The Amazing Pocket Communicator
Nothing makes me feel like we are getting closer to Star Trek than a modern smart phone. Today’s phones do more than just make a call; they are amazing, pocket-sized computers. Smart phones are always connected, always just a touch away from friends and family, music and movies, news and entertainment. Like much of technology, the telephone has evolved steadily over many years, with a few major leaps forward.
American history credits Alexander Graham Bell with the invention of the telephone in 1875, with the first “long distance” call being made over a distance of 58 miles in 1876. Phones were soon popularized, and by the end of 1880, there were nearly 50,000 in the United States. As the years and technology progressed, it became commonplace for everyone to have a telephone in their house. Each telephone is connected by a wire back to a switch, and each switch is connected back to a global network.
The next major change in telephones began nearly one hundred years after the telephone was invented during the shift to cellular phones starting in the 1980’s. Phone companies began using towers with an area of service, or cell, around it. Freed of the wires previously required for operations, phones began to get smaller, and more portable. As both battery life and computer technology advanced, the usefulness of the small mobile phones increased.
The third major shift in the phone industry coincides with the latest major shift in computing. In 2007, Apple released the iPhone, a full-fledged computer and cell phone in one device. The iPhone was not the first smart phone. That honor goes to IBM’s Simon, released in 1993, which was discontinued six months later. However, the iPhone does receive credit for being the device to change the cellular phone industry. Before the iPhone, cell phones had limited software, poor electronics, and were completely controlled by the service provider. After the iPhone,the majority of phones now run either iOS or Android, and allow the user to customize their experience by adding or removing applications. There were popular phones that focused on messaging, like the blackberry, or productivity, like a Windows CE phone, but it was the iPhone that blended general purpose computing and mobile phones in an easy to use package.
It’s still possible to get a standard land-line, but it is a necessity is now behind us. Since the phone industry has blended with the computing industry, their futures are tied together. Soon, the concept of a dedicated device just to make phone calls will be behind us. Instead, there will be one device for communicating and computing. Communicating could be either with a text, a video, or a simple voice command.
It’s human nature to want to connect to those we care about, and to share our experiences with the world. The evolution of the telephone from transmitting sound over a wire to a complex computing device that just also happens to have an application to make phone calls is an expression of that nature. As phones get smaller and more powerful, the ability to get in touch with those we care most about, when we need them the most will only get easier, and more natural.