The big flagship smartphones for 2019 have been released, or at the very least, announced. As a result, it comes time to look ahead to smartphones in 2020, and some of the new trends or innovations the likes of Apple or Samsung will adopt for their 2020 flagships.  Waterfall screens, under display cameras, and 5G. Oh my!

The “S11” and “S11+”

Let’s first start with Samsung, as they will have the first real high profile release of the new year, with what I’m tentatively calling the “S11″ and S11+”. For starters, I think it’s fairly likely Samsung will at the very least, have 5G connectivity by default in the S11+, but have a variant of it for the S11. 5G is slowly getting implemented nationwide here in the US, and I’d wager in another 6 months, it’d be widespread enough (and the receiver tech cheap enough) for Samsung to just have it as a default feature for the S11+. Past 5G, there’s of course the question of “what the hell does Samsung do about the front facing camera?” as in hindsight, the hole punch display camera feels like such a stop gap solution, more so than the infamous notch, until under display camera tech is ready. Mid 2019 brought some strides in the field of under-screen tech though, with several Chinese brands releasing phones in China with this new, borderline gimmicky implementation of an under display camera. Needless to say, Samsung has higher standards than these brands, and selfies are important in the US and South Korea. So there’s the possibility that despite doing development work on it, an under-display front facing camera won’t achieve acceptable results for Samsung by the time the S11 series will roll out.

So, what does Samsung do? I honestly don’t believe they’ll do another generation with the punch hole cameras as seen in the 10 series of Samsung phones, so if push comes to shove, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did a pop up camera system as seen with the Samsung Galaxy A80. Playing with theoreticals for a moment, if Samsung is able to achieve implementation of an under display camera, than there’s no doubt in my mind that they will adopt a “waterfall” screen design. For the uninitiated, a waterfall screen design has the edges of the screen curve into every side of the phone. Think of how the sides of Samsung phones curve, and apply that now to the top and bottom as well. So perhaps 2020 will see the first truly “bezel-less” displays.

I also believe it to be in the realm of possibilities for Samsung to implement a higher refresh rate display. The 60 Hz flagship Note 10 series noticeably looks dated in this regard to the more mid-range OnePlus 7 Pro and its 90 Hz panel. And as a closing note, I’d fully expect the headphone jack to be a goner in the S11 series. They took it away from the Note this year, and the vocal minority moaned for a week, but it ultimately proved inconsequential for Samsung.

The iPhone 12

Moving over to the Apple side of things, the future iPhone 12 is a little bit harder to get a read on. Partially due to distance from expected release (literally about a year from now) and Apple’s stubbornness. Taking an easy one first, the iPhone 12 will probably say goodbye to the “Lightning” port and join the USB-C camp. Apple’s latest devices like the iPad Pro and MacBook Pro have all opted to use USB-C, leaving the iPhone the odd duck out of the group. Long standing rumors already point to this, but, at the very least, this would finally make sense for Apple.

Moving on to the display side of things, Apple will probably continue to expand upon their OLED displays seen now in their iPhone 11, possibly joining the high refresh rate camp as well. However, Apple faces the same issues as Samsung does implementing this, in that color accuracy, as it stands now, suffers when increasing the refresh rate. So for a high refresh rate panel to match the desired standards of Samsung and Apple, some innovations in that field need to be made (it should also be worth noting that Samsung manufactures the panels found on iPhones). As for an under-display camera,  this is pretty hard to get a read on. The standards for this camera would be even higher than Samsung’s,  so once again unless some significant milestones were reached with this tech, then I don’t see Apple having this in the iPhone 12. But once again, playing with theoreticals, if Apple were to have an under-display camera, they would opt for just a bezel to bezel flat screen, and not join the waterfall display gang.

Finally, I would argue that with iOS 14 (historically speaking, new major versions of iOS tend to release either with or near new iPhones) a more robust file management system will be present. This has been rumored or hinted at for years, and has been a fairly big ask from Apple fans, however, by implementing USB-C, the world of portable, expandable storage greatly opens up for iPhones, and a competent, easy to use file system to say backup photos from your iPhone to a portable USB-C SSD becomes necessary. 5G most likely will NOT be a feature on the iPhone 12, the reasons for which I outline more in detail here.

Smartphones In 2020
Example Render of a Full Waterfall Screen, speculated to be a standard for Smartphones in 2020. Credit: IceUniverse

Other Players

The smartphone world of course consists of more than just Apple and Samsung, but due to their popularity rumors and analysis is easy to do on them by comparison to say Huawei Speaking of:

Huawei could have a big year in 2020. As they are one of the leaders abroad in implementing 5G networks, their flagships in 2020 will probably have 5G connectivity out of the box. Their camera optical zoom tech is already insane, so I don’t know how much more they will iterate upon that. However, 2019 was…tumultuous, to say the least for Huawei. They have effectively split from Google, and by and large are trying to get their own OS off the ground. On top of that, I look forward to seeing how Huawei’s processor tech evolves, and how it will compete with Qualcomm’s SnapDragon, Samsung’s Exynos, and Apple’s A Series.

ASUS and Razer have had good success by just simply packaging the most powerful chips into their phone, and marketing them as gaming devices. And all they honestly have to do is continue that, as there is a profitable, albeit somewhat niche audience for these sorts of products.

Finally, OnePlusOnePlus has started hitting its stride, especially in 2019, offering insane bang for the buck with their phones. I believe they will continue their trend of packing in a ridiculous amount of features for the price, as well as continuing to have the fastest and most responsive Android skin on the market.

Conclusion

Smartphones in 2020 will hopefully be more innovative then what we’ve seen offered in 2019 and 2018. These past two years could best be described as stop gap, as a lot of tech to bring smartphones into the next real generation still needed time to develop, and hopefully, the tech that’s been cooking all these years, will finally be served in smartphones in 2020.

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