The Role of Smartphones in Attention Economy
One of the main features that differs a smartphone from older generation communication devices is the plethora of components and abilities that are packed into this single device. Along with the standard calling and messaging capabilities, smartphones act in the same way as a computer does, giving the user the possibility to download any apps they are interested in and making it a much more personal device. Knowing the different types of common components that are present, can make for a more educated choice in selecting the most appropriate device for one’s needs and lifestyle, and may even help planning ahead to get the most bang for your buck in terms of longevity.
Probably the most ubiquitous component in a smartphone, and serving as the most prominent method of user interaction with the introduction of touchscreens in the early days of its development. Whilst most screen types come and go with the progression of technology, a number of types still coexist through their use by different brands.
The primary variants in this department are mainly split with the LCD and LED technologies. With LCD, a backlight is lit through a panel of polarised crystals that block or let light per pixel on the display.
An LED display however, works in an additive manner, where each pixel is lit in order to produce an image, and certain LEDs are turned off if there are dark areas on the screen. This means that devices that use LED technology such as AMOLED, fare better at conserving battery life, but push a higher price tag as a result (TheWindowsClub, 2019).
The heart of all computing power in smartphones is the processor, or what would technically be called a chipset, as it houses a number of components apart from the processor itself. Certain specifications can be noted when comparing chipsets that can indicate their processing power and battery consumption. The number of cores is usually noted as Dual, Quad, Hexa or Octa core, which refers to the number of cores available to distribute the computed tasks amongst each other in a queued order that helps with battery consumption (Cool Blue, 2021). Also, the clock speed listed in GHz, which refers to the number of tasks it can compute per second. Generally, the higher the numbers means better performance, likewise it can also mean more power consumption.
Most portable devices these days make use of lithium-ion technology that currently often comes as a non-removable component. Older types would often feature nickel-based batteries which would require some form of calibration, however today there are proper practices recommended by each manufacturer on how to prolong their battery life.
The standard configuration for smartphones includes a front facing and rear cameras, and all include the following three essential parts; the main sensor that detects light, the lens, and the image processor (Fossbytes, 2017). In the early days of the smartphone, the sensor’s megapixel count was a defining factor for camera quality, however nowadays the sensors quality and its sensitivity to light has taken over its importance. Due to the size limitations of portable devices, the physical constraint of having small sensors is difficult to work around and results in poor quality with low-light conditions in most devices, and is one of the areas most manufacturers have tried to continually improve on. Each individual should also consider the actual camera placement on the body of the device, regarding if the lens protrudes, if the position is off-centre or not, and the colour and power of the flash LED, as some might have personal preferences about such possibilities.
Light Sensor — This sensor is what regulates the display brightness automatically on a device, often seen as a small dark spot on the front of the smartphone in order to sense the amount of ambient light to have it set an appropriate brightness level. It is primarily to reduce the strain on one’s eyes in either the lowlight of a bedroom lamp or the bright sun in outdoor conditions, whilst also saving battery life by changing the level automatically.
Proximity Sensor — A component commonly used to detect when the phone is placed close to a person’s ears during a call to automatically lock the screen and prevent accidental touch commands.
Magnetometer — A digital compass that is used to mark one’s bearings on digital maps for GPS and navigation.
Gyroscope — Used for detecting the device’s orientation, particularly to automatically rotate the display when switching from portrait to landscape modes, or when playing various games that require phone rotation.
Accelerometer — Detects movement on the device, can detect seismic movement or be used to switch between menu items by shaking the device.
Barometer — Able to detect altitude data, used in software like health tracking apps in order to calculate movement from one floor to another, or even helping to gain a more accurate GPS location.
Biometric — Used to capture and compare one’s fingerprint to gain quick access to the device.
CoolBlue. (2021). What is a smartphone processor and what does it do?. https://www.coolblue.nl/en/advice/smartphone-processors.html
Fossbytes. (2017). What’s inside my smartphone? — An in-depth look at different components of a smartphone. https://fossbytes.com/whats-inside-smartphone-depth-look-parts-powering-everyday-gadget/
TheWindowsClub. (2019). AMOLED vs OLED vs LCD display explained. https://www.thewindowsclub.com/amoled-vs-oled-vs-lcd-display-explained#:~:text=The%20major%20difference%20between%20LCD,its%20own%20source%20of%20light.&text=Each%20pixel%20emits%20its%20own,color%20independently%20when%20activated%20electrically.
This blog is a project for Study Unit DGA3008, University of Malta.