As you are tucking into your mince pies and what remains of last week’s turkey, it’s a good opportunity to reflect on the year that was 2014. It was certainly an interesting year with plenty of developments in the mobile industry from smartphones to tablets, wearables to networks and much more.
There are only a few days left until 2015, so what is there to look forward to in the world of mobile tech?
The year ahead
The mobile industry never stands still, so we can expect lots of exciting new devices and developments over the coming months. So without further ado, here are a few choice bits of tech to whet your appetite…
The unrelenting tide of new smartphones and tablets never ceases – every mobile company releases new models that promise bigger (quite literally) and better features and incredible advances in hardware: faster processors, higher resolution screens, faster network performance and tighter integration with cloud services and ecosystems.
Samsung is due to release the follow up the Galaxy S5 in the spring, probably around the time of Mobile World Congress (MWC) in March. There is little known about the Galaxy S6 in the way of improvements over the outgoing model, but it’s likely that Samsung will focus more of its development resources on fewer flagship devices in 2015 like the S6 and Note 5, as the company recently said it would reduce its excessive lineup of different models.
The S6 is supposedly a 5.5-inch model with an all-aluminium body, which should satisfy those who have criticised its use of plastic in the past.
Samsung has struggled recently as Chinese companies like Xiaomi are eating into its market share in the low end. Samsung might also take the opportunity to launch a few experimental smartphones that use its home grown Tizen operating system rather than Android, as it seeks to lessen its reliance on Google. The Korean company may also promote its Exynos line of mobile CPUs over the Qualcomm Snapdragon chips currently found in most of its devices.
It will be interesting to see what line Samsung takes with its marketing strategy next year, as its main rival in the high-end smartphone market, Apple, now has screen sizes to match its own devices. In 2014, Samsung used the screen size argument to promote its Galaxy phones in a series of embarrassing ads bashing Apple.
As is now traditional, Apple will reveal the iPhone 6S at its annual launch event in September, followed by the iPad Air 3 and an updated iPad Mini the next month.
What do we know about the iPhone 6S? Currently not much, except that it will coincide with iOS 9, and that there may even be a 4-inch version for people who prefer the smaller form factor. There will also be the usual raft of hardware advancements including a new A9 CPU made, reportedly being manufactured by Samsung using a 14 nm fabrication process – resulting in more efficiency and a smaller die size.
As far as the iPad is concerned, rumours persist of a 12-inch “iPad Pro” or “iPad Plus” that could add split-screen capabilities so that multiple apps can be used simultaneously. Whether it materialises remains to be seen, but it could help Apple reinvigorate stagnant iPad sales and help in the battle against Microsoft’s Surface and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab range.
Unfortunately the iPhone’s sapphire screen never came to fruition in 2014, but whether it will make an appearance on next year’s iPhones is still unknown as Apple’s major sapphire partner, GT Advanced, filed for bankruptcy this year after what it claimed were “unreasonable” contract conditions imposed by Apple.
Apple’s latest iPhones also came equipped with Apple Pay capabilities using an NFC wireless chip in combination with the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, although the service has yet to launch outside the States. Reception and uptake of Apple Pay has nevertheless been encouraging, with Apple Pay transactions reportedly accounting for more than 1% of digital transactions in just a few months. We can expect Apple Pay to really hit the mainstream in 2015 as more merchants and banks support the digital payments service, in addition to being launched in more international markets.
It seems strange lumping Microsoft in with the other major smartphone companies, but since they acquired Nokia earlier in 2014, the Seattle-based company is now one of the biggest mobile companies on the planet.
CEO Satya Nadella already stated that the company would adopt a mobile-first, cloud-first strategy, and so far the approach seems to be paying off. They have largely focused on the Lumia mid-tier and high-end smartphones, which in terms of hardware are on a par with the best that Apple and Samsung offer.
The company also owns the entire Nokia lineup of feature phones which still sell incredibly well in developing countries. That’s a solid user base to persuade into upgrading to more powerful Lumia devices, of which we can expect more powerful models running Windows 10 in the first half of next year, as well as a focus on features like the camera, which Nokia devices have long been praised for.
