The Evolution of Smartphones

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With smartphones becoming such an important part of our everyday lives, cellular devices have become a tool for socialization, education, work, and other forms of activities. We will analyze how telecommunications technology has evolved over the years from the first ever cellular phone produced, to how smartphones impact our lives today, and finally explore several future trends.

History of Cellular Phones

Motorola DynaTAC 8000X

The first cellular phone was developed by a team from Motorola, led by Marty Cooper. Marty was an engineer from Chicago, Illinois, and was known to be a pioneer and visionary in the wireless communications industry. While working at Motorola in the 1970's, Motorola made an initial $100 million investment to the team led by Marty in developing the world's first mobile phone - the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X.

Commercially released in 1983, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X was initially priced at $3995USD before telecommunication companies began to offer contracts along with a discounted phone price. [1]



  • 30 Minutes talk time
  • 6 Hour standby time
  • Stored up to 30 phone numbers

IBM Simon

In 1992, with the popularity of PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant), IBM developed the first smartphone, known as the IBM Simon. The IBM Simon was labeled as a smartphone based on its overlapping functions between a PDA and a mobile phone. Users were able to send emails and faxes with the device, along with a variety of other functions.

Commercially available in 1994, 50,000 units of the IBM Simon were sold at $1099USD without contract. [2]



  • 4.5 inch x 1.4 inch touchscreen display
  • Email
  • Fax
  • Address book
  • Electronic Note Pad
  • Calendar
  • Calculator
  • World Time Clock

Motorola StarTAC

The Motorola StarTAC was the first "clamshell" phone, which means it has a full flipping capability. The entire display folds down into the keypad of the cellular phone. The key features of the Motorola StarTAC was its light weight, weighing at only 88grams, and was one of the first phones to include a vibrating alert function. The Motorola StarTAC was modeled after the Star Trek Communicator from the show Star Trek.

Commercially available in 1996, the smallest cellphone at the time, the Motorola StarTAC, was priced at $1000USD, and ultimately sold 60 million units worldwide. Having made an appearance in many Hollywood movies, the Motorola StarTAC was consumed worldwide. [3]


  • SMS text messaging (In later models of the cellular phone)
  • 88 Grams
  • Vibrate alert
  • Light indicator to indicate network connection

Nokia 9210 Communicator

The Nokia 9210 Communicator was one of the first mobile phones to offer a coloured LCD screen for users. With a 4096 colour palette, users were able to view graphics in colours that were not offered by other cellular phones. The Nokia 9210 Communicator operated on Symbian OS, which was eventually used widely by Sony Ericsson, Nokia, and early Samsung mobile phones.[4]


The Nokia 9210 Communicator was released in 2000, with an updated version, the "9210i" being released in 2002, that contained 40 MB memory, video streaming, and Flash 5 web browser support. [5]


  • 4096 Colour palette
  • Symbian operating system
  • Office (word, Spreadsheet)
  • 640 x 200 Pixel LCD display
  • Web access
  • Qwerty keyboard

From Mobile Phones to Smartphones

Most Millennials remember getting their first mobile phone in the beginning of their teen years with popular brands being LG, Sony Ericsson, Nokia and Motorola at the time. Simple games such as snake, listening to a few songs over and over again, and using T9 texting to stay in touch with our friends were some of the main features used during this time.

Motorola Razr

The Motorola Razr was released in late 2004 was a luxury phone priced at $500 on contract, which is a common price consumers see present day, but was quite a hefty cost for an average consumer at that time. [6] Despite the price, people were willing to pay for this revolutionary phone especially when it dropped its price in the year to follow. The Motorola Razr became the widely popular mobile phone that everyone wanted. These phones were slick, included a camera, bluetooth and were eventually released in all sorts of colours. In this era, people were starting to use phones as mp3 players, to take photos, and for text messaging. Some phones did have the capability to connect to the interest however, they were definitely not as powerful as using a computer or connection we have now on our smartphones. In just 2 years Motorola sold over 50 million of these handsets and a total of 150 million within its 4 years popularity. [7] In comparison to other popular phones during this time such as the Sony Ericsson walkman phones and the LG Chocolate [8] these numbers made the Motorola Razr the best selling flip phone of its time.


