Future smartphones could have everything under the screen
Four years ago, I wrote that the removal of components, or the replacement of them, maybe the future of smartphone design. But given the recent developments, it looks the future smartphone design will depend on under-screen technology. Meaning most components will be soon housed under the screen, which will pave the way for a new generation of smartphones with an all-screen design. Here are some indicators that show why smartphone design is on the way there.
Under-screen fingerprint scanners
Under display fingerprint scanners are common nowadays. While Apple ditched Touch ID for Face ID, Android smartphone manufacturers continue to use fingerprint identification in their devices. The placement of fingerprint scanners changed over time. From being placed prominently on the front of the device’s thick bezel, then to the back to give way bigger screens and slimmer bezels, to the sides integrated to the power/sleep key for a more seamless back design. Nowadays, it’s in the front but placed under the screen for slimmer builds.
Pressure-sensitive under-screen volume buttons
This feature is still rare but was already demonstrated in a few smartphones. One of them is the vivo NEX 3 that uses a Touch Sense + X-Axis Haptic technology, allowing it to have an immersive curved screen that boasts an impressive 99.6% screen-to-body ratio. Then there’s the Xiaomi Mi Mix Alpha, a concept phone with a wraparound screen, which uses pressure-sensitive buttons under the screen to adjust the volume. So, instead of the traditional physical buttons, you’ll get virtual buttons that still respond to your touches and provides haptics.
This is still a concept but prototypes like the Mi Mix and Mi Mix Alpha show that it is possible. Instead of using a regular earpiece, it is equipped with a piezoelectric speaker system that transmits audio through the screen and glass. This can pave way for more seamless designs, but more expensive devices. Right now, traditional earpieces and speakers are still more practical and economical to implement.
This innovation is getting more attention lately with the announcement of devices with under-screen tech like the Xiaomi Mi Mix 4 and the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G. OPPO is one of the first companies to introduce the technology in 2019, then recently announced its next-gen USC tech. USCs can provide a more visible effect to smartphone design as it eliminates the need for distracting hole-punches and notches, for a better viewing experience. The technology is still young, though, but we’ll definitely see rapid development in this area and might soon see it as a staple tech for selfie cameras.
Putting a known technology under the screen is not easy to implement. The display technology also has to evolve to cater to newer under-screen technology. Right now we have foldable smartphones or smartphones with expanding screens. But once that technology is refined and becomes more affordable to manufacture, an all-screen phone with no bezels and physical buttons could become the norm.