Mobile devices have come a long way since the days of the brick cellphone, so-called because of its massive battery, which the phone needed so that it would have enough power to reach the nearest cell tower. Back then, in the 1980s, it didn’t really seem possible that over four billion people would now have cellphones and that the functionality and power of these devices would have increased so much. In the era of the smartphone, the amazing capabilities of our mobile devices go well beyond just a phonecall. In fact, this technology has changed the very ways in which we communicate. The history of the smartphone is a fascinating one, and it’s hard to believe the capabilities of these devices have come so far in less than two decades.
What defines a smartphone?
There is a bit of debate around what precisely defines a ‘smartphone’. The word was first coined by Ericsson when the company released its GS88 device in 1997, but most techies agree that the world only really began to see smartphone capabilities in the early 2000s. Common features of smartphones include high-speed wireless connectivity, a common operating system, a QWERTY keyboard, a basic digital assistant and larger screen size.
The predecessor to the smartphone was known as the feature phone. It was the first time phones went beyond just calls and SMSes and started to shift into the realm of entertainment. You could now listen to music, play games, take (very poor quality) photos, download your favourite song as a ringtone, and improve the aesthetics of your phone with wallpapers. You could even browse the net, although this function was rather limited, thanks to network issues and high costs and device limitations.
The smartphone rises
Smartphones started to become more mainstream in SA with the arrival of 3G in 2004, as networks were able to offer faster data speeds and much better quality calls. Huawei’s first 3G mobile phone, the U626, was released in 2005 and named as ‘Best 3G Smartphone’ by the Charlton Media Group. This was a mere two years after we had established our handset department.
The true golden era of the smartphone began in 2007 and 2008, when iOS and Android came onto the scene. These new operating systems revolutionised what phones were capable of and made them a more integral part of the cellphone user’s life. In addition, because Google allowed Android to be open source, all phone manufacturers could take part in the mobile device transformation, meaning the possibilities were endless.
These endless possibilities were really highlighted when the marvel of the ‘app’ was first introduced to users. As apps became far more sophisticated and answered specific needs, phones became central elements of our daily lives, and the amount of time we spent on our phones increased. As buttons were replaced by swiping and scrolling, we were introduced to new ways of finding, interacting with, and using information
The age of the intelligent phone
But all good things must come to an end, to make way for an even better future. Thanks to the incorporation of artificial intelligence, the era of the smartphone is now making way for phones that are more powerful and intuitive and have considerable capability to learn and adapt according to their usage. Last year, Huawei launched its new Huawei Mate 10, which was the first phone on the market to have artificial intelligence (AI) embedded into the device, allowing AI processing and app functionality to run natively on device and offline. This year, we’ve taken AI even further with the launch of our Huawei P20 series.
A particularly impressive feature of these phones is the AI-powered camera, which enables anyone to take professional-looking images. The Huawei P20 series has real-time scene and object recognition technology that can recognise more than 500 scenarios in less than a second. The phone then automatically makes adjustments to produce the best possible results. For instance, if you are shooting at the beach, the Huawei P20 smartphone’s camera recognises this scene and adjusts the camera for the best lighting, regardless of the actual lighting conditions.
Photography effects are further enhanced by the Prisma app, which has filters specifically developed for the Huawei P20 series. Because the app can integrate directly with the phone’s Neural Processing Unit (NPU), the images can be processed on the device three times faster than the phone’s competitor.
Another remarkable feature found in the Huawei P20 series is the Microsoft translation app. Driven by artificial intelligence, this app can translate languages and transcribe conversations in real-time – no network connection necessary.
Due to the continued evolution of the capabilities of AI, the mobile devices of the future look set to become even more integrated into our lives. Our phones will go well beyond being mere communication devices and will be able to help us to automate more of our daily tasks and enhance our quality of life. Imagine a phone that can predict who you want to call before you even tap on your contacts list. A phone that can offer you exactly the information you need before you even ask for it. A phone that can be activated just by the sound of your voice. A phone that can tell you you’re sick before you even feel that scratchy throat. With AI, these will be the smartphones of the future.
By Akhram Mohamed, Marketing Director, Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa