New Wave Add Ons
Pretty much everyone has a mobile phone these days, and that presents manufacturers with a bit of a problem. Sure, they can release updates every year, but as top end phones become more and more expensive, it gets harder and harder for consumers to justify the price of replacing a phone every year, or even every two years. It’s also becoming more difficult for companies to innovate. There’s only so much that can be done with a black rectangle, and though we have seen some mobile innovations in the last couple of years (think Samsung’s “Edge” phones), it’s becoming far less common that we get something that’s really new. Maybe this is why manufacturers are turning more towards add on products for their smart phones, rather than phones themselves. In fact, with a few exceptions, the stars of this year’s MWC (Mobile World Congress) were mostly new wave add on products. That’s why we’re taking a look at some of the cool new tech coming from smart phone makers that isn’t a phone itself. Want to know what you’re going to be adding to your phone in coming months? Then read on!
The LG G5 and its Magic Slot
Let’s start by looking at one exception, a phone model that is innovative and different, though that difference still concerns add on products. LG have recently announced their new G5 model, and the big selling point here is what the company are calling the Magic Slot. Essentially, you can grab the bottom part of the phone and slide it out, like a drawer, which allows you to remove the battery. However, this also gives you the opportunity to plug in other add on products (what LG are referring to as Friends).
Currently, there aren’t that many add ons for the G5 available, though there are sure to be plenty more, since LG have promised that they will release technical information to any company that wishes to make a G5 add on. So what are the possibilities right now? There’s a sweet camera add on, that basically transforms your phone into a digital camera, give you better grip, and physical shutter and zoom buttons. There’s also an audio add on that adds two extra headphone jacks to the device, both equipped with HiFi+ for a better audio experience. And there’s the promise of LG’s new virtual reality add on as well, but we’ll get to VR in a moment. All in all, there’s a lot of potential here, and it will be interesting to see what companies do with it. From controllers for high end mobile gaming to modules for more battery power and extra memory, this Magic Slot system could prove very useful indeed.
Probably the biggest, and for many the most exciting, development in add on products is virtual reality. Samsung have already released their Gear VR, HTC are about to launch their Vive VR product, and as mentioned above, LG are already touting a VR plug in for the new G5. In fact, VR is looking to be the biggest new development in mobile tech for a long, long time.
Essentially you either plug a headset into your phone, or (in the case of the Samsung Gear VR) slot your phone into a head set, and then become a part of whatever’s showing on your phone’s display. This might be watching a movie in 3D, for example, or getting your Facebook feed scrolled across your eyelids. Or, in the case of tech debuted at MWC by Qualcomm, you might get a virtual museum, with information about certain things popping up when you look at them.
We’ll be honest here and say that it’s still early days. There aren’t many apps that currently support VR, though the list is growing, and even those that do don’t always translate well to the technology. But the potential is very clear, whether it’s walking through a world populated with information about everything you could image that pops up when you need it, to immersing yourself in game play or cinema, VR stands to revolutionise the way we not only entertain ourselves, but also educate ourselves.
Going alongside virtual reality is the opportunity to create your own virtual world using a 360 degree camera. Samsung recently announced the launch of the new Gear 360, which will plug into their top end Galaxy devices and capture full 360 degree video. This means that you can film an environment from all angles, and then (presumably using your Samsung Gear VR device) immerse yourself in that environment. Okay, that might not sound too amazing (why would you need to immerse yourself in a VR environment when you’re right there in real life?), but this tech is certainly going to change the way you take, and experience, holiday pics.
It’s not clear yet who else is working on these small, orb like cameras, but given that HTC and LG are also both selling VR tech, it would make sense to look for camera add ons coming from these manufacturers some time soon.
The Bottom Line for Add Ons
As recently as just last year, a mobile phone add on meant a new case, maybe a screen protector, or some great headphones. Some would argue that a smart watch is also an add on, though new releases on that front have notably slowed in recent months. However, this new crop of new wave add ons is something different altogether, and they stand to completely change the way we use our mobile devices.
Mobile development in general is undeniably slowing down. A quick look at the incremental differences between, say, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Samsung Galaxy S7, will clearly show that manufacturers are not offering the huge upgrades that we used to see (for example, in the big differences between the Galaxy S2 and S3). However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A Quad HD screen is close to perfect, what more can be done with that technology? Rather than wasting time trying to improve something that’s already pretty much as good as it can get, why not instead make something new? So beware the new phone upgrade, you might want to save your cash for kitting out your older model with some sweet VR accessories instead…