI, because the native app interface will make interacting with it much easier and more intuitive.

    Maybe the hardware might evolve to make those use cases possible (like an app which may require a certain sensor)….

  • vaghoust

    For me new big features would be 120hz because iphones where popular for their smoothness from the start,less fragmentation for the same reason and better battery life,bigger and better batteries,scratchless and drop resistant features that can make people keep their devices new for a long time

  • Flip Jumpman

    Hopefully someday we can build/order our own phones from manufacturer’s. Choose display size, memory, processor, materials etc like PC’s.

  • pitbullover

    I agree with all the other factors but how about a smart phone that works really well as a phone! No matter what brand I have Motorola, LG, Samsung (currently have the Note 3 and Love it) they could always use better reception, less dropped calls, better call volume when not on speaker or blue tooth…

  • theo98

    I think the pricing has to be lower, look at the oneplus one, great phone with ever better pricing!!