Mobile phones in 2008. Technology overview

mobiles-in-2008.png2008 is shaping up to be a pretty exciting year for the mobile industry.

As I already told you, we can expect well over 200 new handsets this year. The number is pretty impressive by itself, but much more important is what’s gonna be inside all these these new devices.

I do not expect any major breakthroughs in mobile phone technologies. 2008 will be about consolidation and integration of the things we first tried, and got really excited about in 2007.

Technology wise, 4 big new trends that emerged 2007 and will continue to shape the development of mobile phones in 2008 and beyond:

  • introduction of Multi-touch User Interface
  • 5+ megapixel cameraphones
  • location awareness and GPS sensors in mobile handsets
  • growth of high speed HSPA data networks with all the new services enabled by them

Touch UI

The explosion of interest in touch-interface can be attributed solely to the introduction of Apple’s iPhone. While most cellphone makers were dabbling with Touch prior to 2007, none of them really believed in it and put any serious thought how to make it work. iPhone certainly changed all that and made all others shift significant resources into Touch.

In the second half of 2007 we started seeing first results of these efforts – e.g. TouchFlo interface in HTC Touch line-up, Croix interface in Samsung F700 and Samsung P520 Armani phones, LG Viewty KU990 cameraphone, Google Android interface, S60 Touch and others. But all of them failed to produce any noticeable impact yet.

That is set to change next year, as all the investments into development of Touch start bearing first fruits and a great number of Touch optimized user interface technologies and devices hits the stores in the second half of 2008.

Cameraphones

2007 was also the year when cameraphones became almost good enough to replace digital still camera for taking quick pictures on the road. But the operative word here is “almost”.

Despite the integration of 5 megapixel sensors, 3x optical zoom, autofocus, red-eye reduction, face recognition and other gimmicks, none of the phones launched in 2007 were as good as a year or two old mid-to-low-range “point-and-shoot” camera in my pocket.

But that will also change in 2008. As phone vendors polish cameraphone features and technologies introduced during last 12 months, add even more megapixels, functionality and improved multimedia editing tools with seamless uploads to the online service of your choice, the cameraphone will become “good enough”.

2008 will be a year, when a lot of users, upgrading their devices, will decide that they don’t need one more portable device in their pocket. Good quality camera phone will cover all their quick photo taking, “point-and-shoot” needs, while hybrids and D-SRL cameras will be used for better quality pictures.

Location aware handsets

In 2007 GPS Navigation sensor chips finally got cheap, energy efficient and small enough, to be added to mobile phones. But beyond giving the capabilities of a low end stand-alone GPS navigation system to your smartphone, the new chips did not have much impact of how we use the mobile handset.

While the overall amount of GPS enabled mobile phones in 2008 will remain rather small, they will be complemented by improved cell tower and Wi-Fi geolocation technologies, like those offered by Google Maps, Navizon and SkyHook wireless.

Mobile phones will start competing with low end stand alone GPS navigators. But the overall impact will go well beyond maps.

A number of new applications and services enabled by location aware handsets will be introduced in 2008 and some of them will capture the attention of a lot of early adopters. They will discover new, interesting and useful ways to use their handsets and set the stage for location based services to become mainstream in 2009.

Improved data networks

2007 was also the year that the deployment of HSDPA mobile data networks, the number of HSDPA capable devices and affordable mobile data plans finally brought the promise of 3G to the masses. This facilitated significant growth of mobile data services use, led by increased mobile net surfing and occasional song or video downloads from the Net.

Expect this trend to significantly accelerate even more. This will be enabled by further rollout and upgrade of HSDPA data networks to up 7.2 Mbps throughput. It will be fueled by the new data services like Nokia OVI, similar ones offered by carriers directly and opening of Apple iTunes for the direct downloads to the mobile devices (iPhone first , but other devices to follow soon).

Improved user interface features, like bigger device screens, improved full HTML browsers, Flash Lite 3 for video will help a lot as well. Oh, and we may even have an official decision by some major carriers to officially allow mobile VoIP over their networks, too.

In 2008, mobile data won’t remain a one way/download activity too. Carriers will need their newly rolled out HSUPA networks, with significantly improved data upload capabilities, to be used for something. Improved cameras, multimedia editing tools and seamless upload capabilities to various social networking/blogging/entertainment services will see to that.

Other tech

And, of course, the improvements in other components of mobile phones will continue to follow the Moore’s law. Next year we’ll see mobile handsets with 1GHz chips, dedicated mobile graphics processors, 16-32 GB of flash memory, 256-512 MB of RAM and bigger VGA resolution displays.

Unfortunately, all the developments will continue to be limited by the power requirements. Although the chips will continue to become smaller , faster and more energy efficient, the amount of battery power that you can have in the handset will remain the same, somewhere between 1000 to 1500 mAh.

However it ain’t all bad. It means that mobile phone makers will have to work hard integrating all the chips, creating ever more efficient software, power saving technologies and finding interesting trade-offs between operating time, richness of features and usability.

And that will inevitably lead to increased pace of innovation and better, more useful and interesting mobile handsets.

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This is the second  article of “Mobiles in 2008″  series. You can find the introduction here:  “More then 200 new phones will launch next year

Be sure to check later this week for more in “Mobiles in 2008″ series:

  • 2008 – The year of Touch
  • 2008 – The year cameraphone took over
  • GPS Navigation & Location based services in 2008
  • Multimedia, entertainment and user created content in 2008

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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