2017 has seen some major changes in smartphones. After years of stagnant design and same features, there was an explosion of innovation in hardware. Meanwhile, networks got in on the act too, modernising their practices to satisfy the demands of both consumers and regulators.
Here are the five biggest developments for smartphones over the past 12 months.
1) The end of the home button
The single, front–facing home button has been a cornerstone of smartphone design ever since the original iPhone burst onto the scene in 2007. 10 years on and the need for a physical key on the front of a smartphone had dwindled.
Samsung was the first to drop the key, switching to an all–screen design with its Galaxy S8, with a fingerprint scanner on the back to make it easy to open the device securely. Apple followed suit with the iPhone X, finally bringing an end to the feature which had made the device stand out from the crowd when it first launched a decade ago.
2) Facial scanning goes mainstream
Iris and face scanning isn’t new. But until 2017, it was only ever a niche concern, with enough worries about security and ease of use to put off all but the most diehard tech fans.
The iPhone X changed that. Face ID, which replaced the Touch ID fingerprint scanner, offered complex, 3D facial mapping, allowing users to unlock their phone and create personalised emoji with just a glance.
Samsung’s efforts on the Galaxy S8 were welcome, but nowhere near as secure or impressive. Meanwhile, OnePlus’ basic version on the OnePlus 5T suggested more mobile makers would be getting in on the act in 2018.
3) Dual lens cameras everywhere
Dual lens cameras were the preserve of the very best smartphones in 2016. But in the past twelve years, more and more mobile makers have started offering a pair of lenses to deliver crystal clear images.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 camera offered a superb take, as did the OnePlus 5 and 5T. The iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus took the dual setup from last year’s iPhone 7 Plus and ran with it, serving up images way beyond those taken on any other smartphone.
4) The ultra-premium handset
Good smartphones have never been cheap. But what 2017 has shown is that the biggest names are keen to create a new, super category of devices. Apple’s iPhone X, costing up to £1,149 SIM–free for a 256GB model, is the most obvious case. But Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8, at £869, is hardly inexpensive.
With rumours pointing towards Google offering an ultra-high-end Pixel 3 in 2018, this is a trend we can expect to see grow over the next year.
5) Roaming be gone
Data roaming’s pernicious hold over holidaymakers finally ended in 2017, in Europe at least, with the EU ending charges in June. Networks then scrambled to improve their offerings, with Vodafone, Three and EE standing out in their efforts to bring cheaper roaming to countries outside the union.
That has culminated in Three now adding 11 destinations to its Feel At Home programme, meaning 71 places now offering free calls, texts and data for its customers.
Want to know more about roaming? Take a look at our guide to roaming.