Mobile Testing

The Evolution of Mobile Apps

On the 3rd day of April 1973, the first mobile phone call was made by Martin Cooper of Motorola to Dr. Joel S. Engel of Bell Labs. That device or instrument weighed 1.1 kg and measuring (23 x 13 x 4.45) cm. Fast forward to today, Mobile communication is so integrated into our lives that many people feel uncomfortable without a cell phone. Once upon a time, the most popular functions of phones were calling and sending texts. Then came the era of “Mobile applications”. Mobile applications date back to the end of the twentieth century. Typically, they were small arcade games, ring tone editors, calculators, calendars, and so forth. The beginning of the new millennium saw a rapid market evolution of mobile content and applications. Let’s go over some of the major ingredients that led to the rise of modern mobile design.

1983 – Motorola DynaTAC 8000X

The Motorola DynaTAC 8000X was the first commercially available cell phone. First marketed in 1983, it was 13 x 1.75 x 3.5 inches in dimension, weighed about 2.5 pounds, and allowed you to talk for a little more than half an hour. It made calls, and there was a simple contacts application included in the operating system.

1993 – IBM ‘Simon’, the first Smartphone

The first smartphone ‘Simon’ was developed by IBM and BellSouth, which came out to the public in 1993. In addition to its ability to make and receive cellular phone calls, Simon was also able to send and receive faxes, e-mails and cellular pages. Simon featured many applications including an address book, calendar, appointment scheduler, calculator, world time clock, electronic note pad, handwritten annotations and standard and predictive stylus input screen keyboards.

IBM 'Simon' Smartphone

Late 1990’s – The First Cellular Networks

Starting from simple wireless analog-based (1G) portable phones, it wasn’t until the late 1990’s that cell phones turned into more sophisticated devices. It wasn’t until the mid to late 1990’s that a new communications network, known as GSM (or 2G) began to develop in which more mobile services could be offered. The data transmission over these next-generation devices was digital instead of analog which allowed them to carry many of the more basic smartphone features that we use as the basis for modern app development.

1998 – Nokia ‘Snake’

Nokia 'Snake'

First-generation mobile phones were designed and developed by the handset manufacturers. Competition was fierce and trade secrets were closely guarded. They didn’t want to expose the secrets of their handsets, so they developed the phone software in-house. Developers that weren’t part of this inner circle had no opportunity to write applications for the phones. Let me introduce you to one of the first “apps” created to entertain, the 1970s video game ‘Snake’, which Nokia famously put on some of its earliest phones introduced in 1998 as a standard pre-loaded game, this became a global sensation. Other followed, adding games like Pong, Tetris, and Tic-Tac-Toe.

These early phones changed the way people thought about communication. As mobile phone prices dropped, batteries improved, reception areas grew, and more and more people began carrying these handy devices. Soon mobile phones were more than just a novelty.

Late 90’s – The failure of Internet

Manufacturers needed some way to provide a portal for entertainment and information services without allowing direct access to the handset – the Internet! By the late 90s, professional Web sites were full color and loaded with text, images, and other types of media. They relied on JavaScript and Flash to enhance the user experience. But it turned out direct phone access to the Internet didn’t scale well for mobile. Early phones had very small monochrome low-res screens and limited storage and processing power. They couldn’t handle the data-intensive operations required by traditional Web browsers. The bandwidth requirements for data transmission were also costly to the user.

1999 – Wireless Application Protocol (WAP)

The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) standard was developed to address above concerns. WAP was a stripped-down version of HTTP, which is the basic protocol of the World Wide Web. WAP browsers were designed to run within the memory and bandwidth constraints of the phone. Third-party WAP sites served up pages written in a markup language called Wireless Markup Language (WML). The pages were much simpler in design than the WWW pages. Handset manufacturers could write one WAP browser to ship with the handset and rely on developers to come up with the content users wanted.

