Better ... everything
Since Apple (aapl) introduced the iPhone in 2007, innovation in smartphones has occurred in fits and starts. Some models, like Apple's original device, usher in radical improvements and new features -- visual voice mail, touch that works -- while others merely improve processing power or software performance. (Hence the entry of 'S' and 'X' into the phonemakers' nomenclature.) Competitors such as Samsung and HTC have mostly followed suit, pumping out iterative updates punctuated every few years by breakthrough devices. And while little is yet known about Apple's upcoming iOS 7, a number of new high-profile phones have brought with them innovations that, in sum total, promise to make smartphones way smarter. Here's a look at some of the most promising new technology:
Screens have been getting bigger for some time and now range from the gargantuan (Samsung) to the relatively svelte (Apple). But manufacturers are also packing more pixels into their displays. Many new models, like HTC's new One, boast the same resolution as high-definition televisions.
Keyboards that think
Nuance Communications calls its Swype app for Android phones a "living, learning keyboard." Sounds like marketing hype, but it isn't. Swype, which has some 500 million users, allows one to drag a finger from letter to letter to type, rather than poking each one. It works smoothly and makes typing, even on a cramped, screen much more natural and quick. The $0.99 app updates its users' built-in dictionaries with the words and phrases they use the most. Blackberry's (bbry) new Z10 has some similar features.
Watching you watch it
Samsung's Galaxy S4 tracks a user's eyes when she's watching a movie or video and can automatically pause media when she looks away. When the user looks back at the screen, the video resumes playing automatically.
Yes, Apple's Siri and Google Now are more or less search engines with a whiz-bang gloss on top. But Google's (goog) implementation in particular shows the promise of smart personal assistants. It can already, for example, search a user's email for upcoming flights and him them what time he needs to leave home given traffic.
That Minority Report thing
Samsung's so-called Air Gesture technology enables users to navigate a device's interface without actually touching the screen. A user can move a hand in front of a handset to accept calls, change music, or browse photos. Hovering a finger over a photo or email before selecting it automatically opens up a preview version.
LG's so-called Cross Tasking is multi-tasking on steroids. Users of its super-fast Optimus G phones can, for example, watch a video while texting, hitting a button to overlay one interface on top of the other.
Cameras are increasingly adding better and better sensors. Megapixel inflation? Perhaps, but shooters like the one found on Sony's Xperia XL can shoot HDR videos. Smart software found on Samsung devices can combine phones simultaneously shot by both the back- and front-facing cameras.
New ways to touch
Screens are improving in other ways: Nokia's (nok) Lumia 920 Windows phone, for example, packs a screen so sensitive, it can sense touch even through gloves.
More and more brawn
What's powering a lot of these innovations? Mobile processors are growing faster and faster. That is only likely to drive further innovations in handset software.