Happy Birthday Smartphone

It’s the tenth anniversary of the mass-market breakthrough for smartphones. It isn’t just technology that has seen rapid development since then ‑ both our private and working lives have been comprehensively and irreversibly changed since the dawn of the ‘pocket computer.’


The number of smartphone-users increases fast. Fotos: iStock, Hersteller, iFixit

An iPod, a phone, an Internet communicator. As Steve jobs repeated this mantra on January 9, 2007 in San Francisco, the audience broke into raucous celebration. They had twigged that the Apple founder was not speaking of three separate devices, as initially announced, but of one alone. The iPhone was born.

actual fact, smartphones were around a few years before. Nokia, Palm, Blackberry, HP and others had developed them as niche products in the years leading up to 2007. But it was Apple that brought the digital multitool into the mainstream.

Android arrives later

Before the smartphone, we arranged meetings for a fixed location at a set time. Nowadays, friends send an instant message or call each other to decide where and when to meet. Opening times, free parking spaces, restaurant reservations, price comparisons – for virtually every activity and every need, there is a smartphone application, or ‘app’ for short.

Only a few years ago, business travelers needed to hunt for WiFi hotspots for their laptops in order to send emails or connect to central company servers. Now, they can answer their colleagues’ queries virtually anywhere on the planet in seconds via their phone display. Networked navigation systems with precise traffic reports are no longer just the realm of top-of-therange luxury cars. With a smartphone holder and a charging cable to the cigarette lighter, these functions become available in even the smallest of cars. Streaming technology means you can listen to music, watch video clips or even entire TV shows on your smartphone, wherever you are.

Smartphone zombies

However, especially this last example demonstrates that the rise of the smartphone has downsides too. It isn’t just drivers that are responding to messages and checking new Facebook posts far too much while driving. Pedestrians are also spending far too much time with eyes glued to their screens. Kids have coined a term for this phenomenon already: “Smombies” – smartphone zombies – are souls who wander the planet like the undead, as their attention is entirely consumed by their phones. Others talk of the “heads down generation.” When drivers and pedestrians are more focused on their displays than the traffic situation around them, accidents are a certainty. In 2016, a study in the USA found that merely grasping for a mobile phone while driving raised the risk of accident by around 500 per cent, while the reading and writing of messages increased it by 1,000 per cent. DEKRA Accident Research also observed the smombie trend in six European capitals. The ‘capital’ of using phones while walking was Stockholm, where 23.6 per cent were observed doing so, followed by Berlin with 14.9 per cent.

Forty times more processing power than in 2007

Changes to usage behavior – both the positive and the negative – are not the only consequence of this ten-year smartphone boom. The high-performing mobile computers have become such a staple of daily life, that the immense technological development is easy to overlook. But the new iPhone 7 has forty times more
processing power than its ancient ancestor of 2007. At approximately 87 billion calculations per second – otherwise known as gigaflops – it outstrips the 1985 supercomputer “Cray 2” by a factor of 45.

While the original iPhone had an internal storage capacity of 16 GB, the largest current variant of the iPhone boasts 256 GB. It is enough for even the most prolific smartphone user’s digital photos, videos and music files.

The camera has developed from two to twelve megapixels. A plethora of technical improvements including image stabilization, multicolor flash – and on the iPhone 7 Plus, a second lens with a different aperture – provide brilliant image quality. Similar innovations are also found on the top Android machines, such as the Samsung Galaxy S8. In the mid-term, this is likely to lead to even higher pixel counts, bigger display formats and even quicker processors. Apple has announced that Fall 2018 will see a tenth-anniversary iPhone released. It promises to set new records in a variety of technological areas.

How ‘smart’ will our phones get?

Telephony, surfing and listening to music. That was how it all began. Nowadays, phones also replace owners’ cameras, deliver ready-made photo albums, and act as pocket cinemas. Business users have long been able to rely on them as a portable office. The next step will be developing their assistance functions. Preferences, interests and behavioral habits will be coupled with dates and relevant information to formulate viable suggestions. Artificial intelligence is turning voice commands into an increasingly realistic verbal exchange. The price for this service is deep insights into one’s personal, private data.

Industry experts such as connect magazine Laboratory Director Bernd Theiss also note signs of disintegration of the smartphone as we know it. In the future, networked independent components could take the smartphone’s place – the display lasered straight into the user’s eye by a pair of glasses, a smartwatch as the main module, with other bio-sensors incorporated into jewellery such as rings, necklaces and bracelets.

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