Eight Things I Just Learned About Your Next Smartphone

Jason O. Gilbert
Technology Editor
February 28, 2014

Hola! I’m here in Barcelona, Spain, at the Mobile World Congress exhibition, and I just caught a glimpse of the next smartphone you’re going to buy. Muy increíble, right?

Here’s what’s up: Mobile World Congress is an annual conference with almost 20,000 exhibitors, where almost every major smartphone maker (except the exhibition-averse Apple) shows off what devices it has planned for the upcoming year. The show lets technology writers like me see the important features and changes that are coming to smartphones, as a group, in 2014.

So what did this year’s Mobile World Congress reveal about your future smartphone? Gaze into my crystal ball and take a peek at what I’ve learned about your next Flappy Bird machine …

1. It will have the largest screen of any smartphone you’ve ever owned. In 2011, Samsung’s premium smartphone, the Galaxy S2, had a screen that measured 4.3 inches from corner to corner. In 2012, the Galaxy S3’s screen grew to 4.8 inches. In 2013, the Galaxy S4’s screen increased to 5.0 inches.

At MWC this week, Samsung introduced the Galaxy S5, whose display ticked up to 5.1 inches.

(Image: Reuters)

The Galaxy’s growth is representative of the way displays on phones from other companies have grown, too. Sony, LG and Nokia all showed off phones with large displays. Apple increased its iPhone’s screen size for the first time in 2012 and is expected to again in 2014. Companies have figured out how to expand screen size without dramatically altering the size of the phone itself, by covering more of the front of the phone in display and less in plastic and glass.

Conclusion: The phone you buy in 2014 will likely have a screen that would have been considered enormous in 2010.

2. It will be sturdier than your last smartphone. One emerging smartphone trend at MWC: an emphasis on resilience. The Galaxy S5 was graded as dust- and water-resistant by an independent body. Sony’s Z2 smartphone is dustproof and completely waterproof; you can use it to shoot video underwater, in fact. A company called DryWired, meanwhile, showed off a device that would be available in electronics stores to envelop your phone in a super-thin nanocoating, making it resistant to water. The phone-destroying toilet drop may soon be a relic of years past.

3. Its camera will be way better. Apple, Nokia and now Samsung are all emphasizing the quality of their cameras above any other feature. This battle has created some truly excellent cameras plunked onto the back of smartphones. From the Galaxy S5’s fast-focus feature to the Z2’s ability to shoot in high-definition 4K resolution, cameras will only get better in 2014. Look for HTC’s next phone, due to be unveiled in March, to include a supreme camera as well.

4. It will come in more colors than black and white. A few years ago, Apple announced that its iPhone 3G would come in both black and white. The world freaked out. Now, like Dorothy being transported to Oz, smartphone makers have moved past that dreary world. The Galaxy S5 comes in black, white, blue and gold; Nokia’s phones come in lipstick red and banana yellow; and Motorola’s Moto X is available in hundreds of different customizable color combinations. As companies look to differentiate their phones, look for the color customization trend to continue.

(Image: Associated Press)

5. You will have many options for a companion smartwatch. In some places, the MWC exhibition looked like a steampunk Dalí painting: smartwatches hanging everywhere. Multiple companies showed off smartwatches — computerized wristwatches that connect to your phone via Bluetooth and can display notifications on the watch’s screen —  of varying quality. Samsung debuted three smartwatches; LG announced it was releasing one this year; HTC and Apple are both rumored to be working on them. Sony, Huawei and a bunch of other, smaller companies all introduced their own takes. If you want a watch to connect with your phone, you’ll have choices.

(Sony’s smartwatches, on display at MWC. Image: AFP)

6. You will not link it up to a pair of smart-glasses. While smartwatches were omnipresent, smart-glasses (think Google Glass, the Bluetooth-connected glasses prototype) were absent. There were a few prototypes here, including a hip attempt by ION. But given the scarcity of plausible, buyable glasses here, 2014 does not look like the Year We All Became Geordi La Forge.

7. You will be able to lock it without a numerical password. The four-digit passcode is so 2013. The newest models of the two most popular smartphone lines in the world — the Galaxy S5 and the iPhone 5s — now both feature fingerprint sensors to secure and lock your phone using your unique fingerprint. The need to innovate past the password should trickle down to other companies as well. HTC released a phone late last year with a fingerprint sensor on the back of the device; LG’s newest phones can be unlocked by tapping a pattern against the phone, a “knock-to-unlock” feature. And the whispers that Samsung will introduce an eye scanner on an upcoming phone (to one-up archrival Apple) aren’t dying down.

Speaking of which: Here’s the ultimate knowledge I learned about your next phone:

8. It will probably be made by Samsung or Apple. In the United States, the iPhone and Samsung’s various Galaxy devices are totally dominant, accounting for about 70 percent of all smartphone sales. Nothing I saw this week is likely to change that one-two punch. Samsung’s Galaxy S5 is an excellent update, with a better camera, some cool features including a heart-rate monitor, and a sleek new design. And while Sony and LG debuted some nicely made phones, those phones aren’t flashy or innovative enough to wrest significant shoppers (i.e., you) away from the iPhone or the Galaxy.

That’s what’s next for your smartphone. As for what’s next for me? I’m going to go eat some flan and learn to flamenco dance. Adios!