Way back when the humble mobile phone began offering more than just a way of talking to someone, it was a real novelty to be able to connect to the information superhighway and use email. Of course, back then we didn’t even have WiFi so your internet connection was via the [GPRS] mobile signal and was painfully slow and intermittent.
During that time we had another set of devices called PDAs; Personal Digital Assistants. One of the earliest was introduced by Apple called the Newton but, like so many others, it came and went quickly because it was pretty rubbish and nobody wanted one or could really see the point.
The best of the PDAs by far were produced by Palm and offered many features just not seen or even available on the lowly mobile phone. The also had the first touch screens where a stylus was used to interact with the selected application running. Nothing so fancy as scrolling or pinching but it was a big step in the right direction.
The problem was that nobody really wanted to carry a mobile phone, a PDA and a Filofax (because they didn’t really trust the PDA for their diary and contacts but wanted to be seen as semi-cool by carrying one anyway). Something clearly had to change.
Manufacturers of all types of electrical, electronic and digital equipment love to explore ‘convergence’; the science of bringing together two often disparate features/functions that were otherwise used separately, into one, more streamlined, device thereby bringing cost savings in manufacture and convenience and novelty, sorry, intelligent user experience, to the consumer.
Home phones and answerphones, microwave ovens and grills, TVs and DVD players (and later; digital decoders); Computers and screens (the iMac!), clocks and radios and, of course, mobile phones and cameras.
However, one of the first examples of convergence with a mobile phone was in combining it with a PDA and the Ericsson R380, released in 2000, was the first device marketed as a ‘smartphone’. Strange, as the term itself was not ‘officially’ recognised until much later, which goes to show that introducing a new piece of jargon doesn’t mean it will take hold.
Since then we have seen a meteoric rise in the vast range of devices from an array of manufacturers and it’s interesting to see how the balance of power changes.
Nokia, for example, the world’s best known and most respected giant of mobile phone producers and who were streets ahead of any other mobile phone producer for years, missed the boat completely with the smart phone. They have, to this day, never recovered (who do you know who uses a Nokia?). It’s seems impossible that the company who really put mobile phones on the map is, in a massively and continually rising market, in serious trouble, cutting 10,000 jobs in 2012.
Apple, once again, changed everything when they launched the iPhone in 2007 and the world gasped at the seemingly impossible feats it performed. ‘Pinch to zoom’ and ‘swiping’ made audiences gasp in disbelief around the world, yet now, only six years later, we can barely imagine doing anything else, with this technology spreading to tablets and laptops a natural progression.
So, the question remains; why is it still called a mobile phone when making and receiving phone calls is not only the one thing the vast majority of people do the least of with it but it’s also only one of the many functions it is capable of performing.
We need a new name for the device everyone in the western world has at least one of and the term ‘smart phone’ is only paying homage to the old days, and not really making much of an effort to describe what an incredible piece of technology it is.