The evolution of smartphones

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| October 12, 2012


Every time I read about a new flagship phone, there’s usually one or two things about it that make me think, “Wow, I can’t believe a phone can do that!” These devices that we carry with us are constantly improving to keep up with the social networking, constantly moving, information gathering generation that we have become. We call them “phones”, but in all actuality these little miracles of technology are not phones at all – not anymore, anyway. They are small computers, and many people rely very heavily on them for our day-to-day activities due to all of the functions they can do for us. But for some of us, like myself, remember a time where my biggest concern for my cell phone was having enough phone book slots for all of my friends.

It wasn’t long ago that I was a sophomore in high school. It was the year 2008, and young Anna had her own cell phone - a Sanyo Katana II, if I recall correctly. Every morning I would slip my Katana into my backpack, along with my mp3 player, camera, and laptop. “Why a camera?” you might ask. “The Katana II had a camera, right?” Correct! But with a 0.3 (yes, 0.3!) megapixel camera, the pictures left much to be desired. There was also no SD card slot for storage, which meant no full-length songs. Honestly, I was just happy that my device got “Real Tones” (which were probably only named that because it was real hard to hear the song trying to be sung through all the white noise). It was a hassle to have to worry about so many devices that were important to me.

Fast forward just one short year and you’d find me walking around just as I was before, except this time the mp3 player was taken out of the equation. Why? Because I was now carrying a Samsung Instinct, which was a pretty big deal at the time of its release. It had an SD card slot that allowed up to 2 whole gigabytes of storage. That’s like, 300 songs, man! Not to mention I only really listened to about ten of the same angst-y songs over and over again, so I had a lot of room to spare. I still carried around my camera, because although the 2-megapixel camera the Instinct offered is a step up from 0.3, it still wasn’t that great, but I digress. The Samsung Instinct was a pretty fantastic phone at the time. I mean, it even had advertisements in the movie theatres. Yeah, it was that cool. Phones couldn’t get any better, right? Wrong!

Let’s jump ahead one more year and see where young Anna is now in her cell phone adventure. She’s no longer in high school, but she does go to work every day. Let’s see what she throws in her purse now: one phone. What, one device? That’s it? Not even a camera? No! Of course not! Because she’s carrying something crazy, something extraordinary! It’s a Samsung Vibrant! It’s got everything! It’s got storage, it’s got apps, it’s got a 5 megapixel camera, it’s got fast Internet, and that’s not all! It comes pre-loaded with James Cameron’s “Avatar”, and it’s still got room to spare! That’s foul wizardry at play right there if I’ve ever seen it. How do you go from having a phone like the Samsung Instinct just one year prior, barely hanging on to the term “smart phone” at this point (since then it’s been completely disregarded as ever being a smart phone at all) to something crazy like the Vibrant? That thing is practically an android considering how much it does! Oh wait! That’s exactly what it is, and that’s pretty much where phones have stayed since then.

The Vibrant is really where I started my interest in all things cellular. I’ve tinkered with just about every mobile platform since then, and from what I can see, things have been pretty steady concerning the direction of where mobile OS is heading. You’ve got Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry, all of which share very similar (yet different) interfaces. Both Android and iOS are at the top, constantly pushing updates to their successful software systems and large app markets. Windows has stepped their game up since 2010, which I was pleased to see as I hated anything 6.x and below. BlackBerry still has a ways to go if they plan to stay in the game, but they’re still in that general ballpark of including important aspects we look for in smartphones such as apps, a good camera, and social networking integration.

Such features have proven to me that nothing is impossible when it comes to technology. Our “phones” keep getting more and more complex. I’ve lost the mentality I would have when I’d get a new phone and think, “Surely things can’t get any better than this device right here in my hands.” Each time I’ve thought that, something more awesome would be released a few months later to prove me wrong. It’s just funny to think that back then, an Instinct, or even a Katana II, would have been considered “smart phones” at the time, even if it wasn’t aptly described as so.

So now you’ve seen the evolution of smartphones through my eyes, but all stories differ. Some of you started your cell phone journey earlier than I did, and some of you started later. Where did your cell phone journey begin? Are you excited about the changes taking place in the cell phone industry, or do you wish some things hadn’t changed? Let me know in your comments below!

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