The process for developing a smartphone
The smartphone industry has established the cycle for launching new smartphones every twelve months. Therefore, new products reach the market within this period bringing innovations to attract new users. The process takes an average of nine months until the new product is created and the marketing actions are defined.
The manufacturer needs to manage deadlines and have a team of developers who are responsible and able to bring to the market a product with quality and competitive performance.
Prototype: it all starts with design
The first three months of this development process are devoted to product design. The responsible team needs to be inspired and mix concepts that follow the brand identity. Everything needs to be aligned in a single product.
When we look at BQ products that have been launched in recent years, such as Aquaris E, M and Aquaris X, we notice that the brand’s personality has been maintained in these projects. However, the details have changed a lot since then. We can see this line of development in other larger manufacturers, such as Sony. From the Xperia Z1 to the XZ, the manufacturer has preserved its style but has changed numerous important details that have made a difference.
Personally, I think it is a challenge for designers to maintain the brand identity in several products but to create different sensations of use. The secret here is in the combination of elegant curves with borders, materials, colors and all the aesthetics of the product. At the end of this step, a plastic version of the phone is created with the same weight as the device will have when it is ready.
Once we have the design sketch ready, it is time for the engineers to place all the components internally and adjust the device. In this step, the camera modules and the processor are tested. This process is done by the computer, where the internal virtual image of the device is assembled, including its interior.
The manufacturers of batteries, processors and cameras help the company to get an idea of the assembly and the space needed inside the device. In addition, there are tests that check samples of components to ensure that they are of quality.
Another key test at this stage of the process is the performance of the PCB, the base plate to which all essential components of the smartphone are connected, such as processor and memory. The motherboard of a smartphone occupies a relatively small place, but its circuits, which vary between 8 and 10, connect all the components of the smartphone, such as camera, buttons and antennas.
Of course, this process is not as simple as we described above, the operation is much more complex. The harmony between the teams works like a tennis match where everyone needs to run and take care of ensuring that nothing goes wrong. Everyone works towards the same goal, which is to deliver a consistent final project.
The moment of truth: the first 80 devices
This step in the process takes about three months, which is when the most serious tests begin. Groups involved in the development of software, firmware and quality work together. The first devices are manufactured, around 80 units, which will be used to test connectivity, performance, resistance and software.
In the case of design, it is checked here if the device can support the user’s routine and also if it follows the European Union’s quality standards. The process is automated so that engineers are able to have all the data and technical details about the tests available. The tests done here include strength, such as pressure and vibration, dust and water ingress, temperature change and resistance to the pants pocket. There is a machine for each test of this.
Everything we do in our daily lives is tested, like touching the buttons thousands of times, connecting the charger and so on. The touch on the screen is checked numerous times, as well as the components of the panel itself to ensure that it works smoothly with touch and color.
There are extreme tests that simulate situations that are not within our reach but that affect the user experience, such as thermal tests. After a study where the welding of the device is evaluated, it is subjected to heating. The processor is observed throughout the period of this step. The smartphone is brought to a temperature of 40 ° in about 1 minute and 20 seconds.
BQ has its own machine that tests one of the important parts for users, which are the antennas. The positions are tested and the reception of the signal also, in addition, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G, 3G and GPRS are all put to the test.
The sound also has a special testing area and its own device. A group of engineers are responsible for testing the product’s audio and defining the best software for it. In this case, the audio captured by the camera undergoes separate tests.
Then the tests on the camera begin. In this process the hardware is tested as well, but the development of the software that controls the camera is the main point. In the laboratory all necessary tests are done in order to obtain a satisfactory result. The limitations here are big, since the camera sensors are small, the processing capacity is not large and the results need to be immediate.
Once all tests are completed, hardware and software changes are applied and tested on the first 140 final units of the device that are developed for testing.
Final test and mass production of smartphones
After the steps we have listed above, testing begins with the final 140 prototypes. We are in the sixth month of this entire cycle of steps and countless tests will still be carried out until the devices reach the shelves, mainly in the device’s software. Hardware changes are discarded at first, and only faults are fixed here.
After this battery of tests, mass production begins, where around 2000 devices are produced. The tests continue here, since the final models must have the same precision and quality as the tested prototypes.
At the end, the product is ready to be sold. Mass production starts a month before sales. Until that date, all software features are tested and new features are added to it. The smartphone reaches the user’s hands after nine months, but that does not mean that the manufacturer no longer has to worry about it.
The hardware section starts to take care of repairs and replacements. The software development will work on updates, improvements and security packages.
So, what did you think of the smartphone manufacturing steps?