Remember the humbler days of feature phones? Those chocolate bars had just two thing to do: make calls and send text messages. Then colour screens came -- and you could also listen to music and FM radio. Soon, you could take photos and videos on-the-go. It took a decade for feature phones to become intelligent, 'touchy' and and 'smart'. Hand phones today have become computing lifelines with the ability to read foreign languages, take near-professional-quality pictures and seamlessly access Internet. For the next jump in smart phone innovation, a few brands today, are brainstorming for crazy, but doable ideas, mostly centred around 5G.
At its annual Inno Day event in China last week, leading handset maker Oppo, showcased its plans to convert the smart phone into a central computing hub for artificial intelligence, augmented reality, cloud computing and Internet of Things. Oppo calls it intelligent connectivity. Driven by 5G on the software side and design innovation in hardware, Oppo is teasing customers with sneak peaks into a suite of connectivity products from smart watches, AR glasses, smart headphones and a 5G CPE (customer premises equipment), essentially a voice enabled speaker of sorts.
The underlying technologies are highly immersive and interactive, a signal that the next decade of smartphone innovation will move from connectivity to convergence. In technical terms, computing will move to the edge from the cloud. This simply means your device will do more, know you better and predict your behaviour to give you not features, but experiences.
Many of these features are already experienced by customers in China and Korea because large scale 5G deployments have started in these countries. Some 50 service providers worldwide are getting ready to offer 5G in 2020. Indian carriers are not there yet -- but have been quietly testing and beefing up their networks. The secret sauce that will help them graduate to 5G, is something called DSS or Dynamic Spectrum Sharing, a technology that allows them to leverage rather than ditch the existing 4G frequencies they have been using.
Earlier this month an Oppo handset -- the Reno 5G -- was used to make the world's first long distance 5G-quality call between Bern, Switzerland and Gold Coast, Australia, using technology from Ericsson and Qualcomm.
The Oppo Reno 5G and Xiaomi's Mi 10 are the first smart phones to harness the new Snapdragon 865 processor specially created for 5G. The chip caters to high-end handsets. But, what about the rest of us? Qualcomm has simultaneously launched a 'lite' 5 G chip, the 765, with a slightly slower modem built-in -- and Oppo has announced the Reno3 Pro to use this processor. So we can expect 5G phones at a broad spectrum of prices in the new year. But be warned: they will be working in 4G....till Airtel and Idea-Vodafone and Jio launch 5G services
That first 5G call underlines one thing: It takes multiple agencies to make 5G happen --which is why mobile brands are ready to collaborate with competitors. While they understand that the industry needs to collectively move towards the next decade of mobile connectivity, they think disruptive design will differentiate them. Machines may eventually become smarter than humans but only humans have the perception of beauty (read design), so companies will woo us with technologies and products that will catapult us into a faster future. Decidedly, 2020 looks promising as we await the zippy new experience of 5G.