University of Delaware

Keeping up with Smartphone Technology: It’s an Engineering Challenge

Innovations in smartphone technology are hitting the market at a fast and furious pace, driven by a near insatiable consumer demand. Advances in virtual reality, screen displays, camera quality, charging speed, and mobile finances, to name just a few, hit the market and subsequently became ubiquitous in a very short period of time.

At the same time, electrical and computer technology in general is changing quickly. The coupling of this change and consumer demand for smartphone innovation, has created a deep need for highly skilled professionals in math, engineering and data science to define and lead new designs and protocols. Programs such as the University of Delaware’s online Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering are training innovators who can not only keep up with the changing technology, but stay ahead of smartphone innovation demand.

After years of delays, 2016 is the year virtual reality (VR) technology made its big breakthrough, according to a number of publications including CNET and MIT Technology Review.i

VR fans can already slide their iPhones and Android phones into a Google Cardboard setup that allows them to see 3-D images. Samsung phone users can buy a plastic box that turns their phone into a VR screen. However, those options are bulky and can be uncomfortable.

But more refined versions - what CNET Senior Editor Dan Ackerman calls “the real stuff,”ii and what Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey refers to as “fancy wine” compared with today’s “muddy water”iii - are about to hit the market.

Phone sensors and screens haven’t yet been optimized for VR, and Facebook has spent a lot of money to get the panels, optics and other specialized hardware right for the Oculus Rift headset, part of the first generation of cutting-edge VR devices that have recently hit the market, according to VentureBeat. Facebook’s vice president of infrastructure engineering, Jay Parikh, told The Wall Street Journaliv the company will be working to make the Oculus Rift more mobile in coming years by reducing its size and weight. As optimized VR technology becomes smaller and more mobile, it’s only one intuitive step further to integrate the technology into smartphones.

In the meantime, smartphone makers are making vast improvements in their devices’ regular display screens. Samsung’s OLED display technology on the latest Galaxy models is so much better than Apple’s LCD displays that the iPhone maker is reportedly working on plans to switch from liquid crystal displays to the organic, light-emitting diode screens in 2018. Apple has been looking for engineers to work at its display panel facilities as it aims to make its devices thinner, lighter, brighter and more energy efficient, according to Bloomberg News.v

In addition, Apple hired 800 engineers to work solely on improving the quality of the iPhone camera as competition heats up for one of the most-used smartphone They are working with lenses and sensors to constantly improve image resolution and depth. Samsung offers 16 megapixels in its smartphone devices compared to 12 on Apple’s iPhones, which is still a significant leap from the eight of the previous generation.

Cameras are playing a big part in the advancement of smartphone finance technology, with security features such as facial recognition and biometric technology helping to expand mobile options and reduce the need for in-person interaction and transactions.

In turn, this has led to a need for engineers to improve cybersecurity. As Sweden, for example, gets close to becoming a cashless society, the proliferation of electronic payments has led to a doubling of fraud cases in the past decade, according to the New York Times.vii Digital security will be one of the hottest M&A sectors in 2016 because it’s a long-lasting trend in which companies have no choice but to invest, Forbes predicts.

With smartphones used now for so many activities, battery life, recharging speed and recharging availability have become even more critical; 2016 may be the year we stop plugging our gadgets into the wall, according to The Wall Street Journal.viii The two leading standards of wireless technology recharging are beginning to cooperate, allowing a first step toward universal recharging technology.

The online Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Delaware prepares graduates to enter this exciting industry equipped to not just keep up with the fast-paced technological innovation, but also to lead the charge.