This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for our industry’s remarkable rate of innovation

November 22, 2012

Image Credit: The New Yorker

It’s easy to get jaded as a journalist, and I admit that I used to be that guy, the one who always complained about everything, but these past few years have given me an incredible amount of perspective. Remember the first Nexus device, the Nexus One? It started shipping in January 2010. Less than three years later, we have the Nexus 4. So what’s changed?

Starting with the processors, the SoC inside the Nexus One was made by Qualcomm, had a single core, and was clocked at 1 GHz. Less than three years later, a point I can not stress enough, the Nexus 4 bumped that up to four Qualcomm designed cores, each clocked at 1.5 GHz. Forgetting about the GPU improvements for a second, the increase in compute power alone should astound you. If it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with how you see the world.

Then there’s RAM. The Nexus One had 512 MB. The Nexus 4 on the other hand, it has 2 GB. Again, we’re seeing a quadrupling in the span of just three years. The laptop I bought in 2007 had 2 GB of RAM. When it died in 2010, I replaced it with a machine that came with 4 GB of RAM. When are smartphones going to come with 4 GB of RAM? When companies start shipping 64 bit ARM chips, something we should expect to see in 2014.

Next up is my favorite component of a smartphone, the screen. For me, if a device has a terrible screen, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of the hardware is, I’m not going to enjoy using it. Some people can put up with a subpar panel, but I’m not one of them. The Nexus One had a 3.7 inch 800 x 480 pixel display, which at the time was considered ultra high resolution. Now with the Nexus 4, the display is not only bigger at 4.7 inches, but it pushes a resolution of 1280 x 768. That’s 2.56x the number of pixels. The first 1080p smartphone hit the market this week; that has 5.4x as many pixels as the Nexus One. Let that sink in for a moment.

As for network performance, the Nexus One maxed out at 7.2 megabits per second using HSPA technology. The Nexus 4 does 42 megabit per second HSPA+, but the chip inside is capable of delivering 100 megabit per second LTE speeds. So in three years we not only quadrupled HSPA/HSPA+ performance, but we also saw the introduction a new wireless technology that’s an order of magnitude faster. If this stuff isn’t making your head explode, I question your geek credentials.

The younger Android Authority readers might not understand the point of this editorial, but the older audience will definitely appreciate where I’m coming from. It feels just like yesterday when I first tethered my feature phone to my Palm PDA and downloaded text while out and about. That was magical moment. Today we’re all watching HD videos on our phones while getting notifications in the background from the two or three social networks we use on a constant basis. Had you told me in 2007 that in half a decade there would be phones with quad core processors, 2 GB of RAM, and 1080p screens, I would have laughed in your face.

And yet, this is the world we live in. Which brings me to today’s holiday, Thanksgiving. Despite living on the other side of the Atlantic ocean, I still reserve a day of the year to be thankful for everything that I have. Today I’m thankful, humbled even, that companies are relentlessly innovating. People might be annoyed that the devices they buy get rendered “obsolete” in just a a year or two, but they’re missing the point.

Progress is relentless, and it’s an absolute joy to watch.