Less than 10% of smartphone users can adequately explain how the device they are so connected to works. I don’t blame them. This phenomenon extends to most technological devices that we use from televisions and radios to microwave ovens, fridges, and even the small memory cards.
Few people realize just how much of a technological wonder their smartphones are. It’s quite easy to hail an Uber or borrow a loan from Tala. However, neither of these companies could have existed just a decade back, since they were limited by the then available technologies. Uber, for instance, relies on various technologies all compacted into a single device, including maps, GPS, internet, and of course, smartphones. The following are the features a modern smartphone offers, all of which are different technologies invented in different time periods and geographical regions.
Timepiece (sundials, hourglass, clock, watches) – The oldest sundials date over 5000 years; The first known geared clocks date to the 3rd Century BCE.
Alarm clock – The first known alarm clocks date back to the BCE era; the first known mechanical alarm clock dates to 1787 by Levi Hutchins
Battery – 1800; First battery is credited to Alessandro Volta.
Telephone – 1876; Alexander Graham Bell
Text Messaging – 1984 was when the concept was developed by Matti Mackonen; 1992 is when the first SMS was sent
Stopwatch – 1776; Moyes Pouzai, who developed it under the name “Chronograph”
Calculator – 1642; Blaise Pascal created the first true calculator. Some may however consider the abacus, invented circa 2500 BCE, as the first calculator.
Camera – 1816; Joseph Nicephore Niepce who took a photo on a homemade camera, with silver chloride paper. The first video cameras and prototypes were invented in the late 1800s.
Radio – 1896; Guglielmo Marconi patented the first radio edition
Internet – Developed between 1960s and 1970s. Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn are credited with inventing TCP/IP in 1980, the internet protocols we use today. Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989.
GPS – 1973; The project was commenced by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Music Player – 1877; Thomas Edison made the first phonograph
Bluetooth – 1989 was when the project was commenced by Ericsson; Jaap Haartsen is credited as the creator of the technology
Wi-Fi – The standards and associated technology were developed in the mid to late 1990s.
Touchscreen – 1960s; Capacitive touch screen invented by E. A. Johnson at the Royal Radar Establishment.
Clearly, all these different technologies that are now part of the modern smartphone involved a disparate number of actors working across different centuries and millennia. One vital thing to note though is that it is typically not the case that the development of a particular technology can be credited to a single individual. Most often, multiple people work on the same technology, separated by a few years or miles. Furthermore, the incremental nature of technology means that the development of newer technologies builds on work done by earlier scientists and inventors.