Smartphone innovation to ramp in 2019 thanks to foldable screens, in-screen fingerprint, 5G

5G isn't the only reason that the smartphone industry is getting interesting: Foldable phones, in-screen fingerprint scanners and AI will drive innovation.

If 2018 was the year of peak iPhone demand for Apple, stale designs and more of the same, 2019 promises a wave of innovation that may reset the pecking order among tech giants.

While Qualcomm is hosting its technology summit in Maui, the stars are aligning for what may be a smartphone renaissance. Yes, we've documented peak smartphone, more of the same and a software-centric and services approach that minimizes hardware but I'm becoming oddly optimistic about the sector.

First, let's get the obvious hype out of the way. 5G will usher in new devices, more speed and a lot more use cases. But 5G will also have a bigger business impact due to edge computing, Internet of things and intelligent networks. On the consumer front, 5G in 2019 will be more about early adopters. Simply put, 5G is merely about 15 percent why I'm more optimistic about the smartphone food chain.

Here are the other reasons why I'm suddenly optimistic-ish (the -ish is there because I'm a cynical person by nature and frankly the best you'll get out of me):

Samsung's foldable phone. Samsung will hit the market with a foldable device and other Android vendors are likely to follow. How these devices sell -- and are priced -- remains to be seen, but the Android ecosystem is aligned behind 5G and the form factor and there will be interesting use cases. See:

Components of the smartphone will become more innovative. CNET outlined how Corning's Gorilla Glass is approaching the foldable market. These innovations mean that something more than the camera improvements may drive sales.

Qualcomm's fingerprint behind the screen trick. CNET outlined how fingerprint scanning will come back to the front of the device via Qualcomm's platform. The move is notable since let's get real:

  • The move to facial recognition has been a bit annoying.
  • Biometrics has put fingerprint readers in awkward behind-the-device places.
  • Most of us miss the fingerprint scanner on the front.

Artificial intelligence is everywhere. The software embedded in phones will be vastly improved by machine learning and artificial intelligence. Google will lead this charge and its Pixel 3 and the ability to take pictures at night without flash highlight the possibilities.

Add it up and there's clearly enough to spur a new era for smartphone devices and set us up for 2020.

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