Let’s be clear from the outset; the smartphone itself is the greatest innovation of our time. It has connected us in ways previously unimaginable, and the last few years have seen such a huge improvement to our lives that we are now doing things that we would never have thought realistic. If this post was giving out awards for the last decade, there would be only a single entry in it: the smartphone.
However, we’re only talking 2017 here. And within smartphones, 2017’s innovation has been fairly interesting. We take a look at the five most innovative smartphone technologies and concepts of the year.
The bezel-less design of the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2
Well, Xiaomi first did its all-screen bezel-less design with the first Mi MIX last year. But this year’s Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 made the improvements that have taken the phone out of concept and into the mainstream. Although the Apple iPhone X made the bezel-less design popular, Xiaomi made it accessible and affordable to more people. Priced at Rs 35,999 in India, the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 is a flagship powerhouse with drop-dead gorgeous looks that sets it apart.
Although it isn’t completely bezel-less (the bottom has a large chunk of non-screen space that holds the camera and other sensors) and it isn’t even the best phone you can buy for that much money, the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2 is a functional example of design innovation at its finest. With its screen-heavy front and ceramic back, it’s the closest a smartphone can come to being a supermodel in 2017.
Face ID on the Apple iPhone X
Apple made Face ID sound like the greatest thing since sliced bread during the keynote for the Apple iPhone X. But to be fair, other manufacturers – such as LG with the Q6 – have already done face unlocking before we even knew that the X in the iPhone X is pronounced ‘ten’. So, what makes Apple’s Face ID so innovative?
With the iPhone X, Apple did away with Touch ID and replaced it with Face ID, which meant that Face ID needed to be flawless. Well, maybe it isn’t flawless, but it’s a pretty impressive use of technology. With a set of sensors found in the ‘notch’, the phone creates a 3D model of your face when you first set up the device. It then fires an array of IR light which it reads using a receiver, to accurately detect your face and unlock the phone. It’s more secure than any of the Android versions of facial unlocking. You can also use the technology to create your own personalized animoji. The combined capabilities of Apple’s face recognition technology make this one of the coolest new features to come to smartphones in 2017.
Camera algorithms on the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL
Right before the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL were launched, it became clear through rumors and leaks that the phones were going to sport single-camera setups. In this age of dual-camera setups on smartphones, all of the major competition, including Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi and OnePlus already had smartphones utilizing two cameras to offer portrait shots and more such features. But on launch, it became clear that Google knew exactly what it was doing.
Despite just the single camera sensor on the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, the phones are capable of taking similar portrait pictures to the other smartphones. And despite the 12-megapixel sensor, the phones take the best pictures on a smartphone today. We tested it against the Apple iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy Note 8, and the Pixel 2 XL comes out clearly ahead.
This is thanks to perhaps some of the best camera algorithms and machine learning present on a phone today. Google has put into play years of artificial intelligence, machine learning and pictures through the vast bank of images it crawls using its search engine, to crack the code on how to take great pictures. And sure enough, the Pixel 2 XL comes out ahead as the best smartphone camera today.
Digital payments got a big push in India post demonetization close to the end of 2016, and a lot more people now make payments using smartphones. In developed countries, contactless payments and using a phone to transfer money is an accepted way of life. With India slowly increasing its digital transactions, Samsung launched its Samsung Pay service in India back in March 2017.
What makes Samsung Pay unique is its support for NFC and MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission). This means that once you’ve configured your card details on the phone, you simply have to bring the device close to a payment terminal, which will use an electromagnetic field to mimic a card-swipe. Although the feature is only available on top-end and upper mid-range Samsung devices for now, it’s a vision into the future for contactless smartphone-based payments in India.
ARKit and ARCore
Augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality are all terms we’ve heard many times, but 2017 saw some of these concepts turn to actual working demonstrations. While virtual reality and mixed reality might still be a bit too bothersome to use due to the need for additional accessories, augmented reality works using just the phone. Both Apple and Google introduced their augmented reality platforms this year, which use the phone’s camera to analyze the surroundings and create a field for inserting AR elements.
While Apple’s closed ecosystem means that the benefits of ARKit are already rolling out to compatible devices (iPhone 6S and newer, as well as select iPad devices), Google ARCore is only available for Pixel devices and the Samsung Galaxy S8 for now. The guidelines mean that app developers can now roll-out functional AR experiences on supported devices, thereby enhancing the user experience on both the software and the device itself.
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