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Tech Success Stories: the iPhone

The iPhone 4Apple’s iPhone has sold more than 50 million units and changed what we expect from mobile phones. Take a look at the technology that made it possible.


Perhaps the first “smartphone” was IBM’s Simon, created in 1992. This phone had an address book, calendar and calculator and allowed people to send email and faxes – not a very exciting list today, but revolutionary at the time. It even had some features that look surprisingly modern: a two-colour touch screen could be used for dialling and typing, and allowed users to send a fax of their own handwriting.

Since then, advances in technology and the increasing importance of the internet in daily life have led to huge changes in what phones can do, with companies like Nokia and Blackberry adding web browsing, WiFi, GPS and music players.

When it was first released, the iPhone didn’t add any particularly new features. Instead, it focused on making the features of smartphones easier to use, especially for things like web browsing. This, combined with the fact that it could be easily used with Apple’s popular iTunes software, helped to make features that used to be obscure far more appealing.

Touch screens

Although touch screens have been around since the 1970s, and were already used on existing smartphones, the iPhone changed the way we use them. A big part of this is the kind of touch screen it used.

Earlier touch screen phones usually used resistive technology. These use two layers of material that can conduct electricity with a gap between them. When the screen is pressed, the two layers are pushed together, and the point at which they meet is detected. This method is very precise, but it can only detect one touch at a time and is best used with a stylus. This is the kind of touch screen used by the Nintendo DS.

The iPhone uses a capacitive touch screen. This technology is based on the fact that your body can conduct electricity – which is why you can’t use an iPhone while wearing gloves. The screen is coated with a conductive material, and your finger changes its electrical properties. This isn’t as precise, but it is much quicker, only needs a very light touch, and can use more than one touch at a time.

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Very well researched apart from one thing!! Resitive touch screens can be controlled by 2 fingers at once!!! However the reason you may have thought otherwise is most sensible companys avoide this because as you have to press down hard it can complicate the system and is always very difficult to work. For example the recent Android product the Haipad (similar in name and astethic quality to a certain other apple product.) The haipad has a resitive touch screen and uses 2 fingers to blow up a piece of text (much like the *chough* ipad!) Sorry but I just wanted to pick up on this and hope you take this information in to consideration!

Adam 01-01-11