The Sound of Smartphones: How Music Helped to Shape Phone Technology

July 11, 2014 – Remember boom boxes? Those huge silver machines weighing upwards of 30 pounds with huge speakers on the side and the highly sought after dual auto-reverse cassette deck on the front? Sitting on the front stoop with a group of friends listening to music around a ghetto blaster might seem like a cliché or something out of an old movie to some, but to many it defined a generation.

Since those early days of tunes that moved with you, when you needed a minimum of eight D batteries to power your devices and required a small posse just to move it around, portable music has often been a deciding factor in the evolution of technology. The iconic boom box, popular with late era Gen X-ers, gave way to the portable cassette player, or Walkman, which ruled the portable universe for many years. The invention of compact disks, or CDs, and eventually digital portable players such as the iPod or Zune gave way to smaller devices with greater capacity and variety of data storage. Now, the current trend is all about streaming.

Cell phone technology has progressed alongside music technologies. Mobile phones have shifted away from the smaller flip phones to the handheld smartphones with larger screens and capabilities. Data transmission began rapidly increasing, and the cell phone and music industry were quick to jump on board the streaming revolution. Companies quickly realized that people don’t want to carry around multiple devices, and so cell phone designers and manufacturers began to incorporate that technology into their designs.

In 1993, the world had its first glimpse of the future as the IBM Simon was introduced. The original smartphone was a phone, pager, fax and PDA all in one, but sadly had no music capabilities. It was, however, the first phone ever to utilize touch screen technology, ushering the way for the marvels we now call commonplace. As the technology, designs and development progressed, subsequent phones quickly adapted to allow the storage of music on phones. They also incorporated better speakers and headphone jacks.

With the advent of 3G technology, allowing for greater transmission speeds, streaming information quickly changed from fantasy to reality. When streaming music over your cellular phone was first introduced by Spring in 2004, the idea was revolutionary. Suddenly people had the ability to watch videos or, more importantly, listen to whatever music they wanted, whenever they wanted without having to carry around tons of stored data. Companies such as RealNetworks pioneered the technology which was soon picked up by others like iTunes and Pandora. Now, there are numerous audio streaming alternatives which allow you to choose your own channels and even listen to channels set up by your friends.

All the major phone companies have started producing phones tailored to these consumer desires. With newer technologies designed around music and audio reproduction, the quality of music heard through internal or external speakers or headphones is amazing. So where does the collaboration of music and mobile devices go from here? Only time can tell.


This article has been kindly provided by a Social Monsters’ guest blogger. If you would like to see more articles of this type here please give me feedback through your comments.


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...


  • I agree with this. From my personal experiences, I also consider features supporting music listening experiences when buying a new phone. Also music streaming apps help to save a lot of storage in the phone.