Look at the cellphone/smartphone/mobile device you are carrying around with you.  Take a second to think about every feature that it has and what it can do.  We take many mundane, simple features for granted every day such as MMS, Bluetooth, and now even WiFi and 3G.  Such features just a few short years ago were seen as “big ticket” items that many were willing to pay dearly for.  With each new revolution or advancement in mobile technology comes with it the attention of the devout few followers, those who love their gadgets so much they would tell little Jimmy that he will have to buy his own bike because papa is getting a new Blackberry.  Looking at your current phone, regardless of how new or old it is, as well as looking at what is in technology magazines and websites today as the up and coming mobile tech, what will be “the” next thing?

****This is by no means a scholarly level review of the history of the cellphone.  It is more of a trip down memory lane if you will…and maybe getting an answer as to what will be the next mobile craze****

Within the last twenty to 30 years, cellphones have undergone radical changes both asthetically as well as in regards to specifications for the internal workings.  When cellphones first became more mainstream, they werent small or wireless.  They often required bags and mini briefcases to even carry them.  As mentioned, they weren’t even truly “wireless” as they had to be plugged into a power source, ie: your car.  It was easy to see the changes and advancements being made with these early mobile phones as the transition from briefcase to at least fitting in a bag or purse began the real craze for mobile phones.  Instead of being confined to a car or other power source, now you could call who ever you wanted.  Yes, it was at this time roughly fifteen or so years ago that the more “slim” profile of mobile phones meant that many more consumers (as opposed to corporate users) would start using them as they were now less bulky and ugly, and actually sort of useful.  Once someone could take a phone and stash it in a backpack, purse, or larger coat pocket, mobile phones were here to stay.  With this new reduction in size came many hopeful individuals who were wanting a part of this new technology themselves as it was “cool” and “trendy” to be on the move yet still reachable.  That is why the reduction from briefcase to bag was, as I see it, the first big craze that really jumpstarted mobile phones.

The first big jump came by way of moving from old and outdated analog 1G technology to  digital 2G technology.  2G was better than its predecessor because it was digital and offered a better wireless experience.  One of the greatest things to debut from 2G technology was text messaging.  Text messaging today is one of the quickest growing areas in the mobile market.  Want a raw number?  How about this.  In 2008 there were over ONE TRILLION text messages sent globally1,000,000,000,000.  Clearly the people of the world have some new found fetish with tapping out byte sized characters on a tiny screen.  Kind of funny if you think about it.  In ancient times we always used text based communication and dreamed of “the telephone”.  Now we have phones and we’re going back to written text again.  Eh, go figure.  Anyway back on track, the first computer generated text message took place in the UK in 1991, while the first actual person-to-person text message didn’t take place until two years later in Finland in ‘93.  While text messaging adoption was more or less slow for the first many years, as mentioned previously, it has exploded in popularity thanks to many a parents nightmare - teenagers.  Text messaging whether you like it or not, as a form of communication of the emerging generations is here to stay.

Now, every jump we make technology wise won’t be incrementally better than the previous technology or changed mentioned per say.  There is no scale that makes each jump equal.  Again this is merely from my point of view.  After people got over the whole size issue and started snapping up these new fangled gadgets, many were shocked to see that in the age that they lived in (very early 90’s) that these cellphones had monocolor screens - how 80’s!  With the largest spike yet in cellphone usage (at the time), as more people adopted them came the need for the manufacturers to listen to their customers and update these models.  What was hip and the “gotta have it” feature a few short months ago was now yesterdays news.  The advent of the color screen on cellphones wasn’t in itself anything large or important, I mean words look the same in black and white or color, but it was the opportunities that color screens brought to the table that monochrome screens couldn’t match.  Features (many are way ahead of this particular time period…early 90’s) such as: wallpapers, web browsing, etc.  Clearly the designers and manufacturers had to be dreaming of the future when the introduced color screens.

Now with the ability to send text messages and have color screens, many started thinking what if you could send pictures.  MMS or “multimedia messaging service” doesn’t get its own paragraph because it in and of itself isn’t that significant.  Instead what lead to the reason for wanting to send MMS in the first place is a tad more meaningful: the camera phone.  Nothing ever like it had been seen before.  I can remember the media publicity and and technology magazines in a frenzy when cellphones with cameras first started popping up for the average consumer to buy and use.  Even though they were a downright terrible VGA quality (640 x 480), the fact that you now had a camera on something as tiny (relatively speaking) as a cellphone was unreal - people wanted it and were paying dearly for it - several hundreds of dollars.  No one in their right mind would pay for a dedicated camera phone that was several hundreds of dollars if it didn’t have any less than 5 megapixels, let alone VGA.  But again, back then that was something.  With the previous technologies that just a few short years ago people we equally estatic for, were now mundane and often forgotten features.  The camera phone, coupled with the ability to send captured images over MMS ushered in a whole entirely new way to share pictures with people.  Now it was much faster and easier.

