How Today’s Smartphones Are Powered
Despite the Mobile World Congress getting canceled this year, some manufacturers still released many of the phones that were supposed to be showcased at the event. This includes the new foldable phones from Huawei and Samsung, as well as 5G-enabled phones. News about new phones, such as the latest iPhone developments, is one of the most popular topics across tech sites, with enthusiasts looking to find out every small detail.
It is not hard to see why as the vast majority – around 95% – of Americans own a smartphone. For an average user today, it serves not only as a communication device but also as an entertainment hub, a gaming console, and a mobile office. In fact, your device is more powerful than the supercomputers that launched the first spaceship to the moon and have 200,000 times more memory than what the Voyager has. But how do all that computing power and functionality fit into something so small?
In this article, we’ll delve into the innovation both in hardware and software that has led to the modern marvels that we have today.
Manufacturers like Samsung, Huawei, and Motorola, among others have recently introduced their own version of foldable phones. But for the last decade, smartphones have followed the same black slab form factor that we have today.
The first iPhone released in 2007 – the first popular smartphone – has a small screen and a big clunky body. Today, smartphones are compact, and some are oddly shaped, yet they exceed our expectations in terms of performance. We can credit these functions to the printed circuit boards (PCBs) that power them. Modern devices no longer run on single printed circuit boards, as rigid-flex and flex PCBs are used to keep up with their complex designs. With the three-dimensional boards in use, more components can fit in without adding real estate.
Another factor in the miniaturization of PCBs is the development of the chips and processors inside it. Manufacturers today use smaller chips that support complex functions such as browsing the internet, sharing multimedia files or playing music without placing too great a demand on the phone’s battery.
Touchscreens have also come a long way, with some capacitive touchscreen interfaces now supporting advanced gesture recognition including 3D touch – best for drawing. The display was also revolutionized with the introduction of super AMOLED screens, which integrated the pixels inside the thin-film transistor – allowing for more space. Batteries have also evolved, packing more juice in smaller cells that are arranged in varying shapes in the hardware. This is also why removable batteries have become outdated. These changes have all led to the smaller, more durable, and unique phone designs that we have today.
Connectivity and Software
But what sets a smartphone apart from old phones is the software. To be more precise, the operating system (OS). Your phone’s OS runs on multiple layers – management systems, middleware, APIs, UI frameworks, and lastly, the application suite which runs the apps.
Google’s Android runs on more than 80% of today’s smartphones, and it was even used by NASA to test out the ISS’ software in 2011. Apple’s iOS has great camera optimization, better apps, and outstanding security features. On the other hand, Android is more flexible to sideloading and customization. The extent of the capacity of OS available today is staggering, with artificial intelligence being integrated into numerous aspects.
Lastly, the rollout of 5G represents a leap in the connectivity of smartphones. While we take the high-speed data modems for granted, phones won’t be as reliable as they are today without LTE connectivity. Since introduced by Qualcomm in 2011 and refreshed to 4G in 2013, LTE-advanced smartphones have become the norm. With 5G, the speed will jump from today’s 150mbps to 2gbps and is expected to rise to 100gbps.
So the next time you use your phone, remember that you’re using a technology built atop countless innovations.