It had to happen. Two rapidly-advancing, media-related technologies, such as those that power the Internet and mobile phones, would inevitably have to merge, and that's exactly what's happening now. Smartphones are constantly being produced with ever greater, and more convenient, online access, in addition to their more traditional, and comparatively mundane, phone call capability. Even the hardware boundaries are becoming blurred, as personal computers have evolved via desktops, laptops, netbooks and tablets. It's getting harder to know whether the latest product is a phone with full Internet capability, or a pocket-sized, online computer that can also make phone calls.
The Design Challenge
Alongside these impressive hardware developments, Internet technologies are becoming more 'smartphone friendly'. Software developers and professional website designers are constantly finding ways to overcome the challenges that providing visually engaging information and interactivity to the small screens of smartphones entails. The challenges are significant. A typical website, traditionally, is designed to be seen on a monitor, not on a 3 inch screen. On a phone display, it must be, not only visually appealing, but also informative. Text has to be sharp enough, as well as large enough, to be legible. Navigation around the site, (and around the web, in the case of browsers), needs to be very carefully thought out, and made as intuitive as possible for the user. Fewer clicks translates to greater appeal.
While the typical smartphone's small physical size provides a challenge for hardware and software designers, it also opens up new possibilities and technologies. 2D barcoding, for example, has evolved to take advantage of the smartphones ability to scan special barcodes placed on items, wherever the user comes across them, and instantly connect the user to a source of information regarding the item. 2D barcodes are becoming increasingly common, not only on products, but on ads, business cards, notices; anywhere, in fact, that someone wants to provide a link to any source of information. They are fast becoming a major marketing tool in the world of E-commerce.
Technology and security advances
Until fairly recently, phone users were unable to access many online services that were available to computer users connected online via telephone land lines. Technical factors involving transmission rates, security, encryption, etc., prevented many users from accessing a whole range of web services via their phone. As expected, these web issues are constantly being addressed and overcome, and far more services are now possible, including: online banking, buying goods, online signups, gambling, and much more.
Insatiable public demand for more convenience
Accelerating these advances is, simply, the insatiable public demand for convenience, which, of course, translates to increased profits for the companies involved in supplying these technologies and services. The amount of people going online via mobile phone has grown significantly over the last few years, and, by around 2014, according to Microsoft, it's estimated that they'll outnumber those accessing the 'net' from home computers or laptops. Already, a quarter of the world's mobile phones, estimated at around four billion, are smartphones, and this ratio will rapidly increase over the next couple of years.
While all of these technical advances are going on, users often have a hard time keeping up with what's on offer. It's well worth the effort, though, as there seems to be no end to the ingenuity of designers, providing smartphones and 'apps', that are new, exciting, useful and available right now.