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Smartphones, season 25

By Jean-Claude Elias - Mar 07,2019 - Last updated at Mar 07,2019

After all these years, can smartphones be improved beyond the current point?

If large computers and server machines are still the main focus and concern of corporations and large organisations, there is little doubt that a smartphone constitutes the single most important piece of technology at the individual level.

It has been going on since the term was coined in 1995 by Rob Stothard (Getty People). Some argue that it actually all started a bit earlier with “a prototype called ‘Angler’ developed by Frank Canova in 1992, while at IBM, and demonstrated in November of that year at the COMDEX computer industry trade show”. Whatever the exact date, give or take a couple of years, it still is about a quarter of a century now. It is like season 25 of a never ending, captivating TV series and the thrill is as intense as ever.

For the individual, a smartphone plays a role that is by far more critical than a laptop, a tablet or any other computer-like device. The battle for world market supremacy between the three biggest contenders, Samsung, Apple and Huawei, is on a par with major political issues. Actually, “political” is a justified term and hardly an exaggeration, if we look at just one example, that of the arrest of Huawei CFO’s Meng Wanzhou in Canada last December, at the request of US authorities.

Apart from continuous improvements, such as always faster and better looking, countless functionalities, stunning camera capability and the tens of thousands of software applications available, designers and manufacturers are losing sleep (literally sometimes) over what to do, what innovation, what novelty to introduce so as to reign over the world of smartphones.

It all looks like the effort by the industry is going in three main directions: to keep making better smartphone cameras, to provide a larger visual display while preserving the pocketable physical size of the devices and finally to allow the connection of more external devices.

The progress made in camera ability is nothing short of extraordinary. Today’s high end models allow you to take still pictures and videos that come to challenge what full-size SDLRs are able to do. Samsung’s Galaxy S10 automatically optimises the shot between a three-lens photo capture: wide, ultra-wide and telephoto, and has ultra-high definition video capability of 2160p and 60 frames per second for super-smooth slow motion. As for Apple, the incredible quality of the photos that its top of the line iPhone X can take has become a standard by itself.

A larger visual display is what the consumer is really anxious to see now. The trick is about making foldable screens. Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X are in the game and the two companies have just started making and promoting the novelty. Whereas the feature is important and much in demand, it remains to be seen if the “separation line” that is still present and can be noticed in the middle of the display once fully opened, is acceptable to the user, regardless of how thin it may be.

As for connecting external add-on devices and gadgets, and despite the presence of a USB connector on virtually any high-end smartphone, the actual possibilities have been somewhat limited so far. Given the universal usability of the phones, people expect to be able to connect external microphones, hard disks, medical testing equipment, external high-definition audio converters and countless other devices, just like they would do it with the USB ports of a laptop computer.

Unfortunately, and because of the limitations of both the hardware and the operating system (iOS, Android, etc.), not all USB external devices can be connected to smartphones today, at least not easily or without additional, cumbersome hardware, adapters or wires. 

Regardless of what they can or cannot achieve, and also of the excessive price of high-end models that rivals that of full-size laptop computers, the smartphone adventure continues, and it is a fascinating one.

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