The smartphone. An inseparable, inevitable gadget in our daily lives. A device that a lot of the time, tends to be dearer to us than the ‘dear ones’ with whom we keep in touch, using it. It is a piece of technology that is evolving as you are reading this article and will continue to do so. But what about its history? Let’s find out.
It was the 1920s. Nikola Tesla, in an interview with Collier’s Magazine, spoke of a technology that would ‘revolutionise’ the lives of its users. He prophesied that one day, there would be a communication device that could be carried around in one’s pockets. It would help people communicate in an instant, across oceans and seas. And thus, the smartphone was born. No, not really. That happened way in the future.
The idea of a phone which had the features of a computer, began sometime in the early 1970s. However, the first smartphone prototype was released only in 1992, by IBM. Nicknamed ‘Angler’, it was a bulky, brick-sized device packed with features such as a touchscreen, phonebook, calculator, calendar and the facility to send emails, pagers and faxes. The phone was rechristened as the ‘IBM Simon Personal Communicator’ and made its debut in the markets in the year 1994. Unfortunately, it was prohibitively priced and therefore, much like a brick, it sank.
The IBM Simon Personal Communicator next to its modern-day cousin (right). Image source:Time.com
Despite its lack of success, the IBM Simon Personal Communicator did not go unnoticed. In fact, it made people aware of the technology out there and opened manufacturers’ eyes to the future. The first step in this mobile revolution was the invention of the Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) by the late 1990s. The PalmPilot, the first PDA to be successfully marketed, boasted of a range of features such as pre-installed applications, email, computer connectivity, text messaging and much more. Palm’s success inspired other brands like Handspring Inc, to introduce their products in the market as well.
The PalmPilot. Image source:Variety.com
The late 1990s also saw the arrival of mobile phones which introduced the ‘smartphone features’. The best example of this would be the iconic Nokia 9000 Communicator, which featured a QWERTY keypad for the first time in mobile phone history. The Ericsson R380 continued the revolution by becoming the first to be billed and marketed as a smartphone, while products such as the Kyocera 6035 and the Treo 180 provided data plan features that allowed users to access the internet via GSM landline systems or wireless data plans.
The Nokia 9000 Communicator. Image source:Medium.com
The smartphone revolution then took a giant leap forward when NTT DoCoMo, a Japanese company dealing with mobile phone operations, launched the high-speed internet service known as ‘i-mode’. The service provided more options such as weather forecast, sports scores, e-ticket booking, news and so on. Unlike Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), which was used by NTT DoCoMo’s American counterparts back then, the i-mode could function on precise HTML codes. This allowed for webpages to be fully rendered. The Blackberry series of phones utilised this technology and popularised the trend of mobile phones becoming more than just communication devices. The Blackberry series became another trustworthy product worldwide, as the products ensured foolproof privacy while sending and receiving emails, all thanks to a secure server.
And then, in the year 2007, everything changed.
In 2007, Apple launched the iPhone. The product set the benchmark with regard to every feature- audio and video quality, UI, AI…the list is endless. Overnight, the iPhone changed perspectives of how users viewed smartphones. Once satisfied with a ‘digital assistant’, users now expected a ‘digital companion’. The smartphone suddenly became an experience instead of merely being an enabler of communication. With this, started the era of intense competition in the smartphone market.
In November 2007, Google, competing with Apple, announced that it would offer Android, the mobile operating system, for free. Exactly a year later, it launched G1, the first Android phone. But Apple was already far ahead, as it had already sold close to 5 million iPhones by that summer quarter. Soon, Windows realised that some serious competition was brewing. It ditched its now defunct operating system, Windows Mobile, and got to work on its present OS, Windows Phone.
In 2010, the full touchscreen devices that we know today, rolled in. Quickly, newer players such as HTC and Samsung came into the scene with the launch of their first smartphones. With these newer names in the smartphone market, smartphone technology became more accessible to all. People could now do everything from making calls to sending emails to accessing social media, with the click of a button. In the years that followed, the world largely witnessed a battle between Apple and Samsung to become the World’s No. 1 smartphone brand, with HTC quietly making it to the top 3 along with them.
Today, there are dozens of brands, both international and local, that are trying to churn out the best, cheapest and most weightless smartphones in the market. Smartphones are also becoming increasingly smarter with time, with features such as AC temperature control and QR code scanning— things that we would never have imagined a few years ago. It’s interesting how, in the world of smartphones, it hasn’t just been the early bird that has caught the worm. But amidst all this competition, if it’s one thing that connects all these tech giants, it is their attempts to provide the best user-experience that money can buy.
That’s it, folks. Do comment below and tell us any other deets that you may know about the history of the smartphone.