The modern-day smartphone is a far cry from Alexander Bell’s first patented telephone in 1876. Although the primary goal remains the same, phones in 2013 represent much more than being able to talk to someone from a distance.
In the 1980s, Motorola introduced the first cellular phones to the public, costing as much as US$4,000, and weighing almost a kilogram. More than a decade later, IBM released the “Simon Personal Communicator”, the first cellular device that could make and receive phone calls, faxes, emails, and data pages to its touch screen display – for all intents, the world’s first “smartphone”, although the term was only coined in 1997 by Ericsson.
However, from 1996, it was Nokia that went on to lead the smartphone market – until 2011, when Samsung overtook Nokia in smartphone shipments and Apple overtook Nokia in revenue and profit.
In 2007, Apple revolutionised smartphones with the iPhone, the first mobile phone to successfully incorporate multi-touch interface. Its (then) large touchscreen with finger-input functionality and its notoriously easy-to-use iOS made it an instant hit.
2010 saw the upsurge of Google’s Android OS, thanks to the large number of developers using it – including Nokia, Samsung, Sony, HTC and LG. By 2011, Android had grown to hold a 50% market share, and by 2012, almost 70%. Apple comes in a distant second, BlackBerry third, and Microsoft fourth.
Smartphones now account for over 50% of mobile devices in many countries. It’s an ever-growing competitive space, and no wonder that the number of patents, lawsuits and fair trade complaints have increased dramatically. In 2009, there were three major smartphone patent battles. Between 2011 and 2012, there were over a hundred. Market leaders Apple and Samsung waged all-out war. Quote of 2012 goes to Judge Birss (UK) for holding that Samsung did not infringe Apple’s design, in part because its products were “not as cool”. Most recently, Samsung Taiwan was accused of paying consumers to post negative website reviews about its competitors’ products.
What’s too big, too small, not fast enough, not ‘cool’ enough – it’s hard to pin down a trend. Over the past few months, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft have all announced their development of smartphone watches, opposing the trend of increasing screen sizes (the largest measuring a massive 6.3 inches). Google is also testing “Google Glass”, a smartphone and camera device built into glasses frames. Price, it seems, is low on the list of concerns.
With such freedom and financial incentive to innovate, who knows what this year’s smartest smartphone will look like?