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Mobile Phones

Collaborative Devices Over Time

There’s something about us humans. Sure, we’re not the only creatures to form complex societies—anyone who had an ant farm knows that – but we do have big ol’ brains and we’ve used them to invent ways to improve our lives. And the focus of much of that innovation? Collaboration. Technology makes it easier and easier to close the gap between geographical distances so we can socialize, share, build, and work together. Technology has evolved from relying on the physical device to make a connection; to the device simply acting as the access point to millions of communication and collaboration apps. Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of these devices, and perhaps even what the future has in store.

The first coast-to-coast long distance phone call was made in 1915 between none other than the telephone’s original inventors: Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson. “Mr. Watson, come here…I want to see you.” With those words, Alexander Graham Bell, introduced his new invention to the world. Thanks to the telephone, humans could communicate instantly across long distances. Now they were able to share information, connect, and collaborate in real time. No more waiting for the mailman. But unlike future technologies, telephones were initially shared by communities and families, which explains the slow adoption rate per 100 people in the US. Ruler of the roost for decades, ownership peaked in the early 2000’s when the telephone was eclipsed by the big bad internet! More on that later…

The fax machine is still alive and kicking in Japan with 59% of homes owning the device as of 2012. Why? Nuances in their formal alphabet and business practices. Communicating by voice across vast expanses was a monumental change for society, but it wasn’t enough. We needed a way to share both text and visual information. To meet those needs, in stepped the fax machine. Sure, it may be the butt of many jokes today— but in its heyday, this technology allowed people to share a wider breadth of information. Reporters could file stories from the field, scientists could share research across the globe, and office workers could collaborate with anyone, anywhere. The many applications in business but relatively small footprint in day-to-day home life explains the small, yet enduring footprint.

#FirstFail - The first message sent via the World Wide Web was intended to be “login”, but only the letters L and O transmitted. Serving up typos since 1969! The internet was the biggest leap forward in technology thus far in human existence. It changed literally ev-er-y-thing for communication, as information could now be shared instantly and people all across the world could now collaborate. The internet has come a long way from it’s humble dial-up beginning, and with each step up in internet connectivity technology—from dial-up to DSL to cable to fiber-optic—user adoption rates have increased. The more we can share, the more we want to, triggering rapid innovation of internet enabled communication tools and apps. The internet would create an explosion of connectivity and communication, and it has since become so ubiquitous that it’s now considered a utility on par with running water and electricity.

Despite Apple and Samsung’s presence in today’s market, the best selling mobile phone of all time is the Nokia 1100, with over 250 million units shipped since it launched in 2003. As game-changing as landline phones were, you had to be at the right place at the right time to make or take a call. The invention of the mobile phone changed that. Originally the size of a small suitcase in the 70’s, they transformed into hand-held devices in the late 90’s (à la Zack Morris!). As mobile phones grew in popularity, so did the internet... so why not put them together? From Blackberry, to Palm Pilot, to the ground-breaking iPhone, millions of people now rely on their smartphones as their only access point for the internet. The breadth of ways to communicate from the smartphone - call, e-mail, text, or use any number of mobile apps - led to adoption rates higher than any previous technology.

Spoiler alert! Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, featured tablet computers that bear a striking resemblance in both appearance and functionality to today’s iPads and tablets. Though they are ubiquitous in today’s world, the tablet computer is a young technology, with significant impact to the market beginning in 2010 with Apple’s first iPad. Tablets give users access to information, social networks, and a multitude of communication apps - all in a handheld device that was sized just right. Using a tablet computer is simple, sensory, and fun. The adoption rate of the tablet has been one of the fastest in history - in fact, in 2014, almost 21% of the world population owned a tablet computer. We’re still at the beginning of seeing how integrated tablets will become in our daily lives, as new product developments continue (i.e. – waterproof!) and sales continue on a steep incline year over year.

Back in 1983, Seiko unveiled one of the first wristwatch computers, the Data 2000 which came complete with an external keyboard and was synced to a desktop computer via wireless docking. Now that we have tablets and smartphones made of all shapes and sizes, enabling constant communication at insane speeds, why not have some fun and attach the internet to our bodies?! Since the first viable wearables hit the market, user adoption has expanded exponentially year over year. The technology seems to be mostly favored by early adopters, with adoption rates not spiking as quickly as previous technologies. Smartwatches are often used as a complement to smartphones, to access your apps instantly – any time, any place. In the future, however, experts predict that wearable technologies like the smartwatch, will continue to become a more common feature of our daily lives and work habits.

The future is child’s play? In early 2016, Microsoft released a special Minecraft platform which allows nascent A.I. to play with, and learn from, human counterparts. This is considered an important first step in human-machine collaboration. A lot has happened for collaborative technologies in a relatively short amount of time. We’ve gone from phone lines that needed a switchboard operator, to computers so tiny we can wear them on our wrists. Today, it’s the norm to juggle simultaneous conversations, written or verbal, across multiple devices, channels, and apps. So what’s next? A rise in virtual assistant technology (think Siri or Cortana) is already adding a more human touch to communication. But what if Siri could do more than tell you the recipe or send a text for you - what if she could predict your needs, and work WITH you? Cognitive computing and artificial intelligence allowing us to interact and collaborate with machines is right around the corner. But how quickly will users adopt it? Will it slowly grow like the landline before being eclipsed by something better, or will it mimic the mobile phone as the next biggest thing? “Only time will tell..” but we’re betting on the latter.


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