It's time we pull out the Compare and Recycle crystal ball and gaze into the future to find out what 2021 will bring for smartphones. It’s not an exact science, but we’ve witnessed several changes within the industry this year and rumours are starting to emerge. Here are the trends we’re expecting to see next year.
This trend is not one we’re not looking forward to, if its execution remains unchanged. Don’t get us wrong, we’re aware of the issue of e-waste around the world, and we fully support charger removal as a step to decrease the carbon footprint of smartphone production and transportation. However, this is just one side of the coin, as smartphones still require daily charging. Removing chargers requires smartphone owners to purchase them separately, which adds to the cost of the smartphone, as well as creating emissions when these are shipped on their own. This would have been a welcome change, if this were thought through better and if charger recycling schemes were to be implemented, as this would actually make a difference to the planet.
We’re hearing whispers that Apple might remove the charging port from their next iPhone. This would be in support of their decision this year to exclude chargers from iPhone retail box. Removing the charging port would leave no choice for iPhone owners but to switch to wireless charging and opt in for MagSafe or similar third party products. Charging ports in phones are used not only for charging though, but also for data transferring and connectivity to laptops or computers. We can’t help but think that Apple is following their classic strategy: create a problem and sell the solution for triple the money. MagSafe chargers would have to be equipped with the additional feature of wireless data transfer and come in the box with iPhone 13.
2021 might be the year when foldable smartphones take off, for real this time. Samsung, Motorola, Huawei, as well as Chinese phone makers Xiaomi and OPPO are expected to deliver their next foldable smartphones next year. For the past few years, foldable smartphone designs have come a long way, and while we’ve received some of the now considered mainstream form factors such as second iteration of the Galaxy Fold, and the renewed flip phones from Samsung and Motorola with flexible screens, we’ve also seen a smartphone with a rolling display appearing this year. There is talk of Apple currently working on a foldable iPhone, so we can anticipate other manufacturers to release their foldable models. The more foldable smartphones we see, the better the competition will become which will ensure more alternative designs with improved durability and lower price tags.
Remember how OnePlus shook the industry with their OnePlus 7 Pro and its 90Hz refresh rate at a low cost? Brace yourselves, because you’re going to be seeing refresh rate specifications increase even further, bringing flagships with 140Hz displays to the market. One thing we’re certain of is that 90Hz or even 120Hz screens will be a must-have feature on flagship devices in 2021.
The first dual rear camera created a new era of smartphone photography, and so will the first in-display front camera from a design perspective. Over the years, we’ve seen front cameras becoming smaller and more seamlessly integrated into the display. It all started with manufacturers aiming for a bezel-less look, coming up with notches and hole punch cameras. We’re not saying that every single smartphone in 2021 will have an in-display camera, but we might well see the first of its kind to be released by one of the Chinese phone makers.
We’ve seen more design changes from Samsung and Apple this year, curved displays are starting to disappear and advanced display coating technologies have been applied to make smartphones more durable. One example of this is the Ceramic Shield applied on the iPhone 12 devices which is claimed to increase durability by four times.
With smartphones getting larger year after year, size is becoming less of a feature that can help particular devices to stand out, and it turns out that the Note series are slowly losing this aspect of being different to the rest of offerings not only from Android competitors, but from Samsung itself. The only difference that Note 20 devices still possess compared to the Galaxy S20 is the S Pen. With the Galaxy S series now comprised of three models (Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus and S20 Ultra), Samsung may as well add the fourth one with an S Pen which will appeal to creative people that require their smartphone to multitask. In our opinion it would be wise for Samsung to terminate the Note series altogether, but only time will tell whether 2021 will be only about Galaxy S flagships.
More 5G models and less 4G is certainly expected in 2021, and we’ll be surprised if there will be any 4G models released from leading manufacturers. 2020 has been considered as a transition year, and with Apple releasing a 5G-ready iPhone 12 lineup, we might as well refer to 4G as a thing of the past, and 5G network as the new default.
If we were to name one of the major issues within the Android ecosystem, it would be lengthy OS upgrade rollouts. Every single Android user, apart from Pixel owners and users of smartphones running Android One know that getting the latest OS release is a nightmare. There have been improvements with third parties preparing their OS skins and dropping OS upgrades quicker than it used to be, but still it is far from being instant. Pixel and other Google made products will be the first to get Android upgrades, but we hope with Android 12 coming out next year that the upgrade release process across the board will become smoother and Sony or Samsung users won’t need to wait 10 months to try the latest version of the operating system.
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