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Innovation Vs Improvement: What's Next For Smartphones? Part 2

Eric McBride
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There's no doubt that 2012 has been a huge year for Android smartphones. Not only have they gotten lighter, thinner, bigger, wider, and sleeker, they have also gotten faster, extremely powerful, and more feature packed than ever before. Smartphones now feature quad core processors, NFC chips, beautiful AMOLED displays, projectors, talking assistants, and many are even in some ways more powerful specwise than a lot of PC’s were 5 or 6 years ago!

But with all the powerful hardware and amazing apps and features, what will be the next big leap in innovation for smartphones? Does it make sense to focus on innovating more in terms of hardware and software, or is it smarter to focus on improving existing technology first? What hasn’t been done yet, and what can we look forward to seeing in smartphones in the future? In part 1 of this article, we touched on what can be improved and why maybe that should take priority over new creations. In this article, we will continue to discuss improvements, but will also get into what the next big things for smartphones could be. 

Beefier Hardware Doesn’t Mean Better Software Performance

What’s the point of buying a phone with 4 processors inside if lag still exists when using the device? When consumers walk into a store to get a smartphone or tablet, they assume that 4 processors would provide double the power than 2. Makes sense right? Sure, but that’s not actually how it works. My Transformer Prime runs 4 cores that I have overclocked to 1.8Ghz each. But if I open my System Tuner Pro app and go to the CPU section, you can see that only 1 of the 4 processors is actually online, meaning that in normal day to day use, only 1 core is being utilized by Android. The other cores will only kick in if I’m running a graphic heavy application that’s optimized to take advantage of the 4 cores, meaning that in most cases, unless you play a lot of games or do lots of video editing, you will seldom actually use all 4 processors. This is a feature and not a bug, as having all 4 cores run would quickly drain my already fragile battery. So if you don’t play a lot of games, does the beefier hardware actually pay off?

Those 4 cores certainly won’t make screen scrolling faster, which is one of my biggest pet peeves with Android. Yes it’s smooth for the most part, but scrolling still isn’t as smooth as it is on IOS or on the newest Windows Phones. This is in part due to Android’s advanced multitasking/memory allocation, along with the amount of widgets that I personally use. But why not find a way to use the extra hardware to be more useful in day to day tasks? For me, if I have 4 processors in my phone/tablet, I should be able to have as many widgets and tasks running in the background that I want and see very very minimal amounts of lag. Unfortunately, this is not the case (more RAM please). Android specifically has a long way to go in optimizing hardware for their own software, which I hope that Google’s acquisition of Motorola will be useful for. When that acquisition finally closes in the next few days, I would love to see Google and Motorola concentrate on optimization rather than on new technology.

Low End Device Performance

It shouldn’t be that high end devices are tweaked the most for performance. Nowadays, a single core device is looked down on as being old and outdated, which is actually a silly mentality. Lots of consumers purchase low to mid end devices, and they also deserve a great experience for their money. When my Prime is only running one core with all others offline, you would be very surprised how well it can work. So that means that any device with a 1Ghz processor (or even a bit lower, as Apple and Microsoft have proved) and a gig of RAM should have the potential to perform smoothly. The issue here is that these devices are often not updated to newer versions of Android. While I do understand that not every device will always be able to support newer software, this trend should actually slowly start to change.

As the standard for high end devices slowly change to quad core architecture, “low end” single core devices should also have the possibility to receive new Android updates, even if those updates require tweaking or modifying for older devices. Internal memory always comes into play here, and what would be nice is to see even low end devices coming with enough internal storage for updates, which naturally provides a better experience. This would naturally require more work for Google and OEMs, but more work is what the most used mobile OS in the world requires, and I know for a fact that the resources are there. What’s missing is the strategy on how to implement it.

The Next Big Thing

So, with massive processors, cameras getting better and better, amazing screens, voice activated features, gps navigation, facial recognition, and so much more...what is the next big thing for smartphones? What’s left to do that hasn’t already been done? Is there anything left?

The human mind works in incredible ways, and I can promise you right now that there are endless possibilities of what can be done with smartphones and tablets. For me personally, the next big things in smartphones would be month lasting batteries (the technology is there) and fingerprint proof (not resistant, but proof) screens for phones and tablets. These 2 features alone would be a huge hit with consumers, and I certainly hope that we’ll see them in the future. In terms of hardware, LG released a game changer this year by releasing the first phone with 2 gigs of RAM. While that may not sound so game changing, I have been waiting to see this for a long time, and am very anxious to see how the extra memory (double that of any other Android phone) could have an impact on daily performance.

But maybe you’re thinking that those 2 things, while cool, arent the next BIG thing. Maybe you had bigger plans in mind. Well, I have a few ideas myself...

