A Brief History of Mobile/Smartphone Technology

A Brief History of Mobile/Smartphone Technology

“We are living in the largest increase in expressive capability in human history.” Clay Shirky, TED talk, June 2009

In his TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talk Clay Shirky chronicles the expansion of our expressive capabilities, from the printing press 500 years ago to our present-day many-to-many communication tool – the social media savvy smartphone. From a one-way, one-to-many communication model, to a technology platform that allows everyone from anywhere to send messages to anyone OR everyone everywhere, and receive anyone’s response. It’s a sea change. Let’s take a brief look at how we got here.

SCR-536: considered first hand-held 2-way radio

SCR-536: considered first hand-held 2-way radio

Radio transmitters and receivers got smaller and became portable, allowing for ship-to-shore communication, and eventually hand-held, connecting the front line with HQ. After the war, the tech went commercial.

Post-war to the 1970’s
Based on radio communication, there were only a limited number of frequencies on which the calls could be placed, limiting the number of callers to the number of channels available. As demand grew, more frequencies were adopted, then standardized, leading the way to “roaming”. The biggest breakthrough from this era was the advent of automated switching between receiver towers, allowing subscribers to move from area to area. This was the birth of the cellular network. The cells were lower power, and the frequencies could be reused in adjacent cells, allowing more and more people on the network. These devices were mostly car based.

The IBM Simon, the first "smartphone"

The IBM Simon, the first “smartphone”. Photo in Public Domain.

Martin Cooper, a Motorola executive and researcher, placed the first true mobile call from the Motorola DynaTAC prototype to his competitors at Bell Labs. During the next two decades, the electronics got smaller, faster and more energy efficient. The networks also got better, moving from unencrypted to more secure digital networks that allowed for text messaging. In 1993, the first person-to-person text message, or short message service, SMS, was sent in Finland. 1993 also saw the debut of the world’s first smartphone, the IBM Simon. The Simon could send and receive faxes, emails and phone calls, and also included a calendar, appointment book, and touch-screen interface and stylus for writing notes.

Tech gets smaller, faster and web page access is slowly added. The Blackberry revolutionizes business communication. Cellular networks make the move from digital to broadband.

2007 – present
The iPhone launches and popularizes the smartphone as it is known today. In 2008, Google’s Android operating system debuts commercially on HTC’s T-Mobile G1. While the iOS platform has been kept closed by Apple and only available on their product, Android is open-source and available on many different smartphones from many different carriers worldwide. Both companies maintain app stores with about 700,000 apps available for free or purchase. The Windows phone hopes to compete directly against the top two and has about 125,000 apps in their proprietary app store.

Today, a quarter of smartphone users primarily access the web through their phones. Eighty-five percent use their devices while watching TV or consuming similar media. And by 2014, mobile is expected to overtake desktop as their primary internet access device. And they want sites designed specifically for their smartphones, sites that are viewable and legible on the small screen, with easy-to-use, finger-friendly navigation.

In the aesthetic industry, we are past the early adoption period for plastic surgery practices. The plastic and cosmetic surgery practices with mobile-friendly websites are ahead of the curve, and have that portion of the market to themselves. To stay competitive, plastic surgeons should launch their own mobile-friendly sites before next fall.

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