Wireless Application Protocol (WAP)

The WAP Forum dates to 1989. The first WAP site launch was in October 1999. The site was launched with the debut of the Nokia 7110. In 2002 the WAP Forum, founded by Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia and Unwired Planet, was consolidated into Open Mobile Alliance (OMA).

2000 – Symbian, The first Modern Mobile OS

But there was one problem – Developers and content providers didn’t deliver, except in a limited way. Some of the most popular commercial WAP applications that emerged during this time were simple wallpaper and ring tone catalogues. Commercializing WAP applications was difficult, and there was no built-in billing mechanism. Since modern smartphones are more like computers than cell phones in a classical sense, they naturally needed a fully-functional OS of their own.

In the year 2000, Symbian (developed by Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, and Samsung) which grew out of the Psion EPOC OS becomes the first modern mobile OS on a smartphone with the launch of the Ericsson R380.

Early 2000’s – 3G & growth of Mobile OS

It wasn’t until the early 2000’s, with the development and service offering of the first 3G wireless digital networks that true smartphones arrived. In 2002 and 2003, network operators began to offer widespread 3G access.

Mobile operating system milestones mirror the development of mobile phones and smartphones. Starting 2001 every player released their propriety Mobile Operating Systems – Palm OS, Microsoft’s Windows Phone, Blackberry OS, Ubuntu Touch, Samsung’s BADA and Firefox OS.

2006 – J2ME/JME

Java ME began life as JSR 68, replaced Personal Java and rapidly became so favorite that it evolved into several standards for use across PDAs, phones and other embedded devices.

2007 – Apple’s iPhone & iOS

In 2007, Apple released the first ever iPhone with default apps including Maps, Photos, Messages and Weather. 2007 saw the real birth of today’s more recognizable mobile apps. The iPhone changed everything and became an instant hit all over the world.

iOS and Android Mobile Operating System

2008 – The Android

Open Handset Alliance (OHA) formed by Google, HTC, Sony, Dell, Intel, Motorola, Samsung, LG, etc. released the first Android OS 1.0 (based on Linux Kernel) by the name of ‘Astro’ in 2008. Currently developed by Google, Marshmallow (Android 6.0) is so far the latest Android version. The other releases were Bender, Cupcake, Donut, Éclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean. Being open source, it means unlimited access to anyone who wants to develop apps for the phone and places very little restriction on its licensing. Android is currently the dominant smartphone platform due to its tremendous traction with a wide spectrum of users.

2008 – Mobile App Marketplaces

Google Play and Apple App Store

The mobile apps development landscape has exploded like few other industries ever have in history. Starting in 2008 with the advent of Apple’s App Store, the rise of the app stores has fundamentally changed the concept of software delivery. The Apple App Store had 500 apps at launch which also signaled the dominance of the native mobile application. 10 million applications were downloaded in the first weekend.

The Google ‘Android Market’ (later renamed as Google Play) launched a couple months later in October 2008 and had 50 apps to start. Research In Motion (RIM) was not far behind, announcing BlackBerry App World at its developers’ conference in October 2008 and accepting submissions from developers in early 2009. Nokia’s Ovi Store opened in 2009. The Microsoft’s Windows Phone Marketplace launched in late October 2010. By July 2011 it had nearly 30,000 apps.

The Present

Today, modern mobile applications take advantage of built-in hardware abilities in astoundingly clever ways and perform robust web-based and organizational functions. The market for mobile software and devices has been steadily growing at a nearly geometric pace, and it shows no signs of slowing. Currently, even 3G itself is being slowly replaced by the much more powerful, purely packet-switching-based, data optimized 4G network. With this new technology, ten-fold increases over 3G in data transmission ability are coming into the picture, further bolstering the demand for media-rich mobile applications.

The Future

Device & OS Fragmentation

One possible future is that apps as we know them will eventually cease to exist – being replaced by brand names and services that give you actionable insights throughout the day. Imagine a customized news feed full of the services you use – presented at the right time. Think of how Google Now might evolve, for example. App developers won’t design for desktop and mobile any more. They will design a single experience that will stretch across any internet connected terminal.

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