What is a smartphone?

Devices reduced

Do you remember the remark supposedly made by an out of touch judge ‘who are the Beatles?’

The unknowing can feel much the same in many circumstances when it is assumed that everyone knows what a smartphone is or what an iPad can do.

Let’s take telephones – we are all familiar with a landline and how it works – we could see the lines running to our houses from a telegraph pole and although we may not have understood the finer technicalities we knew that if we wanted one installed we contacted the GPO who sent a man round and fitted one up and plugged in the current model and our names usually went into the telephone directory. Easy. Then along came mobile phones. The first mobile phone call was made by Motorola in 1973. The early phones were the size of a brick. By the 1990s the development of the mobile phone started to really get underway and many people bought a ‘pay as you go’ phone to make phone calls on the move or send text messages.  Mobile phones then started to get ‘smarter’ and offered a camera,  so that photos could be taken and sent, and more besides. You would have to have a contract with a mobile phone network provider. Around the same time the ‘portable audio player’ appeared. The name ‘Sony Walkman’ comes to mind. All over the country people could be seen listening to their own choice of music through a set of tiny headphones. These portable audio players also started to develop and Apple’s iPod Touch was the first to have the interactive touch screen. It is having a glass screen without a set of buttons that seems to have been the major breakthrough for the casual observer like me and also the most scary to the uninitiated.  The iPod was connected to the Internet via wifi and you could check and send emails from any wifi point anywhere in the world. It also had computer programs that could be downloaded called apps. These apps meant you could choose what you wanted to carry with you. The iPod did everything that the developing smartphone could do apart from providing a phone. Meanwhile the smartphone was truly getting underway and it had everything that the iPod had to offer and a mobile phone too. If you see someone listening to their own choice of music these days they do not need a ‘portable audio player’ as this technology has been absorbed into the smartphone. So where does the tablet fit into this? The much larger iPad, using a wifi connection, does everything a smartphone can do and more, apart from the mobile phone element, although it does have an app for face to face visual phone calls instead. The iPad is adaptable to the varying requirements of the user and a separate keyboard can be added if need be or it will react to your voice when you ask it to do something. Its main advantage is it is so much bigger and easier and more convenient to use at home.  Confused? I bet!

It seems to me that many people come to mobile technology via the mobile phone route upgrading from a basic phone and eventually taking up the smartphone and I certainly have a couple of friends appreciating that travelling with such compact and mobile technology can give great benefits to them. Richard tells me that while visiting family in Kenya in January he sat on the beach in glorious sunshine catching up with what had been going on in his world and in the world at large via his smartphone which picked up the wifi signal from the hotel adjacent to the beach.


Richard using his mobile phone with special operating pen.

Richards Apps

The apps Richard travels the world with on his smartphone.

I also became aware at some point that the desktop computer, the laptop, the smartphone, the iPad, a satellite navigation system (often Tom-Tom) and more were all being known collectively as ‘devices’ and that one device could ‘talk’ to another via wifi transferring information collected on one device to another device. This is very useful if you keep your diary on your phone and your desktop computer, and it also means that something you do on your smartphone or your iPad can be ‘synced’ back to your main computer and vice versa. I find this very useful for my family history research and will be writing here soon about how this works.


I would like to tell you about my friend Robin. Many will remember Robin from his days as reference librarian at Yeovil library. He has a deteriorating eye condition which he describes as giving him “very poor and misty vision – rather like viewing the world through a net curtain” and he was registered blind five years ago. His use of the iPad and how it has helped him adapt is an inspirational one.  In his own words ‘with my failing eyesight my son suggested that an iPad might help me and so I went off to the Apple shop in Bath where I took the first tentative steps and purchased my iPad”. He then demonstrated how he uses ‘voice over’ to get himself around the iPad. By pressing the only button on the front of the iPad three times he activated ‘voice over’ and then as he ran his fingers over the display the voice told him what he was touching. I watched in amazement as he called up his emails and found the email I sent him previously and I heard the disembodied voice using my words to confirm our meeting. Robin then showed me how he replies to his emails and how he uses his own voice to dictate them or he might use the keyboard and by tapping the screen, double tapping the screen, swiping the screen with two or with three fingers he gets his email recipients selected, writes and sends emails. It was amazing to watch him in action. One of Robin’s great interests is the American Civil War and he uses the Internet to search for and seek out material that he can then read and study. Books and papers can be read back to him with a swipe of the screen, relevant photos can be found and retained and notes can be written all on the iPad and all while sitting on the sofa with the rest of the family around him. Robin then completed his demonstration by saying  “the iPad has enabled me to tentatively go back to giving illustrated talks. The facility of being able to search the Internet for suitable images, coupled with then being able to send them as email attachments to better sighted friends, to enable a PowerPoint presentation to be assembled, has given me the personal satisfaction of giving three presentations in as many years. Something that I had thought I would never be able to do again! Talk about life-enhancing…!”  I remember the first of these talks when Robin collected up the photos that he wished to use and emailed them to me and I put them in the order he requested in PowerPoint so that they could be projected onto a screen and we in the audience could sit back and see the photos that illustrated the talk that Robin gave to us. It was quite amazing and I am sure that there could well be some amongst the audience who might not have realised that Robin has such poor quality vision.

Barbara Elsmore

April 2016

This entry was posted in Using a tablet and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What is a smartphone?

  1. barrybrock says:

    Great stuff Barbara, but I thought the Sony Walkman appeared in the 1970s – I stumbled over this early on and the question stayed with me to the end!


    • A quick scout around the Internet and it looks as though the Sony Walkman went on sale here first in 1980 and it appears that the word “Walkman” had entered the Oxford English Dictionary by 1986 – a real breakthrough in how music could be enjoyed!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s