Microsoft will also launch a new “Surface 4” tablet in 2015, capitalising on the success that the Surface 3 has enjoyed this year. While it garnered favourable reviews in general for its hardware design (such as the excellent keyboard and integrated kickstand, as well as powerful Intel CPU options), it still failed to sell anywhere near the volume of the iPad or a dozen other Android tablets…
Asus may well be the first to launch a new smartphone in 2015 during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this January. They have already said new handsets would be announced at the show and that they would be Intel-powered like the current ZenFone smartphone. The ZenFone 2 is expected to be its flagship device and have rear volume controls (like the LG G3) and a dual-LED flash.
LG is rumoured to be releasing a new version of the G Flex curved phone, aptly named the G Flex 2, and also making an appearance at the CES. Rumours suggest it may have a smaller display than the 6-inch original, which would definitely make the phone easier to handle.
The LG G4 looks set to have the smallest bevel on any device yet seen with a 5.7-inch screen that will hopefully boast Ultra-HD resolution, a Snapdragon 810 64-bit chip and 4GB of RAM. We don’t expect the G4 to make an appearance until at least summer 2015.
Sony is said to be nearing completion on its next flagship device, the Xperia Z4, which is expected early 2015 launch either at CES or Mobile World Congress. It may have a new facia and an upgraded Quad HD resolution display.
Google and Motorola have been working on the modular smartphone concept for some time, but Project Ara is slated to appear early 2015. It’s basically a shell that lets you modify any component – for example you could spend more money on a better camera but opt for less storage space. There should also be third party components that can be added on, such as various sensors. Besides the unique hardware, there will also be various textured body shells that can be made at home using a 3D printer. As such, Project Ara looks set to be one of the most exciting smartphone concepts next year.
Watches and wearables
If 2015 was the year of the smart phone, then 2015 will be the year of the wearable. 2014 saw the emergence of smart watches and wearables which seem to finally have hit the mainstream, with plenty of new products such as the Motorola 360 and fitness devices like the Microsoft Band.
But in 2015, the product undeniably causing the most interest (and arguably holds the most promise) is the Apple Watch (or Watch). It was an amazing “one more thing” moment when Tim Cook revealed the watch onstage in September, and you could tell that he was incredibly excited about the company’s potential next big thing.
So far, we know that the release date is slated as sometime in early 2015 and the hardware is probably being manufactured by Taiwanese company Powertech. There are still a few months to go until we can really be sure of the device’s capabilities (and battery life), and its reception by the general public. There’s a lot riding on the watch in terms of Apple’s credibility and whether they can get it right first time, but so far the signs are positive.
Of course, other companies such as LG, Motorola, Sony, Pebble and Samsung will release updated versions of their smart watches next year – some of those inevitably based on Google’s Android Wear platform. Unfortunately for them though, nothing has generated as many headlines as the Watch. Even a few of the traditional Swiss watch makers have indicated they may enter the smart watch game – Tag Heuer was reported by Reuters to be planning a device powered by Intel microchips. However, the CEO has said the company will only make an announcement or reveal a product by late 2015 at the earliest…
As far as other wearables go, Google Glass still hasn’t made an appearance but it’s looking increasingly unlikely the device will ever see a consumer release, compounded by the fact that several high profile executives recently left the project and the lack of developer support, not to mention a fair amount of ridicule and derision of Glass wearers by the public. I believe the phrase coined by the media is Glassholes.
The current crop of fitness and activity trackers such as the Jawbone Up 24, FitBit and countless others, will all be replaced next year by increasingly powerful and capable devices, many revealed at next month’s CES.
The three biggest players in wearables, i.e. Samsung, Apple and Google, probably won’t show much (if anything) as they don’t even officially attend the show, and Samsung usually focuses on more big ticket items like Ultra-HD televisions. As a result, we can expect many smaller companies to demonstrate what they have on offer instead.
Now that there are smart watches, the question arises — what do they work with? In 2015 there will be much more focus by wearable manufacturers on the devices and app ecosystems they are compatible with. For example, fitness trackers might be promoted as working with Android and the Apple Watch.
