The evolution of the smartphone

This article was contributed by James Friedman, a Media & Communication studies graduate from Leicester. He works as a freelancer writer whilst pursuing his passion of travelling, appreciating a world of technology. Open minded person willing to explore beyond his knowledge.

Considering that the smartphone has only existed for a little over a decade, the stats make for some pretty astonishing reading. Today around 41 million people in the UK use them for everything from taking photos to browsing the internet, from playing their favourite games to – surprise, surprise – even making phone calls.

It would be fair to say that many of us would be lost without our phones. Research in America has shown that smartphone users spend more than four hours a day on their phones on average – more time than many people spend watching TV in a day. Globally, the figures are even more incredible: this year the number of smartphone users worldwide is tipped to reach 2.5 billion. Compare this with the similar ground-breaking inventions of the past like cars and even TV sets, and you soon see how phenomenal the worldwide growth of smartphones is.

Consumer demands for what is expected of smartphones are also accelerating fast. Now we want to be able to download apps that do everything from controlling the central heating while we’re out, to making video calls all over the world – not to mention having enough memory to store all our photos and music as well. That’s why the biggest storage size on the iPhone X is a massive 256GB, bigger than many laptops can boast.

The launch of new smartphones has also become such a major event that people are prepared to queue all night to be the first person in their circle to own the latest products. At the other end of the scale, cheaper smartphones are also starting to punch well above their weight to become serious challengers, too.

But what steps did it take to get here? And how did they happen so quickly? Let’s take a look.

In the beginning

Although the launch of the iPhone in 2007 is counted by most people as the first smartphone, previous products before this had met all the qualifying criteria. An example is the IBM Simon that was launched in 1994. It was a computer with telephony features that could also send and receive emails and faxes. However, it seemed like the world wasn’t quite ready for such innovative technology and the Simon sold only 50,000 units in the six months it was on the market.

Over the next decade, companies like Microsoft and Nokia were dabbling with devices offering online connectivity. Many of these didn’t get beyond the development stage as, to date, no manufacturer has been able to replace the traditional keypad without making their devices far too bulky for everyday use. Blackberry came the closest and enjoyed a few years’ success as the essential business tool, just as Filofaxes had been in the 1980s. But its days were numbered.

In January 2007, Steve Jobs announced that a phone revolution would take place later in the year – and on June 29th the very first iPhone was released. It was the first phone to have a touchscreen that was both easy to use and intuitive, and it’s proved to be the blueprint that all others have followed.

The tech world was just as excited by the new phones as the public, and set about devising ways to use them to their full potential. In 2008 Apple opened its App Store to take advantage of this new fascination. At first, there were just 500 apps available but today this figure has grown to a mind-boggling 2.2 million – with an even higher estimated 2.8 million in the Android Play Store. Mobile apps harness the power of today’s smartphone tech to let users do everything from playing slots online on websites like to getting weather updates for anywhere in the world.

A frenzy of new features

2009 saw the introduction of the wireless charging capability – but it would still be a while until Apple and Samsung adopted it using much the same technology that the Palm Pre did almost a decade ago.

In 2011 Apple introduced its first voice-activated assistant, Siri. Although clunky and unresponsive at first, it was the first step in a development that today sees many people using it as a key way of organising their lives. This was also the year when the first fingerprint security system appeared. It was used on a Motorola phone which didn’t prove to be very popular but gave Apple the impetus to start developing their own system that was introduced in 2013.

More of the improvements which we find in the phones of today followed in quick succession during the early-to-mid 2010s.

By 2012 a distinct lag had developed between data speed on the internet and the ability of smartphones to deal with them. But then 4G arrived, enabling lightning-fast browsing wherever the service was available.

With the increasing use of phones as cameras, even on holiday, it seems incredible that it wasn’t until 2013 that poolside accidents started to be prevented thanks to the waterproofing of smartphones. Sony led the way with their Xperia Z model, and other manufacturers were soon to follow.

2014 saw the introduction of dual cameras, again a commonplace feature today, and one which has given users far more flexibility in the way they can take pictures. Then, in 2015, screen quality also took a quantum leap forward with the introduction of the 4K High Definition Resolution screen, technology that had been developed from use in flat-screen TVs.

The iPhone’s 10th anniversary, and beyond

The iPhone X marked the 10th anniversary of the original iPhone release

2017 was the 10th anniversary of the original iPhone’s launch, and it was marked by the arrival of the X model. Although not without its critics, it incorporated innovative features like facial recognition and fun animated emojis that can follow the movements of the user’s features.

There’s no doubt that we’ve come a long way in 10 short years, and there are equally exciting times ahead. As with the next generation of smartphones geared up to exploit new developments in technology, we could see some truly ground-breaking developments still to come – for hardware manufacturers, app developers and consumers alike.

By Contributing Writer

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