The Future Isn't Computers, But What Computers Can Do For You

Turning on your car (and car heater) via voice recognition from your phone for example. The technology is there, and some people can even control their entire house from a tablet. Why not take it to the next level? Naturally, you’re phone getting hacked would be the issue here, but I like the thought of never having to keep track of my house or car keys. Also, imagine being able to track and completely stop you’re stolen car all from your Android phone? Again, the technology is there (perhaps it already exists?).

Imagine this scenario: You get called away on a 3 day business trip suddenly and have no time to find someone to watch your cat while you’re gone. Imagine an application that would allow you to view the contents of your cat's water and food bowl via an installed camera in your house, which would let you see how much food was remaining. If empty, a simple press/ hold of a button would release more water and food to your cat through a tube, and after releasing the button, it would stop. I'm not encouraging a way to leave your pet alone, but it could certainly come in handy on short notice. 

Silly right?  What about this one: You’re on an airplane and suddenly something happens to the captain that hinders him from landing the plane. What if an application existed that would allow a passenger to confirm that a problem has occured with traffic control. They then verify they have lost contact with him, and could then grant him control of the plane's steering via his device? Then an “autoland” at “X” location function could allow him to land the plane via an "autopilot algorithum" in an emergency. Silly? Perhaps! But with the right developers working on it? Hmm..

Bottom Line

Maybe you thought this article would be all about what new crazy hardware you can stick in a cell phone or tablet. If so, I apologize for this very long read :-D. As you can see from my very silly ideas, most of what I think would be big innovation comes in the way of applications, not hardware. Hardware will always improve, processors will get bigger, and things will get faster. This is a pretty much a given, as what you can stick in a phone or a computer will contantly get bigger and faster.  To make me a happy consumer, optimize my already great hardware for the software that already I have, improve quality before concentrating on quantity and new technology (that goes for updates and low end devices), and give app developers an easier way to innovate application wise. Computers will always improve, and for me personally,  the future is not what they have on the inside, but what they are capable of doing on the outside. It's how those capabilites can assist us in real life that in my eyes will bring the biggest innovation to the mobile and PC industry. 

What do you guys think? Where do you see smartphones going, and what are some ideas you have for the future?

 

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Comments

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  • Yuni V May 22, 2012 Link

    Hi Eric, I had a comment regarding the core usage in the Transformer Prime. I also have the TF and I have an app called "Tablet CPU Usage Monitor" which gives real time graphical display of what cores are being used. It's cool because as you're doing anything the graphs, which stay on the notification bar, light up as each individual core is being used. I've noticed that with any regular use (opening an app, browsing) all cores are used. Not at all times, but not just one. Mostly cores 1 and 2 will get most of the use, while 3 and 4 still kick in, but a lot more often than what you think. Try he monitor program, it's very cool and it gives you a good idea of what your tablet is doing at all times.

    Yuni

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  • Eric McBride May 22, 2012 Link

    Hi Yuni!

    Thanks for writing! Thats odd..are you rooted or running stock? My other cores only seem to kick in on games or graphic heavy applications.

    Do you notice any lag on yours? I do get it sometimes when I use too many widgets, but I think the issue is more the launcher and not the tablet itself, as Nova and Apex seem to sometimes run faster than stock launcher, but not in everything.

    Odd.

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  • Yuni V May 22, 2012 Link

    Hi Eric,

    My TF is not rooted, but I'm considering it. There's is still a bit of lag, but not nearly as much as with the Xoom. The Xoom would often be unresponsive for a few seconds and a time. I've noticed some lag mainly when switching from a cpu intensive application back to the home screen or to another app. I use ADW launcher and it's definitely much faster than the stock launcher with the obvious increase in customization, and I also use quite a few widgets on each screen.

    As for core usage I'm not sure what the issue, if any, there is with the usage report in your Prime. The CPU Monitor app that I mentioned was written with multi-core support in mind, and I've been pretty happy with it. I like running benchmarks and you can definitely see when the cores, and which ones, are being used and at what "speed". You should try the app at least for the 15 minute trial that the game store gives. The only thing is that this app does not report the activity of the fifth
    companion core.

    Yuni

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  • Jeremiah May 23, 2012 Link

    I use an app called MicroCPU Monitor. It does the same as the app Yuni is talking about but it only puts a small 1pixel line (bar graph like) for each core on my dual core Bionic. You would be surprised at how much the cores are actually used when you can see a representation of them in real time. The graph of the cpu usage is only 1 pixel high and overlays the screen on any app or the home screen. So it's not in the way either.

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  • Eric McBride May 23, 2012 Link

    Thank you both for the CPU app suggestions! I will try them both, as I would really love a better overview on how often/when the additional cores are used.

    And thanks for reading!

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