When it comes to most of the mainstream smartphones that we see on the market today, it can feel like we’ve hit something of a plateau. Sure, you could get the bigger GBs and add more RAMs, but these have become incremental improvements, unlike some of the quantum leaps that the industry has taken up to this point.

The first unified app store was pretty revolutionary. Making the leap from single core to dual-core and even quad-core processors was noteworthy. But now, even if the phones are technically better, they may not necessarily represent much of a real difference in experience to the average consumer. That’s why something like the Moto X exists and that’s why the spec sheets on 2014 flagships aren’t that far off from their 2013 counterparts.

Now, it wouldn’t be at all fair to say that this list is exhaustive, but here are several features that I feel are still missing from mainstream smartphones. They could provide a real world difference to real world users.

Better Front-Facing Camera

It’s true that smartphone cameras are astronomically better than they have been in the past. You get more megapixels, better low-light performance, more options and controls, and better software to optimize it all. The problem is that so much of this focus has been placed on the rear camera, while the lowly front-facing camera has generally topped out at two megapixels.

I know that megapixels aren’t everything — the 4 “Ultrapixel” camera on the HTC One M8 speaks to that — but they are something. Perhaps the newly announced Huawei Ascend G6 could spark something among the market for mainstream smartphones, as it boasts a 5MP front-facing camera. Alternatively, they could take the rotating camera approach of the Oppo N1. In either case, as we are in the age of the selife, it does surprise me that there hasn’t been more innovation on this front.


Optical Zoom on Mainstream Smartphones

Continuing with the camera, one key feature that separates mainstream smartphones from their standalone digital camera counterparts is optical zoom. Even little point and shoots can give you at least 3x optical zoom, if not much more. Given the push toward increasingly thin phones, I can perfectly understand the challenge, but perhaps the Galaxy K Zoom could usher in an era of more smartphones with optical zoom cameras. HTC is reportedly working on something too.

True Multi-Day Battery Life

As great as all those fancy features may be, as much as you might enjoy a really high resolution display and an abundance of wireless radios, none of that matters when your phone is completely out of juice. Most mainstream smartphones are barely able to last one regular working day under moderate load, forcing you to reach for a power bank or wall charger every chance you get.

The Ultra Battery Saving Mode on the Samsung Galaxy S5 addresses this issue, but it does so by stripping away so many of the things that make a smartphone so smart in the first place. Battery technology in general needs to improve to the point where we can have a real, fully functional smartphone hold up to a week’s worth of work without beckoning for an available USB port.

Flexible, Foldable and Rollable Displays


We’ve heard all sorts of talk about flexible displays for many years now. The problem is that they are struggling to make them commercially viable at a price point that would make any sense at all. The first inklings of this tech have emerged with phones like the LG G Flex, but they don’t go far enough.

Imagine the day when the average, everyday smartphone isn’t just a single slab of glass. Instead, it can be folded up like origami or perhaps rolled up in a retractable package. This way, you have a smaller overall footprint, while still being able to unravel it all to get a much larger display too. I dare to dream. Yes, I do.

Projectors and the Future of Glass

Another way you could go about having a much bigger display than the one that is immediately visible on your phone is to integrate a pico projector of some sort. There has been some experimentation on this front with devices like the Samsung Galaxy Beam, but that never really took off at all. We could also extend the display through wearables like smartwatches and Google Glass.

If you told someone a few years ago that 5+ inch phones would be the norm, they’d likely laugh in your face. If you told them about your 20MP cameraphone, they wouldn’t believe you. Realistically, it’s near impossible to predict where the future of mainstream smartphones may go. With the rising popularity of wallet-style covers, maybe some variation of the flip phone could make a resurgence.

What would you like to see in a 2015 flagship smartphone that you don’t see in the 2014 models? What do you think a smartphone from 2020 will look like?

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