In 2007, Apple released its first iPhone. Similar to the release of the Motorola, the price of the iPhone was relatively high for an average consumer at $500 and $600 on contract depending on the memory size. [9]Therefore, mainstream consumers were probably still using the Motorola Razrs, sidekicks, and slidephones at the time of the iPhone release. Steve Jobs acknowledged affordability in the release of the second generation iPhone, the iPhone 3G, where the price for the phone dropped to $200 and $300 on contract. [10]

This iPhone was a game change for smartphones as we know them now. Some of the key features that set the iPhone a part and contributed to its revolutionary impact on consumer mobile phones are outlined in the video below:

As mentioned in the video, the iPhone was the leader of the pack and was the first to introduce the popular and common features and capabilities consumers are familiar with in the smartphones used today. The iPhone combined the use of the popular iPod with touch controls, the mobile phone and internet connectivity. It was the first smartphone aimed for consumers rather than business users and included a large user friendly touch screen interface which not only allowed users to pinch and zoom but also eliminated the need for a physical keyboard. The iPhone was also the first to support YouTube videos and Google Maps as well as load full web pages with ease on its internet browser Safari. Other features included great WiFi and fast connectivity, up to 16GB in storage the beginning of the iconic App Store. One of the contributing factors that made this phone stand out was its OSX software which made the phone run essentially like a computer. Apple shaped the way for smartphones to come and are the reason for consumers’ expectations for high performing smartphones.

Android, Apple, Blackberry

In around 2010 was when Android, Apple and Blackberry were most memorable in the smartphone market for Millennials. Some of the more popular models remembered in this era included the Samsung Galaxy phones, iPhone4 and Blackberry Bold and Curves. Some of the major features that differentiated them was that android ran on multiple hardwares such as HTC, LG, Samsung and Motorola, it was open source and ran google apps. Apple ran the powerful iOS, had a wide variety of apps, slick hardware, and bridged the gap between consumer and business use of smartphones. Lastly blackberry was key for productivity with its physical keyboard and OS for business users and had a better battery life. [1]

Smartphones Changing Lives

The gaining popularity of smartphones has got us replacing everyday items such digital cameras, newspapers, and calculators to name a few. Listed below and outlined in the video to follow, are 30 things we have replaced with our smartphones. Most of the things listed come standard with the smartphone out of the box and many more everyday things can be replaced with growing number of apps.

30 Things we have replaced with our smartphones:

  1. Landline Phones
  2. Flash lights
  3. Contact books Rolodexes
  4. Newspapers
  5. Magazines
  6. Compases
  7. Digital Cameras
  8. Notepads
  9. Voice Recorders
  10. Calculators
  11. Watches
  12. Calculator watches
  13. Alarm clocks
  14. Timers
  15. Stopwatches
  16. Mail
  17. Portable Gaming Systems
  18. Maps
  19. GPS System
  20. Encyclopedias
  21. Radios
  22. Walkmen
  23. Record Stores
  24. Yellow Pages
  25. Takeout Menus
  26. Weathermen
  27. Photo Albums
  28. Remembering Anything
  29. Boredom
  30. Conversation

Smartphones in Today's World

The Most Prominent Devices

As reliance on cellular devices increased, the smartphone market became a leading industry. As a result, two innovative market players emerged in competition: Apple and Samsung. Assessment of market share based on measurements of units sold per year for Samsung and Apple Inc. were 23.2% and 14.8% respectively, in 2016. [1]

In contrast, when measuring profit per unit, Apple is the market leader with a significant market share of 92% in 2015. Apple's main competitor, Samsung, resulted in 14% market share when measured by profit. The results indicate that despite the significant Samsung unit sales in the marketplace, Apple is able to leverage their premium pricing strategy and dominate a large portion of the market.[2]

Expectations of Smartphones

With technologies growing exponentially, we have come to expect a lot out of our devices. Mainly, we want a device that will accommodate our numerous needs throughout the day. These functionalities include, but are not limited to, a user-friendly interface, a fast-working operating system, customization to a degree, battery life, and connectivity with our other devices (computers, TVs, etc.).

As mentioned previously, our change in behaviours has significantly impacted our need for smartphone devices. The breakdown of usage in devices are as follows:

As seen above, the average time an individual spends on their smartphone device is three hours and forty minutes daily. The most significant portion of usage is towards social media and connectivity applications, particularly Facebook (19%), and Messaging applications (12%). A significant change of use in smartphones is the focus on Entertainment (17%), where the phone was previously limited to being used as a communication device. The trend of accessing web browsers on mobile devices has also increased (10%); web pages are now mostly adaptable to be navigated on a smartphone device. Despite productivity applications at a low 4% result, this can be expected to increase as more technological devices become connected, and more applications are created to adapt. [3]

Cellular Addiction

A significant impact of smartphones is the effects it has had on our habits and behaviours. As the video below illustrates, the average individual currently spends four years of their lifetime looking down at their smartphone devices. This change in reliance and addiction to our devices is further influenced by the increase in applications and software that allow for convenience and ease of use. Despite the numerous benefits smartphones have provided, it has become a growing problem in society that real life, personal contact is diminishing. The majority of the developed world utilizes technologies such as facetime or Skype on their devices to ensure their time is allocated effectively. [4] In a business perspective, being able to communicate effectively without being physically present can help with time management, and flexibility. [5]

