Anyone who answers emails and uses business applications on a smartphone knows that what was once a novelty has now become an indispensable tool in our working lives. Ubiquitous today, the smartphone is in its infancy, as the smartphone was first introduced only in 2007.
The smartphone is the most important game-changing technology of the 21st century, making huge waves as did its predecessors the personal computer and the Internet, said Majeed Ahmad, the author of a new book, Smartphone. In this interview, Ahmad traces the evolution of the smartphone, highlighting the contributions of technology’s major players along the way.
SSQ: In your book, you offer an historical examination of the technological revolution that produced what we now know as the smartphone. Why do you think knowing the history of technology innovations is helpful to present-day tech users and smartphone users specifically?
Majeed Ahmad: What I have tried to do in this book is to tie history and evolution closely to the present development cycle, and in turn, tie present developments to the future possibilities. And that’s part of the effort to offer a full context and a complete understanding of the subject matter… to make sense of it all.
We have to remember that the smartphone is not a single technological product entity, but an amalgam of technologies and services, so it’s imperative to explain history and evolution to put the context to the larger story. The idea of the smartphone practically came to the fore in the late 1990s, so it’s very recent history anyway. Why a number of industry endeavors failed at first and what companies like Apple and Google did to turn them into success stories will provide present-day tech users with a greater clarity and help them in sorting out future challenges like mobile cloud computing.
SSQ: You make several pop culture references to sci-fi and comic book favorites such as Star Trek and Dick Tracy throughout your book. Is it fair to say that the technological ideas fantasized about in television shows and movies serve as actual inspiration to technological innovators?
Ahmad: Industry luminaries like Steve Jobs and RIM co-founder Mike Lazaridis drew inspiration from Star Trek gadgetry. Many of the innovators of our age grew up seeing sophisticated collections of gadgets shown in shows like Star Trek. True to a natural evolution curve, shows like Star Trek and comic characters such as Dick Tracy were ahead of their time, but when their time came, the generation that grew up dreaming about them was part of the professional workforce, and they were able to seize the moment by turning these dreams into reality.
SSQ: Text messaging has become a popular means of targeted marketing as well as mobile giving. You point out that it has taken off in part because it does not require Internet access, and it is instant. How do you see the use of SMS growing? What uses do you see for SMS in the enterprise if any?
Ahmad: Text messaging is a rather simple and practical application that provided a much needed initial impetus for wireless data, which otherwise had remained a staple of sci-fi shows for many generations. It helped bring wireless data to the commercial domain and subsequently paved the way for technologies like mobile Internet that took wireless data to a much grander scale. SMS helped develop the initial critical mass in mobile commerce business and kick-started the mobile content era, both areas that mobile Web took to a much higher plateau. So SMS has, in fact, been complementary to mobile Web and will continue to support initiatives like mobile commerce and premier texting.
One prominent premise of growth for SMS could come from its integration into location, social media and other apps. That way SMS could continue to carve out a role for itself in the now-unstoppable smartphone movement. Because, otherwise, SMS is a mere commodity identified with the voice service in the basic mobile phones. The greatest merit of SMS is that it’s simple, cheap and practical, and its business model has the ability to quickly adapt to new commercial landscapes.
SSQ: Your book’s subtitle is "Mobile revolution at the crossroads of communications, computing and consumer electronics." Does the immense growth in popularity of both smartphones and social media not go hand in hand?
Ahmad: Social media, and its fusion with the mobile bandwagon, is a huge subject in itself and is a moving target in many ways. I have mentioned social media in the context of apps and how critical it has become in the broader mobile Internet landscape, I have kept the social media story (within the smartphone context) for my next book project. Technologies like Siri that bring voice recognition and artificial intelligence to the smartphone turf will also come in the fold of this new book.
Read part two of this interview here.