This year has been a big one for phones, with the iPhone XS, Samsung S9 and Google Pixel 3 XL all grabbing the headlines and impressing with their tech. However, there’s a chance that 2019 could well surpass it in every way.
2019 marks the ten-year anniversary of Samsung’s S series of phones, and the S10 is shaping up to be a real revolution, if all the rumors are to be believed. Self-healing screens, haptic feedback and behind-display cameras have all been hinted at. It’s also likely to be the year that the bendy phone becomes reality, and the phone camera quality goes through the roof, with promises of 42Mp cameras already on the horizon.
We take a look at the year ahead, and ask if 2019 will shape up to be an epochal year for smartphones.
An Actual Cheap iPhone?
You can accuse Apple of many things, but being cheap isn’t one of them. Steve Jobs himself once said ‘We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that isn’t junk’. The brand has built a reputation on high quality tech that commands a price tag to justify that special “Apple-factor”.
2018 saw Apple release its most expensive iPhone yet in the XS Max. The ‘cheaper’ iPhone XR, meanwhile, is hardly bargain basement at $799. Perhaps that’s why 2018 was also the year that the company slowed down its usual production schedules, making fewer phones than originally projected.
According to some analysts, it’s a sign that the company isn’t shifting as many new phones as it had hoped. Investors panicked, and its share value took a 4% tumble at this news. While some are blaming a lack of innovation in the mobile space, there’s no doubt that a cheaper iPhone, done right, could make Apple (even more) unstoppable.
Of course, we’ve been here before. The iPhone 5c was the company’s attempt to bring a cheaper iPhone to masses, but it was hardly a game-changer. Replacing the trademark aluminium case with plastic (the most un-Apple move imaginable) the phone was only $100 less than the flagship 5S, which might explain why it didn’t exactly fly off shelves.
There’s a chance we could see Apple return to the budget smartphone in 2019 though, with sales of its $1,000 and up flagship models floundering, maybe the company will take another crack at the everyman phone.
Happy to spend on one of the current models? Check out our guide – Which iPhone Should I Get?
The Galaxy S10: Samsung’s Game-Changing Phone
Samsung’s S10 is coming in 2019, and all other phone manufacturers should be running scared. Although Samsung hasn’t revealed much about it to date officially, the leak machine has been working overtime, offering us plenty of tidbits about the sort of phone it could be.
There’s every reason to believe Samsung will pull out all the stops for the S10. In Samsung’s ongoing battle with Apple for smartphone dominance, the S10 could be its biggest swing yet at the iPhone.
So what do we know? Well, while we don’t have many solid facts, there have been plenty of juicy leaks, including:
The ultimate screen – It seems that Samsung is looking to pack everything it can into the screen of the S10. We’ve heard that the fingerprint sensor will be moved onto the display itself (incidentally, we’ve heard the same about the new iPad too), and that the camera will be placed behind the screen too. There’s also a chance that it will incorporate Samsung’s “Sound on Display”, which uses the screen itself to project sound. This could lead to a beefier sound, as well as the potential to remove speakers altogether, making the S10 even slicker.
Self healing – This year, Samsung filed a patent for self-healing screen technology, that can repair small scratches and scrapes encountered through everyday life. While it wouldn't save the phone from major drops, it’s still a great selling point (unless you’re in the screen protector business…)
Bendable – Some camps are saying that Samsung’s bendy tech could well be intended for the S10. We don’t think that’s likely. Given the experimental nature of flexible screen technology, it’s likely that the bendable phone will be a separate device to the S10. But it if takes off, there’s no reason why a flagship S series phone in the future wouldn’t use it.
Five cameras – Rumors suggest that the S10 could pack 5 cameras – 3 on the back and 2 on the front, designed to help with depth of field, plus offer a superior zoom. It would lay down a marker for the best camera phone for 2019.
March/ Spring release – This has become the traditional release window for Samsung’s S series, and there’s no reason to believe that the S10 will be any different.
The Year of Crazy Cameras
Cameraphones are big business. We upload 95 million photos and videos to Instagram every day, and although the phone camera began life as a novelty, it’s now considered one of the most important features of any smartphone.
It’s no wonder then that manufacturers are trying to get our attention by stuffing our phones with more cameras, and increasing the megapixel count to absurd numbers.
2018’s Samsung Galaxy A9 served up four rear-facing cameras, and the LG v40 ThinQ offers five. If that’s not enough, manufacturer Light is promising one with nine next year. Why? Well…that’s a good question.
Companies will tell you that the more cameras the better, but we’ve found that some of the best looking mobile photos we’ve seen this year have come from the likes of the Google Pixel 3, Samsung S9 or Apple iPhone XS – all phones with just one or two rear-facing cameras.
Then, there’s the megapixel race. Megapixels are used by advertisers as a shorthand for quality. The more, the better. While this might have been true during the early inception of the camera phone, we’ve long since passed the point where the megapixel count should matter.
Models such as the Apple iPhone XR have a 12Mp camera and still take outstanding photos. However, with the likes of Huawei and Samsung hinting at dropping 48Mp phones in the new year, we can expect a lot of talk about megapixels in 2019.
The Race to Remove the Notch
Your phone’s ever shrinking bezel produces something of an issue for manufacturers. Traditionally, it’s where the camera has been housed, but with the screen taking up more and more of the phone’s surface, they’ve had to be creative.
This is the reason Apple invented the notch. It’s not a perfect solution, as it means there’s a chunk taken out of the display, but that hasn’t stopped other brands from copying.
Other brands have tackled the notch issue in innovative ways. Oppo has added a pop-up mechanism to its Vivo Nex, which keeps the camera hidden until you need it, at which time it rises from the top of the phone.
Others have placed a small hole in the screen, dubbed a hole-punch, which the screen completely surrounds.
The dream, of course, is no notch or hole, but simply an entirely flat, unblemished screen. At a recent presentation to investors, Samsung let slip that it was working on a camera that could sit behind the screen and take photos without any need for a dedicated opening.
Whether or not we see it on the S10 remains to be seen, but 2019 could well be the year where camera placement gets standardized (again), and gives us back our screens.
Bendy Becomes Trendy
Aside from the notch, phone design has been fairly stagnant in recent years. Bland rectangle after bland rectangle, the industry really feels like it’s missing the heady days of the early millennium, when designers threw everything at the wall to see what would stick.
Chances are all that’s about the change in 2019, with several companies revealing that they’re working on bendable phones. It’s a concept that’s been talked about for years, but the tech has finally caught up.
This November saw not one, but two flexible phones being shown to the public. The first to get there was Royole, with its FlexPai phone. It may have been the first company to get the folding phone to market, but chances are it’ll just be a footnote in the story.
The bigger reveal came a few weeks later when Samsung finally showed off its Infinity Flex technology on stage at its developers conference. This gave us a tantalizing look at the company’s much rumored bendy phone.
It was less than a minute, and the reveal was shrouded in secrecy (the venue even dimmed the lights so it was hard to get a good look at the phone), but Samsung has said that the phone will be going into mass production within months. That’s right, you’ll be able to walk into a store in 2019 and buy a folding Samsung phone.
With other companies – including Apple, LG and Huawei – all applying for patents for flexible screen technology, 2019 could be a big year for the foldable phone.
Huawei Fails to Crack America
Huawei is desperate to crack America. On the surface, its chances seem good. It has a wide range of consumer tech gear, ranging from phones to VR, tablets to fitness watches. Better still, its pricing is highly aggressive, undercutting rivals by some margin. Huawei is also hugely innovative, reaching for impressive milestones, such as the 48 megapixel camera that we mentioned above. Oh, and it’s also the world’s second largest smartphone manufacturer, behind Apple.
It has three distinct issues though. The first one, without a doubt the most relevant, is that the US government doesn’t trust the Chinese manufacturer. While the company’s hardware is still available for sale in America, official advice from the government is that people shouldn’t buy Huawei phones, due to concerns about spying.
Government agencies are forbidden from using its tech, and earlier in the year, the heads of the six major US intelligence agencies, including the FBI, CIA and the NSA, told Congress that there were severe dangers of its products to ‘conduct undetected espionage’.
The second reason – and a knock-on effect of the first – is that most carriers won’t sell Huawei’s phones. To get a foothold on the American market, it’s essential for Verizon, AT&T and others to stock and promote your smartphones. If they don’t, you’re all but invisible to consumers.
Lastly, there’s the name. It’s a tricky one to pronounce properly for Americans, and there’s a lot of debate about the correct way to say the very Chinese-sounding name. For reference, it’s ‘Wah-Way’, but a lot of consumers are still baffled by the pronunciation, and unable to buy a phone by a company that can’t actually say.