Evolving Use

Our smartphones have replaced numerous existing devices that were considered convenient for daily functional use; however, with the flexibility of smartphone applications, these devices have become more or less obsolete. In the future, we may expect to see more applications available on our devices that will continue to replace other existing services/products. [1]

Significant changes in the use of our devices: [2]

  1. Banking/Investing [3]
  2. Payments
  3. Shopping
  4. Instant Messaging
  5. Education [4]
  6. Scheduling
  7. Fitness/Health [5]
  8. GPS/Tracking[6]
  9. Fingerprint Authentication
  10. File sharing/E-mail

Future Trends and Predictions

With the standardization of features in today's smartphones, companies are looking for new technologies and applications of smartphones. Technologies such as flexible displays, holographic displays, and virtual assistants are examples of recent developments that companies are researching to implement into future devices.

Flexible Displays

The term 'flexible displays' refer to electronic screens that can be manipulated and flexed. The flexible screens used for mobile phones are often screens built using organic light-emitting diode (OLED)s. To allow for the flexibility of these displays, they are built using plastics as opposed to traditional glass displays. Companies such as LG and Samsung have showcased prototype displays in the past. However, mainstream adoption has not occurred as there are technical challenges and the displays are not being produced in large enough quantities. This prevents them from being implemented into consumer electronic devices.[7]

Kyocera Eos

Kyocera introduced a concept phone called EOS in 2009 that implemented flexible displays. The EOS could fold on itself into a wallet shape.[8] The concept phone featured a QWERTY keyboard that would raise up when needed or morph into the phone when not in use. While impressive, the handset remained as a concept and its features were not introduced to the mass market.

EOS Concept Phone.
The EOS concept phone introduced by Kyocera.


In 1994, Bill Gates described a digital wallet in an interview with Playboy with features that are only now offered by modern day cell phones.[9] In 2015, Samsung introduced a concept of a literal digital wallet called the Galaxy X.[10] This concept integrates a display into a wallet form that can be manipulated to form a phone or a tablet. This concept device has not been introduced to the mass market yet, but its features showcase possible applications and use cases of flexible displays. However, a literal phone wallet may appear as a gimmick. Some current phone cases feature pockets to hold cards, and the movement towards digital wallet services, such as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, may make these obsolete altogether in the future.


FlexEnable introduced a prototype OLCD screen at the Mobile World Congress in 2016. The display is fixed to a rigid frame, so it is not designed to be bent and folded like other prototypes. However, this application is more practical and feasible to implement within the near future as the display is already able to match the resolution and power consumption of current LCD screens.[1] The prototype is currently worn around the wrist. While flexible screens are more interactive, rigid displays that take on a three-dimensional shape such as the FlexEnable prototype opens the door for a wide variety of applications. This technology is already introduced in an early form in Samsung Galaxy Edge phones, but can be further integrated into devices such as smart watches, or even as an added security measure on a door handle as shown by its flexible fingerprint sensors.

FlexEnable flexible display.
The FlexEnable flexible display concept.

Modular Phones

The modular smartphone concept refers to mobile phones with interchangeable components. This allows users to swap out specific components if they are broken or if the user wishes to upgrade them, much like a custom computer. This reduces electronic waste by eliminating the need to replace an entire phone when only a specific part is broken as well as lowers repair costs.[2] The ability to modify and upgrade smartphones introduces a new level of customization and personality to the product. If successful, the concept can be applied to other areas such as wearable devices, where users can swap components for different activities.

Project ARA

Project ARA is a modular smartphone project by Google's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group. Project ARA allows users to customize their phones with removable components such as processors, displays, batteries and other specialized components. These components are attached to a hardware frame and facilitated by the Greybus subsystem. The concept would allow consumers to customize their phones with components of their choosing such as speakers, displays, and batteries. The project also proposed specialty components such as devices for health-monitoring modules.[3] On September 2, 2016, Project ARA was shelved. The concept carried over to its successor, the Motorola Moto Z. The Moto Z features 'Moto Mods' such as premium speakers and batteries that can be attached to the standalone phone. However, they were largely unsuccessful and most users opted to swap only the battery.