Once people started getting bored with their camera phones and had sent more pictures than they cared to admit to everyone in their address book, they began to look for the next revolution to get their hearts pumping and mouths drooling again.  While many of these features were geared towards consumers, the business world was always in the background watching and waiting.  Finally they got their turn in the late 90’s when RIM released the Blackberry (at the time actually called “Rim Wireless Handhelds.”)  These breakthough devices brought mobile email to the corporate world in a package that was tiny enough to fit in a pants pocket.  The mobile professional was now free to roam about and get work done, (something I’m sure we all want…to take work outside of work).  None the less, the Blackberry has to this day formed a cult following of die hard users that wouldn’t use anything else.

Moving forward, the ability to text, send pictures, and catch up on email were all still relatively new things, yet the consumer markets ever increasing and insatiable hunger for “more”, and “new” always kept manufacturers on their toes.  The email phenomenon would soon usher in the age of mobile web.  Mobile email itself was a form of 2G “data” as opposed to “text messages” - How they are labeled and priced is the only real difference.  Even after people were again not satisfied with everything that had been graced with so far, coupled with the rise of the internet at home, many started looking towards mobile devices to carry on their browsing habits.  In the early days of mobile web browsing, it was an extremely slow, painful, and downright ugly experience.  Sites designed for mobile use were pretty much non-existent, and mobile devices’ WAP browsers only rendered extremely stripped down versions of normal web pages, always doing a horrendous job.  But, after several  years of refinement, mobile browsing started becoming less of a chore and at least somewhat bearable.  As more and more site owners started offering mobile versions of their sites, as well as device manufacturers building faster and more capable devices, the mobile internet soon began taking off.

What would a brief (getting rather long) history of cellphones be without GPS.  GPS was nothing new when it made its debut on cellphones a few short years ago, however the ability it gave people was profound.  Forget being tied to a car or other large unwieldy device, now you could carry a GPS unit in your pocket and navigate the world.  It too was a big feature that truly changed the mobile landscape.

With all of this talk of mobile web being slow and painful, many wondered how to get the devices to perform faster.  Really that was a task for the service providers.  While 3G, WiFi, and Bluetooth all didn’t come to market at the same time, their purpose is more or less the same.  They are all methods of connecting a device to a network or another device at high speeds.  Bluetooth as been around for many years now and is especially important for headsets, handsfree car kits, as well as file transfers, and pairing with another electronic such as car stereo or laptop to transfer information.  Such wireless technology again just ten years ago was thought of as almost impossible.  Likewise, 3G technology and WiFi ushered in more or less an “end” to the slowness and painfulness of mobile internet use.  Of course that isn’t all encompassing as device manufacturers have to build in good web browsers to properly render internet content as well as properly use the higher speed services such as WiFi and 3G.  These three transmission methods were by themselves each responsible for waves of new mobile users ready to plop down ridiculous amounts of cash.

We are now currently sitting in the early 2000’s and Blackberries as well as devices by Nokia, Apple, and HTC among others are really starting to get a grasp on this mobile internet thing.  The world is becoming increasingly connected and dependent on the *instant* transfer of information and resources.  Mobile devices as well as the networks the operate on and the services they offer have taken many great strides in the last couple of decades to bring us to where we are today.

By far the latest craze is App Stores.  With what seems like a new app store being announced everyday, manufacturers and companies alike are trying to cash in on this latest craze while they still can.  With the already  mentioned popularity the mobile internet is enjoying, the shift from hardware to software comes at a time when it is getting harder for manufacturers to differentiate themselves by spec sheets alone.  Besides, what good is a killer device on paper if it has a lousy OS and only a few applications.  People want choice.  Besides this boom in the mobile and mobile internet market is mainly driven by the consumer sector who longs for entertainment, eye candy, and happiness.

After thinking about it for a couple hours I can’t believe I forgot the other craze of the current mobile market: touchscreens - capacitive touchscreens to be exact.  While there were touchscreens long before the iPhone, they were all of the resistive type, not the more finger friendly capcitive type, and none of them were nearly good enough as they never even came close to generating the hype as well as movtivate every other manufacturer under the sun to come out with their own touchscreen enabled devices.  Now again, hardware isn’t everything.  The touchscreen coupled with the software is what makes the iPhone the device it is.  Apple had that lead in 2007 and to some degree still does.  Though Android and the G1 are very very close with RIM and Nokia breathing down their necks.  Touchscreens are no doubt the way of the future whether physical button users like them or not.  Over time, RIM’s “push screen” technology will improve making the line between touchscreens and physical buttons more and more blurred.

Taking a quick look back over what you have read, what do you think will be the next “big” feature that will have people canceling contracts, selling prised possesions on eBay, and selling their soul to a new carrier just to get that phone of their dreams?  3D technology, HD technlogy, audiophile sound, 1TB+ of onboard memory?  You name it, the list goes on and on.  In the near term, we know that Bluetooth 3.0, 4G and picor projector technology are already here or soon to be bringing with them vastly increased speeds for web use.  Is this the furture of everything - the internet?  What what means the most to you? What is you “it feature”?

*In order — Image Sources: Engr, Gawker, Boy Genius