Since the wrist is already a battleground for wearables, what’s next? Perhaps clothing like hats and jackets? Most wearables use Bluetooth Low Energy to communicate, which makes it easier to send and receive small packets of information while hardly using power. So it’s almost up to the imagination of the designers in terms of what’s next. At CES, there will certainly be a few weird and wonderful wearables that nobody could have expected…and we can’t wait to find out. Just don’t mention the elephant in the room – Watch…
In the UK, 4G has been rolled out fairly quickly, with EE doing especially well with more than 75% of the UK covered, as well as “double-speed” 4G in some areas. Besides EE, O2, Vodafone and Three are all intending to boost their 4G networks and roll out even more base stations.
It’s certainly been the year of 4G in the UK – a good thing too as data usage is set to increase rapidly over the next few years…
EE already has decent population coverage, but next year we hope they could reach nearly 100% of the population with 4G. That obviously includes towns and cities but also roads and transport hubs such as train stations and airports.
But what about the speed? There is already ‘double speed’ 4G as EE calls it, and they previously said 40 towns and cities would be hooked up by the end of 2015. But EE is also developing its LTE-Advanced (LTE-A, sometimes called carrier aggregation) network and running trials that offer speeds up to 300 Mbps. It’s hoped this will be available across the entire of London early in 2015. In EE’s case, carrier aggregation involves pairing a 20 MHz slice of 1800 MHz spectrum with 20MHz of 2.6GHz spectrum.
Beyond those speeds, EE also confirmed its plans to trial a 400 Mbps service, initially at Wembley stadium followed by a wider rollout in 2016. That would make it one of the fastest 4G services in the world and the fastest stadium network anywhere.
You can read more about EE’s 4G plans here.
O2 is reportedly aiming for 98% population coverage for its 4G service by the end of 2015, so we can expect a much greater availability of 4G between now and then. O2 is already looking at LTE-A and tested the technology in Germany, with at least trials in place in the UK next year.
O2 has also been investigating Voice over LTE (VoLTE) with Huawei and Telefonica, so if not 2015, then we’d expect to see trials or rollout in 2016.
Vodafone has been farther behind than EE in terms of its 4G service in 2014, but just like EE they will continue their 4G rollout in 2015, aiming to have 98% population coverage by the end of next year.
The company also said back in October that LTE-A would be available from November in Birmingham, Manchester and London with more cities planned in 2015. We’re not sure what speeds Vodafone’s LTE-A service will provide, but at least the average speeds for all users should increase. Vodafone uses the 800 Mhz and 2.6 GHz spectrum acquired in last year’s 4G spectrum auction for it’s LTE-A service, but note that those frequencies also need to be supported by the smartphones…
Like the other UK networks, Three also plans to bring its 4G service to 98% of the UK by the end of 2015.
They have also said that by the end of the year they will have launched in Bangor, Swansea, Newport, Bath, Canterbury, Chester, Hereford, Lancaster, Lincoln, Salisbury, St Albans, Sunderland, Wakefield, Winchester and Worcester. Hopefully, there will be lots of other places included in their plans.
Unfortunately, they’ve been pretty quiet as far as LTE-A and VoLTE goes, but hopefully we’ll see at least some kind of availability in the second half of 2015, or early 2016 at the latest.
Aside from network improvements, on a very welcome note Three is working hard to eliminate roaming charges abroad with its Feel At Home service, which lets you use your allowance to call and text the UK and use your data without paying any more than at home. According to their website, the 16 countries include Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Macau, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States….whew!
There’s a whole lot to look forward to in 2015, beginning with a raft of announcements, wearables and other gadgets at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, followed by Mobile World Congress in March. Beyond that, we can expect greater availability of super fast 4G in the UK and internationally, as well as new smartphones from just about every manufacturer.
Besides more advanced smartphones and faster networks, wearables could well prove to be the most exciting and innovative product category in 2015, beginning with the Apple Watch in the spring…
As always, let us know in the comments below what developments, trends and devices you’d like to see in 2015.