Innovation through the years: timeline of smartphone features

The iPhone X is the first smartphone to feature facial recognition

We’ve come a long way since the very first mobile phone call, made in 1973 by a Motorola employee. While this happened over thirty years ago, mobile phones didn’t become widespread among consumers until the early nineties, when the likes of Nokia, BlackBerry and Motorola dominated the market for over a decade.

We all remember those heavy, seemingly indestructible brick-like phones - and even though we sometimes miss their long battery lives, we’re pretty thankful for the advances in technology that made incredible smartphones like the iPhone 8 and Samsung Galaxy S8 possible.

It all started in 2007, with the release of the very first iPhone. Let’s take a look at smartphone features over the last decade, and how they’ve changed our lives.

2007 - Touchscreen

While touchscreen phones and devices existed prior to the release of the iPhone (as early as the 1980s), Apple was the company who truly made capacitive touchscreens go mainstream. The iPhone marked a change in design and functionality, and paved the way for the smartphones of today - and every manufacturer after this took inspiration from Apple’s innovative handset.

2008 - App Store and Android Market

One year after the first iPhone was released, the Apple App Store opened, featuring just 500 different apps. Apple’s greatest rival, Google, didn’t wait around to launch their own version - the Google Play Store (then known as Android Market) was released the same year. Since then, both stores have grown a lot - the App Store currently features over 2.2 million apps, while the Play Store has over 2.7 million available to download.

2009 - Wireless Charging

Long before Samsung started making waves in the mobile world with their wireless charging smartphones, the Palm Pre was the first smartphone to feature wireless charging capabilities. The technology hasn’t changed much since then, and Palm’s wireless charger was very similar to the ones we know today - a pad on which you’d place your phone to charge it without bothering with a single cable.

2010 - iPad

Okay, so not a smartphone, but still a pretty important event in the history of mobile devices - we’re talking about tablets. The very first Apple iPad was released in 2010, and was shortly followed by Samsung’s own Galaxy Tab, a smaller tablet running on the Android operating system.

2011 - Siri and Fingerprint Scanners

2011 gave us not just one, but two amazing new features: first, Apple released their AI voice assistant, Siri. It was the first voice assistant of its kind to be featured on a smartphone, and although its capabilities were still limited at the time, it’s since evolved into an indispensable part of our daily lives, and paved the way for the likes of Google Assistant, Bixby, Alexa, and Cortana.

Thought fingerprint scanners weren’t a thing until the iPhone 5s? Think again! Motorola released the Atrix, which featured a fingerprint reader on the back of the phone. However, the phone wasn’t immensely popular, and you could argue that Apple were the first company to bring fingerprint readers to the mainstream in 2013.

2012 - 4G

2012 was the year smartphones caught up with the advances in mobile data technology. Every handset produced after that year offered 4G connectivity, which allows you to browse the internet and use apps at much faster speeds than older connection types such as 3G and GPRS.

2013 - Waterproof Phone

Remember when pushing people into pools wasn’t acceptable because everyone carried their phone in their pockets? In 2013, it was all about to change: the Sony Xperia Z was released, and it was the first handset to be fully waterproof, with an IP rating of 57. The 7 in the rating indicates that the phone can survive being plunged in water at a depth of up to 1 metre for up to 30 minutes - just like today’s Samsung Galaxy handsets.

2014 - Dual Cameras

Long before the iPhone 7 Plus, came the HTC One M8 - then the first phone to feature dual cameras on the back. Known as the “Duo Camera”, it offered users a first glimpse into more professional-looking smartphone photography - although both sensors were just 4MP. Quick autofocus, portrait mode, and more were all introduced back then - and are now staples of smartphone cameras.

2015 - 4K HDR Resolution Display

4K resolution used to be reserved for flatscreen TVs, but the release of the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium in 2015 changed the game - it was the first phone to feature both 4K resolution and High Dynamic Range (HDR). 4K means that the phone’s resolution is four times that of a typical HD handset - which some may dub overkill, but was perfect for gamers and films buffs alike - while HDR makes colours and blacks more vivid and deep.

2016 - Modular Phones

Here’s a trend we’re still waiting to catch on - modular phones. While 2016 was the year Google’s Project Ara was shelved, it also saw the release of the LG G5. The modular handset featured a variety of add-ons, known as “LG Friends”, from a 360 camera to an extra audio speaker. While it wasn’t incredibly popular, the direction in which it tried to take smartphone technology was so interesting, we can’t wait for modular design to make a comeback.

2017 - Facial Recognition

The biggest event of 2017 was without a doubt the release of the iPhone X, which features facial recognition as a way of unlocking the phone, as well as animated emojis using the same technology. Samsung quickly followed, with the Galaxy Note 8 also featuring facial recognition. These days, it’s everywhere - and we bet it’s only the beginning.

XS SM MD LG