To the average denizen of the 21st century, the smartphone has become to say the least, the essential accessory. Whether you’re in need of checking emails, snapping impulse photographs, playing a questionably riveting round of Angry Birds, or I dare say make a call, your trusty touch-screen is the place to go.
Of course it’s no secret that the the mobile phone was not always this glorious; back in the day the only real portable telephone you could get your hands on was the size of a brick and weighed – just as much. Even then, you would be restricted to the then-revered practice of just making a call. Of course times have changed, and we now live in an age of all sorts of pocket-size wonder. In this, there are many parallels to the ways that other technologies have matured and branched, and this is what I intend to look into.
Back in the Day
Back in the day, when the word ‘smartphone’ was considered a preposterous portmanteau, your average computer was the size of a chest of drawers and had under its belt a stunning four megabytes of RAM and an ARM5 processor capable of displaying a small image of a frog or, if you were lucky, playing a rousing, suicidal game of Lemmings.
Of course, as the driving technology behind such technological giants ploughed forward, so too did the emergence of such technology from the insufferably boring niche and professional, to the level of accessibility that your average user may be familiar with, where one could now indulge in an even more riveting game of Solitaire.
This little ‘evolution’ of sorts is not exclusive to the realm of computing; almost any new technology goes through its paces from being restricted to professionals and enthusiasts, eventually being refined and improved to the level where it is available to a wider, less hardcore audience. The same has been true for washing machines, automobiles, and even the humble oven. Once even these mighty household conveniences were anything but convenient, and were the sole domain of secret government housewives and chauffeurs.
A Brick to a Pile of Stones
Of course, the mobile realm has experienced the same kind of aging. In the days of my parents, your top-tech mobile phone was the size of a brick, and had a mind-blowing solitary function – to make a call (for about thirty minutes, if you were lucky). Today, I’ll happily play a round of Assassin’s Creed, pen a collection of useless thoughts with a word processing app, and perhaps send a few texts before watching a 2-hour film. All that, and I’d still have enough battery to call an accomplice with.
However, there is more to the progress of technology than mere improvement, on the contrary, one awesome feature of modern technology is the ability to create models that are weaker and cheaper than other such devices on the market. To expand on my earlier segment regarding computing; one should remember that ‘back in the day’ your options as a computer buyer were expensive and consequently restricted. That is to say you either had one, or you didn’t, there were no ‘high end’ or ‘low-end’ machines.
Of course as computing technology became more advanced and refined, it became cheaper, meaning not only that computers became easier to acquire, but manufacturers were able to offer machines at different levels of hardware, and subsequently different price ranges.
The same is showing to be true for smartphones; only ten years ago your choice was restricted to an array of near-identical Windows Mobile devices such as the XDA Zinc and the HP iPAQ. Since the advent of Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android we have seen an emergence of choice, and subsequent contest for the consumer’s interest.
The maturation of the smartphone by no means stopped with the iPhone, on the contrary, HTC’s latest line of Android devices demonstrates an innovation I would like to see a lot more of. To be precise, it is their simply named ‘One’ series, consisting of not one, not two, but three individual models, each one deliberately targeting either the ‘entry level’, ‘mid-range’ or ‘high-end’ category of smartphones.
What’s intriguing about this lineup is the fact that HTC have opted for this three-tier product strategy in a single release of products; before this anyone wanting a cheap or ‘low-end’ smartphone would have to purchase what could be considered an ‘outdated’ model. This release, besides the obvious vanity bonus of having a ‘new’ product, also means that some new technologies integrated into HTC’s lineup are available at whatever price range.
It’s not just HTC’s Android lineup that has seen this experiment — the newest release of Windows Phone devices came in a handy pair, namely the HTC Titan and HTC Radar, both evidently geared at lower and higher-end users with their differing screen sizes and hardware.
An App a Day
Now, all this hardware business is excellent, however we all know that half of the smartphone experience comes from apps, without these all this variable power would simply be reduced to making the operating system run faster. Not to say I don’t love a rousing game of ‘Press the Home Button Challenge’, but the mundane uses of smartphones do get a little boring after a while.
What we really need are some mobile games that really push the limit of the new generations of mobile processors, but also include visual scaling options for lower-end devices (as is commonplace with PC titles). Not to say that no game has already tried this; the much-acclaimed Galaxy on Fire 2 had a rudimentary form of detail scaling which would adjust the game’s various visual effects in unison. Still, it would be excellent to see more app developers jump on the bandwagon, especially larger game companies such as EA and Gameloft.
It’s safe to say that the smartphone has come a long way from its early days of massive bricks and Windows Mobile, and is now going through what I would like to call a ‘coming of age’, that is to say a period where the technology is now becoming available to a more mainstream audience.
Amazingly, we are even starting to see ‘budget’ smartphones, devices that would have been inconceivable back in ye olden days of clunky and unwieldy bricks. I would love to see more smartphone manufacturers follow HTC’s lead in releasing mass-market series of phone, and even in releasing lower-end budget devices for a wider audience.
Perhaps one day, if we’re exceptionally lucky, we might start to see upgradeable hardware in our pockets. Now that would be something interesting.