Modular smartphones have been conceptualized from a phone consisting of a main board with multiple removable modules to standalone devices with removable components such as the Moto Z. The feasibility of modular phones have been questioned as the components may fall apart when the phone is dropped. The costs of modular phones also vary greatly as components would be offered by independent vendors and may cause consumers to opt for the consistency of pre-made smartphones. Consumers who are not knowledgeable about the technical aspect of the components they choose can result in devices that do not perform well.[1] The costs of manufacturing was also too high for modular phones to be introduced to the market, as shown by Project ARA.[2]

Holographic Displays

When visualizing holographic projections, many think of three-dimensional avatars such as in the Star Wars films. Current holography requires a large setup of cameras and equipment, as well as glass structures to stop the light in place in order for the hologram to appear. These 'dynamic holograms' can be seen in high-end vehicles that project a display on the windshield. However, this technique is not feasible for smartphones as it would require an external component and processors with significantly more computational power.[3] While a smartphone is unable to physically project holograms, the existing hologram technology can have applications in areas such as telemedicine, 3D mapping technologies, entertainment, remote guidance during emergency situations, remote video conferencing, and manufacturing.[4]


Despite the challenges of applying hologram technology to smartphones, Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab developed a prototype holographic display by rendering the holograms within the device rather than projecting them. The prototype combines a flexible OLED display with light field lenses to create interactive stereoscopic images and videos that can be seen by multiple users at the same time. While the display itself has a 1920x1080 resolution, the pixels are used in bundles resulting in a resolution of 160 x 104. The display can also be flexed to interact with the images. The designers envisioned that the use of bend gestures for Z-Input to facilitate the editing of 3D models, for example, when 3D printing.[5] The development of technology can potentially be applied in the industries mentioned above, and allow consumers to interact with their devices and communicate with other users in new ways. One of the potential applications, gaming, was shown in the HoloFlex demo.

Virtual Assistants

With the introduction of Siri in 2011, personal assistants have become one of the predicted trends in the future of smartphones. Development has increased significantly, with the current iteration of Siri and others such as the Windows Cortana, is able to set reminders, search for information, and learn patterns in its users' day to day lives. In this future, this technology is predicted to transfer over to wearable devices, or even implanted devices.[1] Companies such as IBM are investing in artificial intelligence, which can be used to enhance the virtual assistants and allow them to adapt to a user's needs and develop personalized services.

Google Assistant

Google introduced the Google Assistant, dubbed "your own personal Google", as an extension to Google Now with their Google Pixel phones. Google Assistant is conversation based meaning that it remembers what the user asks and build its answer to subsequent questions based on that knowledge. The assistant also represents what many consumers hope for in a personal assistant. To tailor itself to the user, it can draw information from the user's phone for contacts, event information from calendars, interact with other devices around the household, and learn more through each interaction.

Privacy Concerns

In order to learn more about the user, personal assistants such as the Google Assistant stores information about the user. Some of this information can be private or sensitive information. While companies say that these assistants store the information securely, there is always a risk of that information being compromised. With cases such as Cortana, even if the user turns the service off, it is still learning and communicating information about the user to Windows. This poses a threat to the privacy of a consumer's information and can lead to concerns about whether devices are becoming too 'smart' and learning too much about its owners, as well as what consumers' information is being used for other than the purpose of shaping these personal assistants.

Wearable Technologies

One of the proposed trends of smartphones is how we will interact with our devices. With the increasing focus on the Internet of Things, many believe that the future is in the ecosystem of devices surrounding the smartphone.[1] This means that the future consumer will have devices such as smart watches, health monitors, smart glasses and even virtual reality headsets. These devices will all communicate and be controlled through the smartphone. This allows developers to further develop new features for these peripheral devices rather than focusing on improving the smartphone. Possible applications include using their phones as a virtual reality headset, using the phones to control home appliances and televisions, and using their phone as a method of payment.[2]

There are existing products that are laying the foundation for this predicted trend. Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard lowers the costs of virtual reality headsets by allowing users to use their smartphone as the primary processor and display of the headset. Apple's line of products also resembles the ecosystem of interconnected devices. Apple computers, watches, and phones have features and apps that can be used on all the products and be controlled using any of those products. This allows the products to complement each other and add value when the consumer introduces a new product into that ecosystem. Certain smart devices such as Bluetooth speakers and smart TVs can be controlled via the phone, and many companies are introducing mobile payments into stores.

EMOTIV Neuro-Headset

The EMOTIV headset acts as a wearable device for the brain. It monitors brain activity and allows users to interact with their physical and digital environment using their mind. While this takes practice and training, the implications of such technology are huge. The ability to control physical objects and manipulate digital spaces introduces a new level of interaction and intimacy between humans and technology. Currently, this technology allows basic manipulation of connected objects and projecting a user's emotions onto a virtual avatar.[3] However, this technology can be used in gaming, medicine, training purposes and more. With the aforementioned trends in the future of the smartphone, users may be able to control the appliances around their homes, their personal assistants, and their entire ecosystem of devices using only their mind.


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