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Learning How Smartphones Are Built

There arguably isn’t any piece of technological innovation in the past decade as impactful and as ubiquitous as the smartphone. From being simple communication devices for calling and texting, today’s phones now double as your pocket office, entertainment hub, and so much more.

These smartphones, and the many ways in which we use them, certainly did not exist when throomers were much younger. Today, the average American spends around 5 hours a day on their phone — and yes, this includes even baby boomers. A huge portion of this time is spent on social media and looking through the Internet. As apps become more crucial in our everyday dealings; however, these hours can quickly add up.

Where it’s made

While we have become dependent on our smartphones, most don’t entirely know how these tech wonders are built. Believe it or not, that device in the palm of your hand is an aggregate product of the world’s natural resources and an entire global supply chain.

Take the iPhone, for instance. You may have heard that Apple’s smartphones are made in China, but the story is much more complicated than that. Every design aspect of these phones comes from their headquarters in Cupertino. But how these become the devices in your pocket is a journey that traverses the entire globe.

While it’s true that most of the factories run by Foxconn — the iPhone’s top manufacturer — are in the world’s most populous country, it also uses parts from other places in the world. Chances are, its processors and LCD were made in South Korea, while the touch screen may have come from Israel, Greece, Belgium, France, The Netherlands, or the United Kingdom. Even the glass screen is manufactured in parts of Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, among others. So, your phone’s parts can be made in at least ten countries and assembled in China before being shipped back to the United States for software integration.

What’s inside

Aside from your phone traveling more miles than most Americans will in their lifetime before even arriving in your pocket, what’s inside it is even more astounding. Smartphones have changed so much in the last decade — going from small but bulky bricks to today’s slick bezel-less thin bars.

What enabled this shift, however, are incremental innovations in chipsets and printed circuit board (PCB) designs, among others. Chipsets used today are more compact and powerful, capable of processing a thousand times faster than they had just a few decades ago. Similarly, PCBs today are smaller and more flexible — accommodating more components in a compact form. These days, multi-board PCB design adapts to the needs of today’s complex devices by reducing design schedules and budgets with a new type of workflow. As they’re far cheaper to manufacture but, at the same time, more intricate, it has led to the latest dual-screen folding phones being launched today.

Even the amazing camera on your phone is a culmination of decades-long innovation. While it’s true that there seem to be more lenses and cameras now on new flagship phones than in the past, the magic happens on the software side. Indeed, most high-end cameras since 2013 have high dynamic range imaging capabilities, or what’s known as HDR. This allows phones to take in incredible detail of deeper blacks and brighter highlights — a process that can take some time. With the computer power from better PCBs and chipsets in smartphones today, however, HDR+ became a reality. Google’s Pixel line, for example, introduced a feature called Night Sight, which made it possible to capture burst shots in night scenes while almost spontaneously processing the photos captured to create one clear, composite image.

So, the next time you use your phone, take time to think about how you’re holding a computer more powerful and more globally connected than ever before.