by Sean Mallany

    The Evolution Of The Smartphone

    The average person in 2013 takes for granted the most ordinary things that people even a few short years ago would have found extraordinary. While munching on breakfast, today’s professionals can message friends on the other side of the world (for free), can access and contribute to large libraries of automatically organized and custom filtered image files, can post about almost any topic to anyone with an Internet connection, can access (and have automatically translated) news from almost any country on earth—and all of this before their morning coffee has been brewed. What is common to all of these impressive (yet everyday) technological marvels? The smartphones we carry in our pockets.

    These smartphones we all carry were not always quite so “smart” however. In keeping with this issue’s focus on technology, it may be helpful to look at where phones have come from, where they are now, and what are some of the broad trends that are affecting the oil and gas industry moving forward.

    In broad terms, cell phones have made a gradual transition away from bulky devices with a single purpose, towards small and sleek devices that can have a variety of complex purposes. While the first mobile handset was developed in 1973 and weighed over four pounds, handsets began to slowly evolve to offer additional features. The most prominent example of this evolution would be the capacity to send text messages, and eventually access email or browse the Web.

    While every major manufacturer, from Samsung to Research in Motion (recently renamed Blackberry) made important contributions towards increasing the technological capacity of mobile phones, one of the most important watershed moments for these devices was the unveiling of Apple’s iPhone in January of 2007. Replacing traditional button or scroll wheel-based input with a capacitive glass touchscreen, the iPhone made tasks such as Web browsing or music management easier to accomplish for even non-technical users. Following the iPhone’s success, other handset manufacturers have followed a similar touchscreen-based design with different modifications.

    This evolution illustrates where the mobile phone industry has come in a relatively short period of time. What can we estimate about the future of cell phones? Two broad trends are apparent in the current market. First, more people are shifting from “basic phones” with simple calling or text-messaging capabilities to smart phones that resemble small computing devices rather than traditional phones. Indeed, Quorus Consulting Group estimates that 48 percent of cell phone users in Canada are now using a smartphone. Second, less demanding customers who may not want a smartphone are shifting away from branded handsets towards no-name basic phones to avoid paying extra for a recognizable brand.

    It seems likely that these two trends will continue to impact the industry, as many customers shift towards phones that are more and more technologically capable. How is this likely to affect professionals in the oil and gas industry? Three broad changes seem probable to change how we work:

    Constant Connectivity: With the increased prevalence of high-speed cellular connections and devices with the computing capacity to handle these speeds, professionals can already expect to be constantly connected to information needed to accomplish tasks. This connectivity enables new developments to be acted upon quickly, allows quick collaboration between multiple individuals regardless of their physical location, and allows decisions to be made very quickly. For example, services such as GoToMeeting or Skype enable videoconferencing from anywhere with wireless Internet access.

    New Ways of Visualizing Complex Data: As smartphones become more powerful, they can process more and more information at once, at quicker speeds. This enables an individual to not just receive information, but have the information displayed in a useful way. For example, spreadsheet software that was previously only available on a traditional computer can now be used to analyze a large data set on a smartphone. Or, projections can be manipulated by changing different assumptions and variables. All with a convenient device that fits into a pocket.

    Ease of Use That Is Actually Easy: Many individuals find touchscreen enabled smartphones easier to use than traditional computers. This could be because the touchscreen removes one barrier of interaction (represented by a traditional keyboard and mouse) between a user and the interface they are manipulating. Instead of searching for scroll wheels or dialogue boxes, a user simply swipes or pushes content where they want to go with the tip of their finger.

    All of these trends demonstrate the incredible pace of technology that smartphones have undergone in a relatively short period of time. As these devices continue to advance, they are certain to become more and more important to how the oil and gas industry works in the future. Smart phones make smart business.

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