I remember, in the 1990s, when cellular phones started gaining popularity, the competition among companies was to make the phones smaller. Many years later, things have reversed. The competition now pertains to how big and bold can the phones, especially the screens, be.

There was a television commercial in the mid-90s, which I enjoyed watching as a child growing up in Asia.

In that commercial, a man takes his seat at a table in an upscale restaurant, and makes eye contact with a woman sitting at a different table. He is dressed in a suit, wearing a tie, with a businessman-like look, while the woman too is wearing a nice coat with a pearl necklace.

She says, “Hello”.

The man, surprised that a stranger he does not know is greeting him, responds, “Hi.”

The woman, with her palm resting against the side of her face says, “What are you doing tonight?”

Perplexed, the man asks, “Me?”

The woman seems to offer, “Join me for dinner?”

The man, visibly happy, says, “Sure.” He then gets up from his chair and heads towards her table.

As he approaches her table, the woman says, “See you at eight.”

As she completes the sentence, the woman removes her hand from the side of her face, which reveals a black cell phone in her palm.

The man, now standing next to her table, is shocked as she looks at him and orders, “One black coffee please.”

Poor gentleman! He then realizes that she was talking over the phone, and he thought that she was talking to him and offering him to join her for dinner. Embarrassed, he turns away from the table.

This is an old television commercial for an Ericsson cell phone, with the tagline “Surprisingly small.”

Yes, you are correct – the competition among companies back in the 1990s was to make cell phones as small as possible. The smaller the phone, the more attractive it was for customers. Brands such as Nokia and Motorola were all innovating to make their newer phone models even smaller in size than previous ones, as on what customers preferred. The smaller the phone, the more customers loved it.

Then something happened. Cell phones were no longer only for making calls or sending a text, but also for taking pictures. As camera became a popular feature in cell phones, the competition drove companies to make better cameras for their phones, with higher and higher resolutions with each new model. And as it happened, the desire for a bigger screen grew, so that people could see photos on a large screen.

Eventually, companies added features to allow customers to browse the internet on their phones. From pressing hard buttons, cell phones started to have touchscreens. And one after another, features kept being added to turn phones into mini computers.

These days, cell phones have such impressive displays and cameras, that many people have replaced actual cameras and video-recording devices. People can not only take pictures with their phones, but can also add filters, animation, etc., to the images they captured. Videos taken using smart phones can be edited with a variety of software and tools.

When  you look at an Apple or Samsung phone – two of the most popular brands of smart phones today – you will see how competition has resulted in manufacturers giving these phones bigger screens. In fact, people these days watch movies and television shows on their phones.

Is a big screen always good? Not necessarily.

Bigger screens mean that cell phones take up more space in your pocket or bag. Bigger phones also require more expensive covers such as an Otterbox, which come in various shapes and sizes.

If the idea of a cell phone is to make communication easy while a person is on the go, then having a small phone that fits in the palm of one’s hand is truly what a cell phone should be.

However, we have moved beyond simply using a phone for calls and text messages. Methods of communication now include Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, Viber, and so much more. All of these require applications, or “apps” to be downloaded onto the cell phone, before use. And it just cannot be any cell phone, it has to be a smart phone. And when I say smart phone, it almost certainly falls in the category of cell phones with increasingly large screens.

I am a millennial, and in my lifetime so far, I have seen cell phones evolve a great deal – from getting increasingly smaller and advanced, to becoming bigger in size and more complicated, yet more useful in many ways.

I do not know what the future holds. What will be the next race in the cell phone industry? Will we oscillate back to making the phones smaller and smaller? With the large phones we have in the market these days, there is hardly any room for phones to get any bigger. After all, we must remember that a cell phone should fit in one’s pocket, and if these phones grow any bigger in size that would no longer be possible.

I am curious to see how cell phones evolve over the next ten years. Are you?

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