Mobile Phone or Smartphone
Mobile phones are often broken down into two categories, feature phones and smartphones. Although these phrases are used often, there is no clear, official distinction between the two.
Generally a smartphone has the ability to replace multiple devices; the latest high-end smartphones will have a camera, web browser, email client, music player, organizer, and hardware features such as Wi-Fi, 3G/4G and NFC. They will often be running an Operating System (OS) with the ability to install various applications, meaning the phone can be capable of an even greater range of tasks.
The modern smartphone era began with the iPhone release in 2007, however the IBM Simon in 1993 worked as a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) and featured a touchscreen alongside voice and data capabilities!
So the iPhone was not the first full touchscreen smartphone, but its design - including a capacitive touchscreen for better sensitivity - paved the way for Android and Windows Phone. Look in any mobile phone shop and you’ll notice that well over half of the handsets are now full touch devices.
Forbes have listed the top features a user wants in a smartphone as: Longer Battery Life, More Durability, Enhanced Voice Recognition, and Better Security. Maybe the smartphone market has matured and users are no longer interested in bigger screens, faster processors and better cameras…
The Operating System
There are 4 major operating systems available, and a handful of others, but iOS (Apple), BlackBerry OS (RIM), Android (Google) and Windows Phone (Microsoft) would generally be deemed the 4 main players.
As of the 2nd quarter of 2013, Gartner has worldwide smartphone sales (to end users) as per right:
The Operating System or “OS” is the software that all other applications, or apps, run on top of and is normally the first thing you see when turning on a device. Much like Windows on a desktop PC or laptop, the OS on a phone can receive updates to bring improved features and performance, or to fix bugs that impair the operation of the handset.
UI (User Interaction) can vary greatly with different OS implementations, and even with different versions of the same OS. For example, early versions of Android vary greatly from recent versions, this is known as fragmentation. Fragmentation can cause issues when certain applications or features are supported by one version of an OS but not another. Imagine your friend has the latest Android phone and tells you to download a great new app that they have discovered, only for you to be unable to download it, as your version of the Android OS isn’t supported by the app.
App developers have much more work to do when creating an app for Android; there are multiple versions of the operating system available and multiple manufacturers that all need to be tested before the app can be released. Compare this to the iPhone which has 4/5 current models all running the same OS iteration and it is easy to see why app developers prefer creating iOS apps.
Right is a subjective list of the Benefits and Limitations of the main 4 Mobile Operating Systems:
OS Market Share
OS Features and Limitations
Tablet PCs were introduced way before the Apple iPad was released in 2010. Back in the early 1960s a tablet device known as the RAND tablet allowed users to interact with its software via a touchscreen and stylus.
It wasn’t until 2002 that Microsoft released their “Windows XP Tablet PC Edition”, a version of Windows specifically for touch-enabled devices. It featured on many devices from various manufacturers but the technology didn’t exist to make these devices thin and light enough to be used comfortably.
The turnaround in the tablet market came once again from Apple. The iPad, which instead of being a shrunk-down PC, was basically an enlarged iPod; was slim and light enough to be held in one hand whilst the other hand was used to interact with the screen. The user interface and touchscreen were good enough that a stylus was not needed, thus the user could use their fingertips to manipulate items on its 9.7” display.
The difference between a smartphone and a tablet is becoming more and more blurred. With phone screens now reaching the 5” mark (Nexus 5, Sony Xperia Z1) and tablets being shipped with 7” screens (Nexus 7, Yarvik Luna 7c) there seems to be less and less space available for the so-called “phablet” (a portmanteau of the words “Phone” and “Tablet”).
The first commercially successful Phablet was the Samsung Galaxy Note and it was a basically a larger version of the Samsung Galaxy S2, the major differences being a 5.3” (rather than 4.3”) screen and included stylus. Phablets such as the Sony Xperia T2 Ultra and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 are sporting 6” and 5.7” screens respectively meaning they are very close to the 7” that would generally be termed a tablet.
eMarketer estimated that 20 million people in the UK used a tablet at least once per month in 2013. They envisage this rising to nearly 35 million in 2017.
The main five networks
In the UK there are 5 main Network Providers; Vodafone, 3, Orange, O2 and T-Mobile.
• Vodafone was founded in 1991 and has over 439 million subscribers worldwide. Vodafone made the first ever mobile phone call in the UK on 1 January 1985, and launched the UK's first mobile network later that year.
• 3 was founded in 2002 and the UK network launched on 3rd March, 2003 (3/3/3) and has over 28 million worldwide subscribers.
• Orange has 230 million worldwide customers. Orange was launched on 28th April, 1994 and purchased by France Telecom in 2000.
• T-Mobile was founded in 1993 under the name One2One, One2One was then purchased and renamed “T-Mobile” by Deutsche Telekom in 1999.
• O2 was formed in 1985 as Cellnet, and in 1999 became BT Cellnet, before becoming O2 in 2002. O2 was purchased by Spanish firm Telefonica in 2005.
• EE is a merger of T-Mobile and Orange, with contracts still available from all three suppliers. EE tend to supply 4G whereas Orange and T-Mobile tariffs are available in 2G/3G only. T-Mobile customers can roam onto Orange’s network when out of T-Mobile coverage and vice versa.
Each network is responsible for maintaining their network infrastructure, this includes masts, base stations and other network equipment.
As well as the main 5, there are a plethora of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (or MVNOs). MVNOs do not own their own network infrastructure; they “rent” it from one of the main 5 networks. For example, Virgin Mobile is an MVNO that utilises EE’s infrastructure.
2G, 3G and 4G?
Back in the 1980s the original mobile phone networks were 1G, or 1st Generation, and they used analogue technology to transmit calls.
In the early 90s, 2G (2nd Generation) was introduced and brought improvements over 1G, these included digital encryption and the ability to transmit data in the form of SMS (Short Message Service). This has been superseded by 2.5G (GPRS - General Packet Radio Service) and 2.75G (EDGE – Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) both of which improve mobile web browsing, MMS, and email by virtue of faster speeds.
When connected to 2G you may see “2G” “G” or “E” next to your signal bars on your handset display.
3G was first introduced around 2001 and brought increased data speeds and security. For the first time, web browsing on a mobile was comparable to a desktop or laptop machine. 3.5G (HSPA – High Speed Packet Access) and 3.75G (HSPA+) are also available, giving greater speeds still.
When connected to 3G, your phone may display “3G”, “H” or “H+”.
The fourth generation of mobile technology (4G) was only recently introduced, and pushes the boundaries of mobile data speeds yet again. Upgrading from 3G to 4G is comparable to moving your home broadband to a fibre connection. There is little 4G coverage currently in the UK. It is available in various cities and towns, but rural areas have no coverage at all.
When connected to 4G your phone may show “4G” or “LTE”.
Each network technology, be it 2G, 3G or 4G operates on different frequency bands, 2G for example works on 900MHz and 1800MHz in the UK and 3G utilises 900MHz and 2100MHz.
Lower frequencies (800MHz, 900MHz) have better penetration; they will travel further and can give better signal indoors, but have less capacity so can suffer slow-down in densely populated areas. Higher frequencies (2100MHz, 2600MHz) do not have the penetration of lower frequencies but have better capacity so are suited to dense areas such as cities.