How AI is shaping the future of smartphones

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been enhancing our smartphone use for over a decade, powering features we now take for granted. This article explores how recent AI breakthroughs are transforming smartphones, future innovations, and discusses the challenges of AI’s integration into our devices.

Understanding AI: Basics to early smartphone integration

AI refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think and learn. It is a broad field encompassing everything from machine learning algorithms, which adapt and learn from new data to natural language processing that enables devices to understand and respond to human speech. AI’s goal is to enhance machine functionality, enabling them to perform complex tasks with a degree of autonomy.

AI is not a new player in the smartphone arena. Features like photo tools, voice assistants, predictive text, as well as music and facial recognition have been staples for years. Siri, Apple’s voice-activated assistant, launched in 2011, changed how users interact with their devices. Similarly, Google’s AI has been powering Android phones’ predictive text and voice recognition features, making smartphones smarter and more user-friendly.

Advanced AI: Today’s smartphones reimagined

However, what is new, is the introduction of generative AI in smartphones, where over 1 billion smartphones equipped with generative AI will be shipped by 2027. Moving from cloud dependency, chipset advancements like MediaTek’s Dimensity 9300 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 allow more AI to operate directly on devices, speeding up processing and enhancing user experience. There are many examples of how generative AI is already being used in the latest smartphones:

    • Improved search: Google unveiled “Circle to Search” for Android phones, a feature enabling users to search from anywhere on their device using gestures such as circling, highlighting, scribbling, or tapping.
    • Photo editing: For the Pixel 8 series, Google has rolled out AI-powered capabilities like Magic Editor for background fills and adjusting subjects, and Best Take, which merges several pictures to produce the optimal group photo. Additionally, Samsung Galaxy smartphones incorporate an Object Eraser function, designed to eliminate objects from photos.
    • Virtual assistance: OnePlus introduced an AI Summariser for concise phone call recaps. Meanwhile, Android Auto AI quickly summarises messages, documents, and web content. Furthermore, Samsung’s Chat Assist and Google’s Magic Compose can adjust message tones before sending.
    • Accessibility: AI breaks down language barriers with real-time translation features and can help users with disabilities through voice commands and screen readers, making smartphones more versatile and inclusive.

Google’s ‘circle to search’ feature

AI in smartphones

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Future AI: The evolution of smartphones

Next-generation AI smartphones are likely to be powered by more advanced chipsets like the upcoming Snapdragon 8 Gen 4 that aims to boost performance, elevate existing features and introduce novel ones, further advancing mobile innovation. However, whilst the specifics of these upcoming features are yet to be disclosed, they could include enhanced communication capabilities, such as an AI-powered answering assistant replying to calls in your voice or more personalised gaming experiences. Additionally, there is speculation about eventually charging customers for these AI features, either through a one-time unlock fee or, more likely, via a subscription model.

However, it is innovative partnerships like the one between Deutsche Telekom, Qualcomm, and that are paving the way for groundbreaking developments such as the ‘T-phone’—an app-less smartphone concept. Using AI, this device acts like a digital concierge, understanding your goals and managing tasks for you, replacing the need for numerous apps. Other companies are creating wearable and portable devices to support smartphones, such as Humane’s AI Pin, Meta’s smart glasses, and the Rabbit R1, marking a new phase in the integration of AI with personal tech. These devices introduce new forms of AI-powered assistance, blending seamlessly into daily routines. However, while these are not direct smartphone replacements yet, these devices hint at a future where our primary interaction with the digital world could shift away from conventional screens.

AI Challenges: Navigating the complexities in smartphones

However, the integration of AI in smartphones is not without its disadvantages:

  • Privacy and security concerns: AI systems often require access to a vast amount of personal data to learn and make predictions, raising fears about how this data is used and protected. Sophisticated AI systems can become targets for hackers, posing a threat to user data and privacy.
  • Hardware limitations: There are technical challenges such as those experienced by Google’s Gemini Nano. This AI model initially intended to enhance the Pixel 8 with advanced features but faced integration issues due to hardware constraints. This emphasises the struggle between AI’s theoretical promise and the practical realities of smartphone hardware.
  • Economic barriers: The high costs tied to AI development risk making these innovations less accessible, especially for those with limited budgets. However, the release of the Snapdragon 8s Gen 3 chipset in 2024 aims to bring flagship features to more affordable smartphones, improving accessibility.
  • Electronic waste: AI integration into smartphones may lead to a faster turnover of smartphones, as consumers seek to keep up with the latest technology, leading to increased electronic waste.
  • Device dependency: As smartphones become smarter, users might find themselves overly reliant on these devices for everyday tasks, potentially impacting their ability to perform these tasks independently.

Conclusion: Embracing the AI-driven future

The integration of AI into smartphones represents a dynamic evolution of technology, offering unprecedented opportunities to enhance our digital lives. Despite the significant advancements in the industry, a considerable amount of work remains to be done. As we navigate the challenges ahead, the potential for AI to make smartphones more instinctive, efficient, and powerful is boundless. Accepting this future requires not only technological innovation but also a commitment to addressing the ethical and practical concerns associated with the advancement of AI.

Kerina Naran

Kerina Naran

Kerina Naran

Research Analyst

Kerina is a research analyst at STL Partners and is now applying her advanced research and analytical skills from an extensive background in biomedical sciences to the dynamic telecoms and technology market. Kerina joined STL Partners after obtaining a PhD in Virology and Immunology from Imperial College London.

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