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Smartphone: Mobile Revolution at the Crossroads of Communications, Computing and Consumer Electronics
by Majeed Ahmad
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Rating:
Reviewed by: John Walsh

I used to include in my teaching just a few years ago that, notwithstanding all the undoubted improvements in the technology of mobile telecommunications, still 75% of the world's population had never actually made a phone call. This situation has now completely changed since the diffusion of mobile telephones, their reduction in size and cost has meant that their penetration into just about every country in the world has been complete. Migrant workers, for example, use the mobile phone in the millions as an invaluable link to home and family - in many cases, it is just about the only personal item of any value that they own. There used to be many small-scale businesses here in Bangkok where I live that consisted of a person sitting on a stool and a mobile phone on a small table in front and a short list of charges. These phone rentals are no longer necessary as everyone who wants a phone can now get one - not least because fashion-conscious Thais swap their phones for new ones as soon as they can and recycle older models to relatives and friends who still do not have one. The phones themselves have also become increasingly more sophisticated - smartphones, for example, are replacing what we perhaps must now call dumb phones, in most cities and many other areas. It is this spread of smartphones with which author Majeed Ahmad is principally concerned in this detailed and lucid explanation of the history of mobile telecommunications. From the early days of the internet to the middle of 2011 (i.e. the date of publication), the book outlines the players and organizations involved in the industry and gives some sense of how and why things have occurred the way that they have.

The author is described on the back cover as a former Editor-in-Chief of EE Times Asia and a man with plenty of experience in magazines and publishing generally. He is clearly comfortable with laying out the facts of the different episodes and that is reflected in the different chapters in the review copy of the book which I have been sent. In addition to a prologue and epilogue, together with notes (i.e. footnotes, mostly to magazine stories) and a useful index, there are 19 chapters altogether. These have titles such as "Smarts in the Phone," "Smartphone Turns Disruptive" and "The New Computing Order." Each one selects a topic in the development of smartphones, broadly selected on a chronological basis and describes the progress of events. I would like to have seen more explanation of why things happened in the way they did that goes beyond the straightforward 'company a did this and then company b did something else.' To take an example, on pp.85, a paragraph ends "So what happens when most of the inhabitants of this planet carry a gadget that gives them instant access to pretty much all of the world's information? The implications for almost every aspect of life are dizzying." This immediately followed by a paragraph beginning, "Not surprisingly, therefore, this is a battle for literally every person on the planet and that's why companies like Apple and Google see this market as worth fighting for." There is, in other words, quite a rudimentary level of analysis which would not suit everyone. I was hoping to find some discussion of the genuinely disruptive nature of technology on such issues as workplace relations and activities, family life, and the nature of virtual relationships in the digital age. However, these issues are not really dealt with in any depth and the focus is generally on the competitive dynamics of the principal companies involved - Google, Apple, Nokia, and Microsoft and so forth. Unfortunately, there is very little characterization of the individuals mentioned beyond their name and job functions and it is difficult to become engaged with their activities unless already deeply interested in the technology and its applications. The author's style is better suited to a textbook or similar type of publication, based on this sample.

There are, nevertheless, many fascinating nuggets of information included in the text and the exposition of the facts does invite the mind to speculate on the interaction between the different types of technology involved and how they might offer changes to daily life - even improvements to daily life; I cannot deny that my own quality of life has been greatly enhanced by the convergence of different communication technologies and the ability to access news and information with great convenience. Since I have pretty reliable network access both at home and at work and my consumption of online content is quite strongly related to productivity at work, I rarely find it necessary to access the internet while out on the streets but it is increasingly obvious that I am (as is so often the case), an outlier here as most other people are engrossed in scrolling their phones, looking for people to talk to or experiences to consume. For all of those people, this admirable book will provide a very helpful companion for understanding why and what has happened and how to predict what might happen in the future. The copy I have is published by CreateSpace and shares the level of quality that is common for that method of publication. A larger publishing house might have picked up some of the minor flaws in language use, although these really do not spoil enjoyment of the text.


Learn more at the official webpage, http://smartphoneworld.me/smartphone-world-2/.


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