With 2015 now gone, we can look back and say that it was quite an interesting year when it comes to smartphones. High-end models have become more diverse than ever (at least since touchscreens took over), while mid-range and low-end handsets have gotten better and better. What's more, 2015 brought us several new features that may play important roles in the future of the smartphone industry.
Of course, as smartphone makers are restlessly trying to innovate (in order to keep their customers, or win new ones), we're not surprised to see that new, important features are being developed year after year, and we're expecting 2016 to come with plenty of great stuff in this regard. For now, though, let's see what 2015 had to offer.
4 new smartphone features that debuted in 2015
4 new smartphone features that debuted in 2015
1. Iris scanner
Although you may think that Microsoft's Lumia 950
and Lumia 950 XL
are the first handsets to feature iris scanners, they're not. Instead, the world's first commercially available smartphone to come with an iris scanner is the Fujitsu Arrows NX F-04G
, a device that was released in May last year in Japan.
Like fingerprints, the irises of our eyes have unique patterns, that's why an iris scanner can be just as successful and as safe (if not safer than) a fingerprint scanner when it comes to smartphone authentication. Fujitsu's iris canner - dubbed Iris Passport - relies on an infrared sensor and the Arrows NX F-04G's front-facing camera, being able to unlock the screen in 0.6 seconds - all you have to do is stare at the phone. Iris recognition can also be used to log in to websites, and authorize mobile payments.
Unfortunately, the Fujitsu Arrows NX F-04G (pictured on the left) is a Japan-only device, so we must give credit to Microsoft and its new Lumias for making iris scanners available to a larger smartphone user base.
2. USB Type-C
2015 also brought us smartphones that feature USB Type-C ports (and the accompanying USB Type-C cables). The world's first handsets to have USB Type-C ports are the LeTV One, LeTV One Pro, and LeTV Max
- all launched in the first half of the year in China. Since then, other smartphones with USB Type-C were released, including the OnePlus 2, Google Nexus 6P, Google Nexus 5X, Microsoft Lumia 950, and Microsoft Lumia 950 XL.
USB Type-C cables (pictured here) are reversible, which means you'll never have troubles inserting a Type-C plug into a Type-C port: it always fits. While it undoubtedly brings convenience compared to older ports and cables, USB Type-C doesn't necessarily bring faster charging and faster data transfer speeds, because these things depend on the USB technology (the latest being USB 3.1), rather than on the type of cables and ports. Of course, USB Type-C does support USB 3.1, but some devices, including the OnePlus 2 and the newest Nexus handsets, still rely on USB 2.0, despite having USB Type-C ports. Nevertheless, Type-C is the future of USB connectors, and we're glad that we already have smartphones using it. You can find out more about USB Type-C here
3. Pressure sensitive displays
Huawei was the first to announce a smartphone featuring a pressure sensitive display: the Mate S
, officially unveiled on September 5, 2015. Four days later, on September 9, Apple announced the iPhone 6s
and iPhone 6s Plus
, both of which came with 3D Touch
Evolved from Force Touch (a feature that Apple previously used on the Apple Watch and its latest MacBook Pro, and which almost certainly also inspired Huawei), 3D Touch allows users to interact differently with the screens of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. The technology senses how much pressure is applied on the display, differentiating light touches from hard touches. It can, for example, let you preview an email with a light touch, or fully open it if you're pressing harder (as seen on the left).
It looks like pressure sensitive screens will become more popular
starting this year, and even Samsung's Galaxy S7 family
might feature some sort of 3D Touch-like technology.
P.S.: We must note that only the 128 GB version of the Huawei Mate S comes with a pressure sensitive screen. The 32 GB and 64 GB variants have normal displays.
4. Shatterproof display
A cracked or shattered screen is one of the worst things that could happen to your smartphone, and all manufacturers know this. But only one of them has actually done something about it. We're talking about Motorola, which, in October 2015, released the world's first smartphone to feature a shatterproof display: the Droid Turbo 2
(marketed outside the US as the Motorola Moto X Force).
The Droid Turbo 2 comes with what Motorola is calling a ShatterShield
screen. This is made out of 5 layers: an exterior protective lens with "a proprietary hardcoat designed to guard against dents and abrasion", an interior transparent lens that doesn't crack, a dual touch layer, the AMOLED display itself (which is flexible), and an aluminum chassis for "structural integrity and durability." Motorola's ShatterShield display is guaranteed not to crack or shatter for 4 years, and, until now, tests are confirming its durability.
It would be pretty cool if all smartphones had shatterproof screens, right? Well, we hope that, sometime in the near future, this will actually become reality.