Do you realize how much computing power you're carrying in the form of your smartphone?
My friend Rex Roach and I were talking about this subject, in a roundabout way the other night at dinner. Specifically, the subject came up when we were talking about the computing power of iPhone X.
Let me try to put it into perspective. When I was a kid, portable radios were all the rage. Manufacturers used to advertise their radios as having "six transistors" or the like. Having six transistors must have been quite impressive to portable-radio buyers because early advertising featured that number plastered on the shell of the radio itself.
Fast forward 65 years or so. I was amazed when Rex casually mentioned (in between bites of barbecue) that one of the top-of-the-line smartphones — the iPhone X — contained an incredible 4.3-billion transistors. (That's 4,300,000,000 transistors if you'd like to see all the zeroes.) We both marveled at that staggering number — and how it's going up every time a newer version of the iPhone comes out.
With the 50th anniversary of NASA's first manned mission to the moon coming up this summer, a lot of attention has been given to the computing power involved in our successful mission to our lunar neighbor. It pales in comparison to what's available to the average consumer today.
To put it into simple terms, your smartphone is millions of times more powerful than all of NASA's combined computing power in 1969. So how did we put a man on the moon with such puny processors and minimal memory?
Let's choose one particularly important feature. The now-ancient command module computer designed at MIT Instrumentation Laboratory in the early 60s was called the Apollo Guidance Computer. It was essential to putting the Apollo 11 crew in lunar orbit and eventually guiding the capsule that landed on and took off from the lunar surface. To show you the simplicity of the AGC, as it was known, it had the astronauts type in two-digit numbers: verbs and nouns. The verbs described the type of action to be performed and the nouns selected which data was affected by the action specified by the verb command. Pretty simple, huh?
Even by today's consumer standards, smartphones, tablets and laptops are light years ahead of the computers that held the lives of the astronauts in their virtual hands hundreds of thousands of miles in space.
Regardless of the limited power in their computers, somehow NASA's scientists managed to make it work.
So, what's ahead for the computers we carry around everywhere in the form of smartphones? The sky seems to be the limit. Hopefully, you'll soon be buying smartphones that fold (really?), have longer battery life and faster charging time (some wirelessly), and operate over the highly anticipated 5G system.
Let's take a look at some of those features and others that could be coming to a phone store near you.
The folding phone seems — on the surface — to be a bit faddish for a consumer my age. But apparently to folks who like such things, it's a big deal and most all of the phone companies are looking at adding the feature.
In-display fingerprint sensors that make sense to a lot of buyers should be on the market soon. I think the more security the better — when it comes to phones ... especially a good facial recognition system. Many of the companies that offer facial recognition are working on making their FR features more robust.
Faster, more efficient wireless charging systems are really gaining traction. Hopefully, manufacturers will get on the bandwagon in having better, plain old, in-the-phone battery life, too. I'd take this feature over folding phones — how about you?
Finally, here's hoping you enjoy the power in your pocket ... and that it answers many of the needs you didn't think you'd ever have.