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The mobile phone is dead

14 September 2016 7:17 PM

Mobile phones have been in SA for 22 years. The device that replaces it might already be in your hand.

The first mobile phone call was in 1973 and the first one went on sale in 1984. You may be surprised by that, but it took a while to convince people to “cut the cord”.

Humans are like that; we don’t like change even though we love the new.

The mobile phone evolved slowly. By 1997 (13 years after the first phone was sold and three years after they launched in South Africa) mobile phone numbers globally were at less than five per 100 people.)

The feature phone - pioneered in Japan - changed that and, by 2005, it was almost 40 phones per 100 people.

BlackBerry took off in 1999 and peaked by 2010 with plenty of copycat phones looking to challenge its dominance. It’s classic Curve model launched in 2007, but there was a significant challenge coming only months later.

Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007. While not the first smartphone; it was the first to signal that smartphones were going to become mobile computers, a watershed for mobile technology with big touch screens and a focus on the camera.

The phone wowed the audience with a 3,5 inch screen and a two megapixel camera - a two megapixel camera had the audience erupt in applause! He might not have known it, but the touch screen display was only half of the coming revolution - it would be the camera that became the new benchmark for a great phone.


The original iPhone launched in 2007. In July 2016 Apple announced the sale of its billionth iPhone.

The better the camera, the larger the screen and, less than 10 years later, we have phone penetration of almost 100 per 100 people globally and camera resolutions of upwards of 12 megapixels and, in the case of the Huawei P9 Plus and iPhone 7 Plus, sporting two cameras on the back and another hi-res camera on the front.

These are smart cameras that can also make calls, if you still do that sort of thing.

But it will not stop there.

As the “phone" becomes the camera and multimedia display, basic things like notifications and calls can be relegated to other smaller devices like a watch or wearable, maybe even eyewear. While the idea of wireless headphones is not popular now, a simple in-ear device that is a mic and headphone will be wireless. Although “cutting the cord”, as mentioned above, does not come easy.

But even that leaves out the actual power of the ever improving cameras. Two cameras can perceive depth and that means you can use the screen (in a VR setup like the Oculus) to effectively see a live picture from a remote location and broadcast yours to anyone else.

The iPhone made a leap in 2007 and, while it may not feel like it, the more impressive iPhone 7 has too. Apple don’t always lead the best in class, but they are the most likely to shift the market. It may be another company that takes over that role in the future or it may be that Apple, Samsung and Huawei will remain the big players.

The current description for smart cameras are cameras with phone operating systems, so the evolution is happening from both sides. The phone improvements suggest it will become the dominant path.

But don’t be surprised if the Sony, Nikon, Canon and Pentax brands start producing a device that can make the occasional phone call.

14 September 2016 7:17 PM

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