evolution of smartphones
January 30, 2020

The Evolution of Smartphones — And Web Technology Development

Mobile Application Testing
Digital Experience

The evolution of smartphones has been remarkable — and it’s changed everything. Here, we cover how smartphones have evolved — why smartphone adoption has changed everything, including web technology development.

The Evolution of Smartphones

Smartphones weren’t always so smart.

1998: Nokia 5120

Do you remember the Nokia 5120 mobile phone? It was introduced to the market in 1998.

During that 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 possibly take the time to type those long URLs on a phone’s keyboard? 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 that kind of portability. As humans, we share a distinct need to put pictures of kittens in our pockets.

2007: Apple iPhone

Apple’s iPhone hit the market in 2007.

Steve Jobs’s idea — replacing a keyboard and mouse with a touchscreen — would irrevocably change the way the world thought about computing and communication. Early iPhone sales were stunning. Over 6 million units of the first model were sold.

Something was changing in our relationship with the web at that time. A desire for greater and more portable connectivity was growing.

But we still faced major challenges to mobile dominance of the web.

  • WiFi and cellular networks weren’t as fast as our home wired connections (they still aren’t in most cases!)
  • Processors weren’t capable of producing the kind of higher performance 2D and 3D graphics that desktops and laptops could achieve.
  • Smartphone screens increased in size and capability, 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.”

In many ways, this shift was expected. Android’s open source distribution model allows hardware manufacturers to distribute their own devices and even modify the base OS. This is something Apple’s business model doesn’t allow for.

2010–2017: Android Open Source Project

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

Android’s dominance would be cemented by a long period of sustainable growth, as we would see the number of projects commits per month double between 2010 and 2017. By 2017, there were 5,188 combined years of estimated development in the project.

2019: iPadOS

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

With this release, Apple is betting that the newest generation of users will make that final critical step: Take their work life away from the desktop PC and embrace mobile.

“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."

Smartphone Adoption Spurred a New Internet

Smartphone adoption has changed everything.

This surge in smartphone use demanded a new internet. This time, it’s a new way to view the internet — from both the front of the application and the back.

Like the PC internet revolution of the 1990s, the last decade has demanded swift 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 has absolutely changed the way that we think about our coding.

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

It has cascaded down to the type of data that we store — trillions upon trillions of bite-sized session records as opposed to giant canonical data structures. It’s leading us into edge computing which forces us to rethink deployment on metal.

User Behavior

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

Smartphones are extensions of ourselves. They define and extend the way that we communicate, they replace our need for physical memory, they help us navigate the world around us, and they help us record and share our experiences.

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

App Maturity

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

NativeApps that are built specifically for the mobile phone, fast but not cross-platform.
WebApps that look and feel like apps but are actually just webpages, but are limited by carrier strength and the restrictions of HTML.
HybridA blend of both, a native app that also relies on web components.
ProgressiveWeb apps that provide native-like functionality such as persistence and push notifications.

It's Not Over Yet...

Virtual reality (VR) is well on its way.

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

In 2019, Android also provided the mobile operating system that powers the incomparable 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 — and 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 technology development.

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

  • New browsers replacing legacy ones.
  • Responsive web becoming a de-facto standard for website development.
  • The rise of a new web technology in the form of progressive web apps (PWAs).

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

5 Key Shifts in Web Technology Development

  1. Responsive web design has won, organizations clearly understands the value of seamless user experience across mobile and desktop web platforms.
  2. Microsoft shifts to open source and retires Edge and other legacy browsers in favor of a chromium-based browser (Edge Insider).
  3. Progressive web apps poses a great opportunity for business to unify their source base — and deliver a rich web and mobile experience that closes many gaps between mobile native apps and web apps (offline caching, push notifications, app size, continuous deployment of value, etc.).
  4. JavaScript is the leading dev and test language for web-related software. Starting from application development frameworks through test automation frameworks (Selenium, Protractor, Cypress, and Puppeteer).
  5. Advanced choices of web application development frameworks continuously evolved. This includes Ruby on rails, Angular, Django, and Spring.

Browser Vendors Embrace DevOps

Browser vendors are also embracing DevOps. And the market is starting to see a 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 advance cadence, now with both iOS/iPad OS and MacOS targeted platforms.

Such changes require adaptation in both development and testing processes. This enables teams to respond to changes in the web technologies and prevent regressions from happening.

Changes in WebDriver Technology

An additional major change that we’ve experienced over the past decade around web technologies is around the WebDriver technology.

Selenium has been the de-facto test automation framework for the past decade. Selenium IDE now runs on both Chrome and Firefox browsers. In addition, Selenium has become a W3C compliant protocol and requires adaptations accordingly.


Example of running Selenium on Chrome 75 with a W3C Compliant WebDriver.

To get ready for the next decade of web technologies, DevOps teams ought to be exploring all the above-mentioned trends and changes. They’ll need to seek opportunities to improve and adjust their processes.

Importance of Security and Accessibility

Security and accessibility area always top of mind for CIOs and executives. But they were lacking proper attention and investment. It’s critical for organizations to prioritize security and compliance. They need to make the changes in tools, processes, and skills to ensure compliance of their web applications to both security vulnerabilities as well as accessibility needs.

Nearly half of security professionals struggle to get developers on board. Developers aren’t skilled nor have security throughout the pipeline activities as a priority.

Smart Teams Trust Perfecto For Web & Mobile Testing

The evolution of smartphones — and widespread smartphone adoption — have changed everything. And both web and mobile applications need to live up to tomorrow’s expectations.

Your team can get there with automated, continuous testing from Perfecto.

Perfecto is an all-in-one solution for web and mobile app testing. It integrates with Selenium (and other test automation tools). And it provides support for large-scale testing with world-class security.