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I want truly innovative flagship phones in 2023
2022 has played host to a number of great smartphones, but it’s hard to argue that this was a year of exciting, innovative devices.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra was a refined Galaxy S21 Ultra, retaining a very similar camera system but only really adding an S Pen slot. Meanwhile, the Pixel 7 range was basically the Pixel 6 2022 Edition, offering a new processor and upgraded periscope camera but otherwise playing it quite safe. Finally, Samsung’s latest foldables show that the product category is more viable and mature than ever before, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between them and last year’s models.
You could also make a strong argument that Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro models did little more than grab features Android has had for years, offering a 48MP main camera and a tweaked take on display cutouts. Either way, it’s been a predictable 2022 for the most part.
While refinement produces fine handsets, innovation makes us want to upgrade.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a safe approach in the smartphone space, as this usually leads to refined, polished devices. In fact, some of the best smartphones of all time were the product of iteration. These include the Samsung Galaxy S7 series, HTCOne M8, and LG G4.
However, innovation is the lifeblood of the mobile space, providing us with reasons to upgrade. So we really want to see more truly innovative smartphones next year. But what does “truly innovative” mean in this context? We’re referring to all new designs, features, or major overhauls to existing formulas.
More innovation in 2023, please
We can think of a few innovations we’d love to see make their way to smartphones in 2023. In the foldable arena alone, we’d like to see Gorilla Glass for foldables or screens that actually feel like glass. After all, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Z Fold 4 offer tough foldable screens, but they still look and feel cheaper than conventional phones.
We’d also like to see dust-resistant foldables, but this seems to be a major hurdle for segment leader Samsung right now, let alone the likes of HUAWEI, Xiaomi, and OPPO. Removing the display crease altogether while not compromising on water resistance is another innovation we’re looking forward to in the future. We’ve seen some brands like OPPO and HONOR do a great job of minimizing the crease and offering a slimmer hinge, but this often comes with IP rating ramifications.
We really want to see foldable features close the gap on conventional handsets.
There are plenty of innovations we want to see on conventional smartphones too, starting with camera-related features. We’ve got our fingers crossed for the appearance of features like longer-range variable telephoto cameras. Sony’s Xperia 1 IV offered a variable tele camera spanning from ~3.5x to 5.2x. This is a relatively narrow zoom range but provides enough flexibility for portraits and longer-range shots. A future variable camera topping out at 8x or even 10x would help improve zoom quality in a big way. We’d also love to see main and tele cameras combined into one variable module, meaning you don’t need to rely on one camera for portraits and zoomed-in snaps and another camera for group shots and landscapes.
Other camera-related features we’re hoping to see in 2023 include major stabilization improvements for photos and videos, and 200MP cameras that don’t suck.
We can also think of some non-camera innovations we’d like to see on a 2023 flagship phone. One example is under-display 3D face unlock, meaning you can finally have truly secure face unlock without a display cutout. Over-the-air charging is another technology that’s been coming for a long time now, and we’re holding out for a commercial release. After all, why opt for traditional wireless charging when you can ditch that charging pad and go truly wireless? We also saw a couple of alternatives to glass backs in 2022 (such as the realme GT 2 Pro‘s bio-polymer material), and so we’re looking forward to seeing whether more brands will offer alternative materials next year.
It may not sound exciting, but batteries that last as long as update pledges will be essential going forward.
Finally, we’d like to see much-improved battery degradation when using fast charging. This is particularly important as people typically hold on to their phones for three or four years. We’ve already seen OEMs cater to this trend by offering extended update pledges, so now it’s time for them to step up by making sure the hardware itself can go the distance.
These desired innovations aren’t limited to hardware either. We’re definitely holding out for software-based innovations like triple photo/video capture on more phones, more AI features (in the vein of call screening, reflection removal, and Google Recorder), and improved privacy features (e.g. Color OS automatically pixelating chat screenshots). We’d also like to see increased customization on 2023’s devices and beyond, with Samsung Good Lock giving us a good idea of what’s possible.
These are just a few likely and not-so-likely innovations we can think of in the smartphone space for 2023 or beyond. We definitely won’t see all of them next year, but even a few of these additions would spice up the landscape.
The odds are looking good
2022 gives us hope that we’ll see at least a couple of innovative smartphones in 2023. The Sony Xperia 1 IV offered its aforementioned variable telephoto camera, the OPPO Find N presented a more pocket-friendly take on the Fold-style form factor, and the Xiaomi 12S Ultra brought a gigantic one-inch camera sensor. We even saw a crazy Xiaomi concept that lets you use your Leica camera lenses on a smartphone.
Do you think phones need more innovation in 2023?
Innovation isn’t impossible — you just have to know where to look for it. Going back a few years, the OPPO Find X3 Pro delivered a unique glass design, the HUAWEI P40 Pro Plus touted a 10x periscope lens for the first time, and the Microsoft Surface Duo offered a dual-screen foldable form factor. All of these are taken for granted nowadays.
Iteration is all well and good, but incremental upgrades are built on a foundation of innovation. So I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’ll see a phone or two that break the mold and deliver interesting features or designs next year.