January 30, 2020

The Evolution of Smartphones — And Web Technology Development

Mobile Application Testing
Digital Experience

The evolution of smartphones is remarkable. And it’s changed everything. Here, we cover how smartphones have evolved and the smartphone history timeline. And we discuss why smartphones have changed everything, including web development.

The History of Smartphones: A Timeline

Smartphones weren’t always so smart. Here's a quick history of the evolution of smartphones. Keep reading to go further in-depth.

The Evolution of Smartphones



Fun Fact


Nokia 5120

Nokia 5120 featured 3 entertaining games.


Apple iPhone

Apple iPhone was seen as the prototype for the current generation of smartphones.



First major smartphone OS to allow manufacturers to distribute their own devices.


Android Open Source Project

Unique platform for open source Android projects.



Game-changer bridging the gap between smartphones and laptops.

1998: Nokia 5120

Remember the Nokia 5120 mobile phone? It launched in 1998.

At the time, Microsoft and Netscape were fighting the first browser war. And Windows 95 users were prepping for weeklong upgrades to Windows 98.

The web was new and exciting. But who could type long URLs on a phone? And, what would be the point? Could you even recognize a cute kitten on that green and black Nokia screen?

Of course, we’d find that the market desired portability. As humans, we share a distinct need to put pictures of kittens in our pockets.

2007: Apple iPhone

Apple’s iPhone debuted in 2007.

Steve Jobs’s idea — replacing a keyboard and mouse with a touchscreen — would change everything. The way the world computed and communicated would never be the same. Early iPhone sales were stunning. Over 6 million units of the first model were sold.

Our relationship with the web changed at that time. A desire for greater connectivity was growing.

But we still faced major challenges.

  • Wi-Fi and cellular networks weren’t as fast as at home (they still aren’t in most cases!)
  • Processors couldn't produce higher performance 2D and 3D graphics desktops and laptops could achieve.
  • Smartphone screens increased, but still lacked the resolution for comfortable viewing.

2009–2010: Android

From 2009 to 2010, Android started catching up with Apple.

“Android’s share of the worldwide smartphone market rose from less than less than 5% in 2009 to 13.8% in the first half of 2010 and reached 24.5% in the second half to become the second most popular smartphone platform in the world. Shipments of Android-based smartphones jumped 561% from 2009 to 2010 to more than 55 million units in 2010.”

This shift was expected. Android is open source. It allows manufacturers to distribute their own devices. They can even modify the base OS. Apple doesn’t allow that.

2010–2017: Android Open Source Project

Developer communities cropped up around Android in 2010: the Android Open Source Project (AOSP).

Android’s dominance was cemented by a long period of growth. The number of project commits per month doubled from 2010-2017. By 2017, there were 5,188 combined years of estimated development in the project.

2019: iPadOS

Apple announced iPadOS in 2019. It branches from the core iOS code. It also comes with Apples’ “sidecar” concept. The iPad connects to the iPhone and acts like a monitor.

With this release, Apple is betting that users will make a final critical step. They hope they will embrace mobile over desktop PC for their work life.

“For years, Apple has been gesturing toward a future in which the iPad becomes your primary computer—both because its processing power rivals a desktop's and because younger consumers just won't know the difference between a "mobile device" and a "computer."

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Smartphone Adoption Spurred a New Internet

Smartphone adoption changed everything.

And it demanded a new internet. This time, it’s a new way to view the internet — from both the front and back.

Like the PC revolution of the 1990s, the last decade demanded innovation in API connectivity, data compression, protocols, and UI/UX.

Mobile Surpassed Web

In November 2016, mobile traffic (51.3%) surpassed desktop traffic (48.7%).

The Way We Code

This shift changed the way we think about coding.

The need to push small, dynamic, reactive updates to mobile browsers has given way to the microservice API.

It cascaded to the type of data we store. Trillions of bite-sized session records are used rather than giant data structures. It’s leading us into edge computing. This forces us to rethink deployment on metal.

User Behavior

User behavior changed, too. We’re no longer bound to desktops.

Smartphones are extensions of us. They define and extend the way we communicate. They replace our need for physical memory. They help us navigate. And they help us share experiences.

Smartphones have also become the place for retail. In the 2015 holiday season, Amazon reported that 70% of customers shopped on smartphones.

App Maturity

Software matured alongside hardware. And there’s even a classification system for it. This system details just how close the app is to the mobile or desktop web spectrum.

App Maturity


Apps built specifically for mobile phones — fast but not cross-platform.


Apps that look and feel like apps but are just webpages. They are limited by carrier strength and the restrictions of HTML.


A blend of both, a native app that also relies on web components.


Web apps that provide native-like functionality such as push notifications.

It's Not Over Yet...

Virtual reality (VR) is well on its way.

Google’s Cardboard SDK, part of Android, relies on a smartphone to be placed into a foldable cardboard headset. It proved to the world that next generation VR is possible and coming soon.

In 2019, Android also provided the mobile operating system for the Oculus Quest.

Foldable phones are on their way, too. But there are still some kinks to work out. The Motorola Razor may indeed rise again. It would force manufacturers like Apple to produce their own foldable phones.

Smartphones Influenced Web Technology Development

As the entire industry evolved around smartphones, so did web.

We’ve experienced some very dramatic shifts and innovations in web. This includes:

  • New browsers replacing legacy ones.
  • Responsive web becoming standard for web dev.
  • New web technology in the form of progressive web apps (PWAs).

In fact, there have been 5 key shifts in web.

5 Key Shifts in Web Technology Development

  1. Responsive web design has won. We now understand the value of seamless UX across mobile and desktop web.
  2. Microsoft shifts to open source. They retired Edge and other legacy browsers in favor of a chromium-based browser (Edge Insider).
  3. Progressive web apps pose a great opportunity for businesses to unify their source base. And they allow them to deliver a rich web and mobile experience. PWAs close many gaps between mobile native apps and web apps. These include offline caching, push notifications, app size, continuous deployment of value, and more.
  4. JavaScript is the leading dev and test language for web-related software. This includes application development frameworks through test automation frameworks (Selenium, Protractor, Cypress, and Puppeteer).
  5. Choices of web application development frameworks continuously evolve. These includes Ruby on rails, Angular, Django, and Spring.

Browser Vendors Embrace DevOps

Browser vendors are also embracing DevOps. And the market is seeing more advanced release schedules from browser vendors.

Mozilla recently announced a monthly GA release of its Firefox browsers. Apple will release their Safari browser in a more advanced cadence. It will be for both iOS/iPad OS and MacOS.

Such changes require adaptation in both dev and testing. This enables teams to respond to changes and prevent regressions.

Changes in WebDriver Technology

Another change we’ve experienced in the past decade is WebDriver technology.

Selenium has been the de-facto framework. Selenium IDE now runs on both Chrome and Firefox. Selenium has also become a W3C compliant protocol. It requires adaptations accordingly.

Image Blog Evolution Smartphone 2