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Component Manufacturers: Unsung Heroes of Smartphone Innovation

A particularly interesting discussion started today on Google+ about smartphone innovation. One thing often forgotten is the real heroes of smartphone innovation are the component manufacturers. Apple is often credited with having invented the modern smartphone. Credit should be given credit to two companies: Apple and LG. Back in December 2006, LG unveiled its KE850 Prada which utilized a capacitive touchscreen display. A month later, Apple announced the iPhone. The LG KE850 Prada hit the market in May 2007. Apple offered its iPhone for sale a month later.

The LG KE850 Prada.
The LG Prada. The worlds fiThe LG KE850 Prada. Unveiled in December 2006, it was the worlds first capacitive display touchscreen phone capacitive display touchscreen phone.

There has been much debate, and even an accusation by LG that Apple copied its design. Unless you have access to the confidential internal communications from both companies, I do not think anyone will be able to really ever answer that question.

My own view is that it was inevitable. You had the advent of capacitive touchscreen technology, and two manufacturers who understood its potential. The discussion is particularly apt now, since we may be seeing another innovation in smartphone technology which, while not as groundbreaking as the capacitive touchscreen, looks to be a significant change in smartphone design.

Two months ago, Motorola announced its new lineup of smartphones featuring X8 technology. Basically, this technology incorporated two low-powered processors which do very specific tasks. By doing this, the phone can run certain functions while in idle or sleep mode without having to use the more powerful but more power-hungry primary processor. This might change the way smartphones will operate in the future. Basically, they will do more while their screens are off, over and above waiting for calls, push notifications, and checking for updates in the background. This new technology will probably be used in making your smartphone a more efficient tool for communicating and integrating with other devices like smartwatches and other wearable tech like Google Glass. It will also see your smartphone becoming more integrated with things like your car and appliances.

This month, Apple revealed that their new A7 processor on the iPhone 5S also incorporates the “M7”, a separate low powered processor. I think most of us will agree that the announcement of the new technology, and the launch of the two devices in the market is too close for either company to have copied the other. New technology is available and some will decide it is the wave of the future and others will not.

The new technology was actually developed by component manufacturers and was integrated into their designs by smartphone manufacturers. Motorola’s X8 uses a pair of Texas Instrument processors. Apple’s M7 co-processor is built by NXP Semiconductors. Innovation from the device manufacturers is actually the ability to recognize newly available technology and find uses for it in consumer products. Maybe a more accurate view is smartphone innovation is a concerted effort. So while we hail smartphones manufactures for innovation, or pan them for not being innovative enough, we should remember that their ability or inability to bring forth something new also lies in the hands of lesser known companies.

Image Credit LG