Portability has been an important asset for many devices throughout human history. But in the last half-century the rise of mobility has had a particularly marked impact on society, changing the way people communicate, have fun and do business with one another.
(the above video is all about the latest change, that of moving away from the smallest possible phone – which was the fad until the recent past, to the idea of having a phone with the biggest screen possible).
While the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets today may make it hard to remember a time when they were not a staple of modern life, the rise of mobile devices in their current form has been especially rapid. And this ascent is one worth charting, as it helps us to predict where things will go in the future.
Early Mobile Era
Although mobile phones were nothing more than sci-fi fantasies in the first half of the 20th century, by the 1970s they had become a viable product, albeit one which was limited by both technical capabilities and cost.
Motorola is credited with creating the first mobile phone, with demonstrations taking place in 1973. But it took almost 10 years for commercially viable devices and networks to start emerging internationally.
The real mobile revolution began in 1991 with the formalisation of 2G networking, at which point the capabilities of mobile device became much greater and the price of owning one began to fall to the point that mainstream adoption was possible.
In the 1990s, a number of major manufacturers began to emerge and dominate the marketplace, with Motorola vying for top position alongside Finnish giant Nokia and others. At this point, SMS texts emerged as a new way to communicate, accompanying voice calls to make mobiles more diverse in their capabilities.
Mobile Internet Emerges
Supplementing standard means of communication with access to the World Wide Web seemed like an outlandish idea, but providers and manufacturers managed to make this happen with relatively primitive and slow solutions such as WAP.
By 2001, the arrival of 3G helped to overcome the connectivity problem and allow for much quicker access to internet-based services, although the technical limitations of the handsets available at the time meant that there was still a wide gap between what was possible on a mobile device and what could be achieved with a desktop PC and a fixed-line connection.
With Nokia still dominating the market by the mid-2000s, it seemed that mobiles would be consigned to occupy specialist brackets, catering to consumers who wanted a handset with an especially good camera, or perhaps one that was designed for optimal media playback. But in 2007, the Apple iPhone launched and suddenly everything changed.
The iPhone and the iOS platform were not the first to attempt to fit into the smartphone bracket, but what they managed to achieve was historic. The combination of a slick user interface, capacitive touchscreen technology and services usually seen on full desktop PCs meant that finally mobile devices were beginning to bridge the gap.
What is even more surprising, looking back, is that the first generation of the iPhone did not even have 3G connectivity on board. In 2008, the arrival of the iPhone 3G along with the launch of the App Store further shifted the goalposts and meant that other manufacturers finally had to sit up and take notice of Apple’s maneuverings.
Google pushed out the Android operating system to compete with iOS and in the intervening years has managed to make this the most successful smartphone OS on the planet. Nokia suffered from its commitment to the dated Symbian platform and would eventually be bought out by Microsoft once Windows Phone got off the ground, while Samsung would emerge to take its place as the world’s most prolific mobile manufacturer.
At the heart of the matter is the idea that smartphones have to offer a degree of platform agnosticism; they are mere portals to an online world rich in content and communications opportunities. So whether you have an iPhone or an Android device, you should still be able to collaborate and interact with the same services.
2010 saw another Apple innovation change the mobile device market for good. The iPad, initially dismissed as an oversized iPhone, soon became a best-seller and rivals rushed to offer their own equivalents.
At first seen as premium devices, tablets have followed smartphones and the original mobiles before them in becoming cheaper and easier for anyone to acquire. And they are mostly based around the consumption of media and services, whether it is through streaming video or shopping online.
The rise of these mostly touchscreen-oriented devices has required businesses with online presences to rethink the layout of their sites. Using mobile web design techniques has become essential, because of course without a site that is adapted for use on a small touchscreen gadget it can be hard for potential customers to get the information they need.
Today a mobile site does not need to be a separate entity from the full desktop solution. Instead, firms are turning to responsive design, which means that a site will automatically adapt to suit the device from which it is being accessed, making it suitable for smartphones, tablets and PC users in one fell swoop.
The latest figures from IMRG Capgemini found that in the UK more people visited shopping sites from mobile devices than any other platform in the past quarter, marking the first time that this shift away from desktop browsing has passed a major tipping point.
4G networking is helping to fuel growth, in combination with the increasing power which lies under the skin of modern mobiles. And industry researchers and politicians are already looking to a point in the near future at which 5G’s arrival will be inevitable, further increasing the speed and bandwidth available to mobile browsers.
Bigger screens and display flexibility seem to be on the cards, with smartwatches also posing an interesting prospect for consumers as they try to decide which portable gadgets they need in their lives. But whatever the future might hold, it seems certain that it will be mobile.
For those that want to know more about the origins of the mobile device click the link.