Five smartphone hardware trends in 2011

Dual-core processors will help power next-generation smartphones

Smartphone sales are expected to continue to grow in 2011, and some of the improvements vendors are making to help convince consumers to pick up a new device include dual-core processors and better video capabilities.

The smartphone trends for 2011 will be detailed at the Consumers Electronics Show, which starts on January 6 in Las Vegas, and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February. However, a number of rumored devices -- including Sony Ericsson's PlayStation phone and LTE-compatible smartphones from HTC and Motorola -- and already announced products are giving not-so-subtle hints at what's to come.

Here are five hardware trends that are expected to make a mark in 2011.

Dual-core processors

In 2010, the introduction of smartphones with processors at 1GHz was one of the big stories, and the focus on processor advancements will continue in 2011, but with the introduction of dual-core processors.

In December, LG Electronics unveiled the Optimus 2X, a smartphone based on Android and Nvidia's dual-core Tegra2 processor. The move to two processor cores will offer users better video performance; faster, smoother web browsing and gameplay; as well as multitasking with virtually no screen lag, according to LG.

Besides Nvidia, Qualcomm, Samsung and Texas Instruments are also working on dual-core processors, so the move to dual-core is getting industry-wide backing.

3D displays

The success of 3D in movie theaters is causing a ripple effect across the entire consumer electronics industry: TVs, game consoles, computers and smartphones are all being made 3D compatible. In Japan, Sharp has already announced two Android-based smartphones on which users will be able to play games and watch movies in 3D without the need of special glasses.

The jury is still out on whether 3D will be a success or not. 3D will be a major theme on mobile devices, but consumers are disappointed by the results so far, according to a report from CCS Insight predicting 2011 mobile trends.

NFC

Short-range wireless technology Near-Field Communications has been around for quite a while, but hasn't taken off on a wide scale. One of the reasons for that is a lack of compatible phones, but that looks set to change in 2011. Android 2.3, also known as Gingerbread, includes NFC technology. The Nexus S, made by Samsung, is the first Android-based smartphone with NFC, but it will not be the last.

The most talked-about application for NFC is payments, including ticketing. But the technology can be used for other things. Google is equipping businesses in Portland, Oregon with NFC-compatible window stickers, which allows users to touch their phones to the sticker and find out more about the business.

NFC is also looking to become the latest area where phone manufacturers and operators both cooperate and compete with each other. Google can use NFC for local marketing without the involvement of the mobile operators. At the same time, mobile operator Orange wants to roll-out NFC using SIM (subscriber identity module) cards in 2011, because integrating NFC on the phone "presents many customer support challenges, such as what happens when a customer changes phone," according to an Orange spokesman.

Dual SIM cards

In December, Broadcom announced a new smartphone chip for vendors that want to build low-cost, Android-based products. Smartphones based on the processor will be able to use two SIM cards. Combined with the lower price, the technology could help convince phone buyers in developing countries to pick up smartphones, where, so far, the use of two or more SIM cards has been the most popular.

However, the popularity of using two SIM cards to cut mobile phone costs is also growing in some parts of Europe, Francisco Jeronimo, research manager at IDC, recently said. Using two SIM cards allows users to take advantage of reduced call rates and offers more flexibility when traveling abroad, according to Nokia.

Video

Another major trend in 2010 was video recording at 720p. During the year it became a popular feature on high-end smartphones, including the iPhone 4 and Samsung Galaxy S. That evolution will continue in 2011, and move from 720p to 1080p. The LG Optimus 2X comes with 1080p HD video playback and recording, and can connect to an external display using HDMI, which is also expected to be a more common feature next year.

The move to 1080p is closely linked to the addition of dual-core processors; the added processing power of a second core allows the phones to handle the increase in data that comes with the higher resolution, according to the component makers.

The combination of HDMI, support for 1080p and higher download speeds in mobile networks also allows mobile operators to offer more video services.

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