Prologue: The End is The Beginning

While out for lunch with friends last year something struck me. Every single person had a mobile phone in front of them on the table — an Android phone at that, just like me.

Most of the phones on the table would be classified as “smartphones” — capable of much more than merely making calls. But that moniker is increasingly irrelevant today, as most mobile devices for sale here in Canada can browse web pages at the very least. Steve Litchfield, a blogger and podcaster in the UK, stopped calling his video podcast “The Smartphones Show” a long time ago; now it’s just “The Phones Show“, even though the gear featured therein is no less powerful.

There was a time, however, when Internet connectivity, text messaging — even syncing your phone’s address book to a computer — was a big deal. I know because I was there. I’ve been blogging about smartphones since the 1900s. I used the mobile Internet back when it was just a series of text-only WAP pages. I used SMS when only a single carrier in my country supported it. I’ve also had the good fortune to have travelled a fair bit, and have seen firsthand how mobile phones continue to change the world.

I guess you could say I’m a bit of a mobile phone geek.

That’s why this particular moment, sitting at a table with an Android phone at every place setting, was so profound. Each of my friends had their own handheld gateway to the Internet; they could share their world with anyone and bring the world to them with just a few taps of their screen. Many are in possession of this power now, whether they use Android, iPhone, BlackBerry… Smartphones are now a commodity item. There’s still lots of room for innovation, but for my world, my friends, we’ve arrived. The mobile revolution has swept through Europe, Asia and (finally) the Americas. Now when I travel I see the same high-powered phones wherever I go, and most of them now work in every country, on every network. It’s an amazing thing.

I might not have the authority to tell you how we got here, but I can tell you how I got here. I’m still in possession of many of my old phones. For a while I was even collecting dummies — you know, the ones on display in stores that don’t actually work? You can find a lot of them on eBay. I stopped only because newer handsets tend to look the same; didn’t used to be that way, though.

If you’re wondering what using a mobile device was like in the dark days before the iPhone, this book is for you. Despite my mobile geekery I’ll strive to keep things as un-technical as possible, focusing as best I can on the experience of using the technology, rather than the technology itself.

But this is a book about mobile phones after all, so expect a sprinkling of model numbers here and a light dusting of acronyms there — much of it hilariously antiquated. If nothing else my goal is to demonstrate how much cell phones used to suck; if by the end of this chronicle you appreciate the connected computer you hold in your hand just a little bit more then I’ll have done my job.