Surely no other recent technological innovation can come close to the smartphone in terms of its impact on the world. While things with that name had been around for a decade or two already, it’s generally agreed that the smartphone was created with the release of iOS and Android and their intuitive touchscreen user interfaces.
I was once the lucky owner of an HTC TyTN, which sported a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and ran on Windows Mobile, with drop-down menus that required a stylus to navigate. My experience with it was so frustrating that I gratefully reverted to an old-school dumb phone within a year.
It turned out that the key to creating a truly revolutionary digital Swiss army knife was a combination of a UI designed for fingers and thumbs, along with mobile apps designed to unlock the potential of having so many processors, sensors and components crammed into one pocket-sized device.
HTC was mercifully early to the Android game and when I got hold of a review unit in the late noughties -the Nexus One, I think – the almost limitless potential of it was immediately apparent.
Let’s not forget that in those dark times people still bought separate digital cameras, satnav devices, and even PDAs. The smartphone would render them all obsolete almost immediately, as well as catalysing an explosion of further innovation.
We now think nothing of paying for things by tapping them with our phones, or casting video from them to our TVs, or persuading a random stranger to drive us where we want, or communicating with anyone in the world for free, but even a decade ago those would have been viewed as utopian.
The reason I think the smartphone stands alone as an innovation is the extent to which it has empowered the individual. So long as you have a smartphone in your pocket you will never be lost, lonely, disorganised, or bored.
In fact, the smartphone’s very omnipotence is also its greatest danger, with our ability to socialise, improvise and generally muddle through probably atrophying in the face of instant digital gratification. But I think that’s a price worth paying for a device that puts so many amazing tools in everyone’s hands.