postheadericon Masterkey: Your Mobile Phone

No other device in the history of technology shows us how much humans love gadgets and wish them small enough to fit into our purses and pockets. The smartphone of today is the perfect example of how we make technology our very own: engraved, named and otherwise covered in glitter and bobbles of our own choosing.

In doing so, we have created new industries and built businesses so large that they rival any in human history. For example, Apple (capitalizing on merging a music player with a cell phone) is now charted on the same pie with the Dutch East India Company, Saudi Aramco, and Standard Oil as being histories largest moneymaking organizations.

A short walk down memory lane illustrates just how, as a species with the power of speech and the use of an opposable thumb, we have come from communicating across distance using smoke signals, telegraph, and vacuum tubes to what would look like black magic to anyone born before 1900 AD.

The magic of the mobile began before World War II, with wireless radiotelephony connecting passengers bouncing on the high seas with their loved ones on land. The cost of wireless phone call then: a mere $100 USD per minute in today's dollars. In 1946, mobile telephony made debuts in automobiles, with devices that weighed more than the average teenager, at 80 pounds or more.

These bulky (to say the least) devices had other limitations; as only 3 customers in any given city could use this pubescent cellular system at a time, and folks in the olden days waited 30 minutes or more to place a single cellular call. But of course, the innate human desire to miniaturize and improve would prevail, and by the 1970's or so researchers had figured out how to create switching networks for mobile devices using cell towers that soon blanketed the landscape of all metropolitan centers around the globe.

The first true handheld consumer cell phone wasn't put into production until 1983; the DynaTAC 8000X weighed almost 2 pounds and cost about $4,000 USD – dubbed "The Brick" and was just as portable as one. This mobile took over 10 hours to charge and had only 30 minutes of talk time. Clearly our urge to personalize and miniaturize could not stop here.

This primitive mobile could only do one thing - make calls while on the go – which was clearly not enough for those fascinated with the thought of communicating with anyone, anywhere. In comparison, the 1983 $4000 "Brick" does pretty much what the 2012 Samsung Guru E1081T does, but this newer mobile phone costs just a few thousand rupees and weighs in at 700 grams. The Guru also plays a few rudimentary games, takes photos, and sports a 128x128 pixel color screen to boot.

And here is where the true magic of this evolution unfolds, not in making a mobile communication device that is small and cheap, but in making one that does literally everything one would desire a pocket device to do.

Only our imagination is the limit for features and functions of the current-day mobile. For the past decade or so, our phones have incrementally begun to include features such as time displayed in all world time zones to the ability to speak the time to us. Some microprocessors in today's mobile phones rival the ones installed in laptops and even desktop computers, so of course they can now do whatever those devices do, only they fit in our pocket - plus make the occasional call to family, friends and coworkers.

This new type of mobile, dubbed the smartphone, is the culmination of all our desires – we want it all – the very height of all gizmo technologies combined into one device that fits in the palm of our hand. Telephony, photography, videography, audiology, entertainment and advanced computation synthesized into a single unit that weighs little more than a juicebox full of Orangina, and costing a little more than a fancy toaster. Well, just a bit more.

My latest "precious" cost less than Nrs. 60000, and is a prime example of this pinnacle of communication perfection so desired by what seems to be everyone on the planet. The Galaxy Note II, like the latest iPhone from Apple, takes better pictures than most inexpensive digital cameras on the market, can record HD video clips and instantly post them on Facebook, and can answer any question asked of it at the tap of an icon. If I attach a keyboard, mouse and HD display, I instantly have a personal computer. If I detach those gizmos and tap another icon, I have an odometer that records my morning workout. If I tap another icon, I have a portable music player with access to the entire world of audio recordings as offered by iTunes (recordings that soon will number in billions instead of millions). Another tap, and I am tapped into any movie or TV show imaginable, while on the go or sitting in my living room.

My phone has become a part of me, in the most personal of terms. Within lies my net worth, and allows me to purchase products by tapping a retail register while out shopping. Or I can tap my wife's phone, and share with her all things captured digitally. In this sense, our phones are becoming extensions of ourselves, containing all the personal bits of us shared over vast social networks and through multitudes of electronic gateways – a far cry from the very first mobile, that DynaTAC 8000X.

So where is all this going from here, we must ask. What further developments will shape the current smartphone into what it's to become after just a few more years of technological magic?

I asked this of my favorite retailer of gadgets and gizmos, Anil Maharjan, the Senior Sales Executive of the WORLDLINK STORE in Jawalakhel, who reports that the hottest selling smartphone there is the Galaxy S III and Note II:

"I would like to see solar smartphones that charge by sunlight, and that have even tougher glass and waterproof components, and that have even better audio systems built-in," says Anil.

I agree, as Anil is one smart dude when it comes to phones, and in selling phones. Today's personal wonders are not very durable (thousands are ruined in toilets each year) and there is nothing worse than depending on a device, and then noting that the battery is long dead. Solar power and longer-lasting batteries will fix that, but what about this for an evolutionary idea: the complete devolution of the device!

Yes, there are many researchers that think that the days of the mobile device (as we know it) are numbered, and this pinnacle of communication power is about to explode and fragment into even smaller pieces. Basic chaos theory I suppose, or like with every sun, there is a supernova.

In the laboratory, designers are already prototyping this devolution of the smartphone by separating features and functions and placing them into surprising places, like watches, eyewear and fabrics. Thus taking the personalization and miniaturization of the current smartphone, and weaving that power of smartphone even closer to our skins...perhaps even under our skin!

Apple is expected to transmute the iPhone into a wristwatch, Samsung is experimenting with flexible materials that will make communicating with your shirt sleeve possible, and Google already has eyeglasses that do and show all. It's anyone's guess how this will shakeout, but one thing is certain: the mobile phone idea that first started out weighing more than your teenager and costing more than your car, will soon become feather light and as affordable as a new pair of shoes.


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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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