Mobile devices have been around for quite awhile now, but they’ve become incrementally more advanced and affordable since they were first introduced in 1983. From heavy Motorola models to today’s lightweight smart phones, how has the customer base changed over the years and what are their expectations for future mobile devices?
Innovators were willing to pay the expensive price for the service in big cities so that they could be reached at all times. Everyone wanted these devices to be more portable in addition to being affordable and have reception anywhere they may be. So the next decade was spent addressing those primary areas. Being able to contact someone anywhere at anytime was such a powerful idea that today we still see phones being sold where the features include nothing more than being able to call and/or text someone.
IBM brought us the first commercially available “smart phone” in 1994 called the “Simon,” which cost $899. This device paired the traditional cellphone with applications so that people would also have their calendar, address book, world clock, calculator, notes, email and a few games accessible anywhere at anytime. The Simon had a limited feature set, was slow and wasn’t easy or quick to use, so people knew that this was only the jumping-off point for things to come.
Look at the list of applications available for the Simon, and think of any additional capabilities you’d want a phone to have (other than make you a sandwich…that falls under robotics). Now, consider that the modern smart phone has had sixteen years of development time since the Simon. Many people don’t see the modern smart phone being any more capable than the IBM Simon, or at least they might not utilize it to it’s full potential.
Before the release of Motorola’s Blackberry brand, the hype over most technology advancements mattered only to businessmen and technology enthusiasts. The term “smart phone” became synonymous with BlackBerry, even though the only added benefit of this model was the Wi-fi email access at all times. Then Apple released the iPhone.
Recently a group of students were asked, “How many of your parents use a smart phone?” Nobody raised their hand. Then they were asked, “How many of your parents have an iPhone?” and two-thirds of the students raise their hands. The iPhone broke out of the the limited feature set/target audience that people have come to know “smart phones” by.
The iPhone was on to something. They combined the smart phone with the iPod, and the popularity of the iPod at the time brought over it’s userbase by the thousands. What differentiated the iPhone was that it did nearly everything that the BlackBerry could do but in a way that was quicker, easier to use and more aesthetically-pleasing.
This wasn’t enough, though, because the first iPhone was initially limited to the applications that came with it. Apple launched the App Store two years ago and since that time it has served up over 3 billion downloads. The capability of the smart phone then became matter of the developer’s imagination. The iPhone 4 now includes a gyroscope that none of Apple’s apps actually take advantage of, and was added purely to provide more capabilities to app developers. This booming active user base and strong manufacturer support means that if users want it, Web developers will make and monetize it. It’s great to see that this isn’t a one-horse race either, because Android-based phone sales have been quite lucrative and also have an active app store.
Over the span of 27 years, we have seen mobile phones become more affordable, more reliable and more enjoyable to use. Most people, myself included, now find themselves with all their notes, email, contacts, voicemail, unread/saved news articles, etc. available from a phone, computer and any Web browser that then pushes any change made on one device out to everything else. The smart phone went from being able to contact someone anywhere at anytime with a cell phone to being able to do anything anywhere at anytime with any device. It has created an always-connected world for those with these devices.