Smartphones are incredibly powerful computers that we carry around in our pockets, and next year they are going to do even more. Qualcomm is the company that powers a lot of what our smartphones do and it recently demoed some of the features that we'll see in next year's devices.
Next year, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 processor will be used in the majority of high-end Android smartphones and tablets, taking the place of the 801 and 805 from this year. It's got a bunch of new features and performance enhancements over the Snapdragon processors used in earlier devices, and we should see the first commercial products with it in the first half of 2015. Without further ado, here are the top three things that we're looking forward to seeing on smartphones and tablets in the months to come.
Camcorder-quality audio recording
Have you ever tried to take a video of a play, recital, or other performance only to be stymied by your phone, which recorded all of the sound around you and not just the music you wanted? Next year's phones should be smart enough to avoid that, thanks to a new algorithm built into the Snapdragon 810. The algorithm works with three microphones on the smartphone to selectively record the audio that you want, whether that's in front of you, to the side of you, or all around you. It's similar to how a zoom or directional microphones work on a camcorder, which record audio that happens within a very narrow field.
Qualcomm's demoed this advanced noise cancelation feature (which it's calling Fluence Pro) with carolers singing Christmas tunes in a noisy room. Aim the microphone spread at just the carolers and that's all you'll hear, widen it out and you can also hear all those side conversations you're not interested in. Qualcomm says this technology can also be used to improve the sound on speakerphone calls, only capturing the speaker and not the environment they are in.
Wireless 4K streaming
Plenty of smartphones can shoot and display native 4K video right now, but next year you'll be able to wirelessly stream it to a 4K TV to share it with everyone else. Qualcomm demoed the feature with its Snapdragon 810 reference tablet and a Chromecast-like HDMI dongle that can plug into virtually any 4K TV. The video is streamed using Qualcomm's 802.11ad short range wireless technology that runs on the 60GHz band. It allows for data transfers of 4-6Gbps, or about four to five times what 802.11ac Wi-Fi networks can handle. That extra bandwidth will let you stream 4K video from your phone or tablet to your TV with virtually no lag or latency concerns. Sharing 4K video can be a pain today, but next year it should get a lot easier with this feature.
Camera zoom you'll actually want to use
Smartphones today can take some truly great photos, but if you want to zoom in on something to get closer or capture more detail, the image quality quickly goes down the toilet. Higher resolutions have helped digital zoom work better than it did in the past, but you don't have to zoom very far to see pixels and have your details get blurred away. Next year's Snapdragon 810 phones will be different, taking advantage of a new computational zoom technology and lens system. Developed by Corephotonics, this new technology uses two different lenses — a wide angle and a special telephoto — and plenty of algorithms to provide continuous 3x optical zoom for stills and 5x zoom for video without any moving parts or a bulky zoom lens bolted to the phone. The system will blend the images from the two separate lenses into one sharper image, regardless of how much you zoom in.
Go beyond that 3x or 5x optical zoom and the Corephotonics system will still show more detail and less blur than other smartphone systems. At 8x digital zoom, a 13-megapixel image from a standard smartphone camera shows a lot of pixels and not a whole lot of detail, but the Corephotonics system can resolve 6 megapixels of information at the same magnification range. The demo we were shown on Qualcomm's reference tablet made it very apparent how much sharper images from Corephotonics' system are over a standard smartphone camera. Needless to say, this is the feature we're looking most forward to in next year's devices.
The Snapdragon 810, which is already in the hands of most Android device makers, will also offer a ton of other things, such as hardware-level security for preventing device theft, console-quality graphics in games, improved surround sound with Dolby Atmos technology, smarter and more efficient voice and sound recognition, and faster Wi-Fi and LTE connections. We'll likely see it put to use in smartphones and tablets from all of the usual Android device makers, such as Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola, Sony, and many others. There's no guarantee that all of these new capabilities will land in every smartphone, as each maker can pick and choose which features it wants to support. But there's a good chance that the high-end flagship models from most companies will incorporate a lot of them.
New smartphone season is just around the corner. Get excited.