Phono Sapiens, Phones, and Semiconductors EP.1

By October 6, 2022 December 5th, 2023 No Comments

SK hynix meets Professor Choi Jae Boong, author of Phono Sapiens

Phono Sapiens, a portmanteau of the words smartphone and Homo sapiens (thinker), is a concept that states that smartphones have become a part of our bodies. Engineering Professor Choi Jae Boong, author of Phono Sapiens: A New Human Species Created by the Smartphone, believes that modern people think, act, and communicate on their smartphones. So how did smartphones become such an integral part of our lives?

To learn more about the steps involved in making smartphones that have become part of our bodies and how phones have influenced humans, the SK hynix Newsroom team organized a meet-up between Professor Choi and SK hynix members (NAND Design Technical Leader Choi Wonjae, DRAM Mobile & Auto Product Planning Technical Leader Lee Gaeun).

In addition to covering the impact smartphones have had on humankind, the newsroom would like to discuss the processes that took place before the advent of smartphones. Of course, the story of semiconductors, which serve as the bedrock of smartphones, cannot be left out.

Let’s check out the fascinating story they shared on site at the Phone Museum in Yeoju City, Korea, where visitors can explore the history of mobile phones, including that of smartphones.

Professor Choi Jae Boong Today, I will have a conversation with members of SK hynix about mobile phones and smartphones under the theme of technology and tools for social communication. I’m looking forward to this interesting talk. Let’s meet them!

Technical Leader Choi Wonjae Hello. I joined SK hynix 10 years ago and work in NAND memory design.

Technical Leader Lee Gaeun My name is Lee Gaeun, Technical Leader at DRAM Mobile & Auto Product Planning. I plan semiconductor products for smartphones, such as LPDDR. I’m also looking forward to discussing interesting stories related to ‘mobile devices’ from the past to the present, including smartphones.


As Social Animals, Humans Use Phones to Communicate

Professor Choi Jae Boong As I look around the Phone Museum, I am struck by the fact that human civilization has made tremendous efforts to communicate with one another. Language was eventually developed so that humans, who are social animals, could communicate with each other. As language developed, we began to record it because of the need to transfer knowledge to future generations or to pass on information to others. This process led to the development of letters and paper. Then paintings came about as a means of expressing and communicating, since paintings can convey information and ideas that cannot be expressed in words. How do you think these paintings would have evolved?

▲ Professor Choi Jae Boong and Technical Leader Lee Gaeun having a conversation about how humans communicate.


Technical Leader Lee Gaeun Wouldn’t they eventually become photographs? Photographs help us show and tell what we are looking at in this moment more clearly and in detail. I often take and share pictures when sending messages to my friends to explain things that are difficult to convey in words or writing.


Professor Choi Jae Boong That’s right. Photos have become a very important means of communication. There is no doubt that photos are better at showing something than explaining it with a painting.

There is another element that plays the most important role these days aside from photos: videos. Videos are very effective in conveying various scenes or situations that are difficult to express in a single photo. Photos and videos, especially social media and new media such as YouTube, have grown explosively and have become the most important means of communication for humankind. These are the tools and technologies that human civilization is using for social interaction.

▲ Communication methods developed by humankind


Technical Leader Choi Wonjae I’m a little surprised that modern-day people are actively utilizing all these methods at the same time through one single device – the smartphone. Sending and receiving text messages with other people, expressing emotions using emoticons, and communicating with each other while sharing photos and videos on social media are all happening on smartphones.

Professor Choi Jae Boong That’s exactly what I wanted to say. Currently, humankind is actively using communication methods accumulated over thousands of years via a single smartphone. Also, the metaverse, which will become a new means of communication in the future, is highly likely to be achieved through mobile devices such as smartphones. I wrote Phono Sapiens because of this change in humankind. Someday, smartphones may become our eyes, ears, and brains. The innovation that smartphones are making will end up playing a pivotal role for humankind, and I think the semiconductors that drive the development of these smartphones will become even more critical.

Technical Leader Choi Wonjae I totally agree. As you pointed out, semiconductors used in smartphones and computers were initially developed for communication. In 1947, the world’s first transistor was invented at Bell Labs, a company named after Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the world’s first telephone. Transistors were indeed created to meet the requirements of telephone systems. Transistors were a new technology that could amplify signals and turn a switch on and off. To be fair, I think it was a great invention and an innovative technology that deserved the Nobel Prize. Then, in 1959, Dr. Dawon Kahng of Bell Labs developed a new type of transistor, MOSFET. This can be said to be the early form of the semiconductor as we know it now.

In the 1980s, first-generation mobile phone companies such as Nokia and Motorola began releasing portable phones on the market. And in 1983, Motorola introduced the world’s first commercial mobile phone. We often refer to the DynaTAC 8000X as a brick phone. It had a memory that could store only 30 phone numbers at the time, and since then, mobile phones have developed at a frightening pace to reach their current status.

▲ Innovative events before the appearance of the smartphone


Professor Choi Jae Boong Mobile phones may also be a result of humankind’s efforts to communicate with one another. In particular, mobile communication technology that is significantly less space-constrained is truly innovative. Isn’t it also necessary to use semiconductors in this type of mobile communication technology?

Technical Leader Choi Wonjae Yes, semiconductors play a key role in mobile communication technology. With the introduction of Qualcomm’s second-generation (2G) mobile communication technology, which was a breakthrough after the first-generation mobile communication based on cellular systems, the number of mobile phone users significantly increased. By introducing this technology, called CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), more people were able to communicate using frequencies.

If we take a closer look at CDMA, several people mix their codes with the signals, and calculate and exchange them to use the frequency bandwidth. This process requires calculating codes and signals for each user’s mobile communication. All of these processes are conducted through semiconductors. Ultimately, thanks to the development of semiconductors, mobile communication technology was able to develop remarkably.


Ever-Changing and Evolving “Phones” Displayed at the Phone Museum

▲ (From left) Technical Leader Lee Gaeun, Technical Leader Choi Wonjae, and Professor Choi Jae Boong, discussing the first foldable phone


Technical Leader Choi Wonjae Advances in semiconductor technology have not only made mobile phones smaller, but also allowed them to offer more functions. After the introduction of DynaTAC’s memory that could store phone numbers, the role of memory in mobile phones became very important. At first, there was a need to store more phone numbers, and accordingly, semiconductor memory also developed rapidly. After continuous development, mobile phones and semiconductors have advanced to the point that they can now store not only phone numbers, but also thousands or even tens of thousands of photos and data-heavy media such as videos and music.

Professor Choi Jae Boong It is notable that the semiconductor memory, which is SK hynix’s flagship business, was first developed and led by US companies before Japanese rivals took over briefly.1) Come to think of it, it’s quite remarkable how much the development of the semiconductor and mobile phone industry embarked upon such a period of rapid development when under the leadership of Korean companies.

Technical Leader Lee Gaeun Engineers must have put a great deal of effort, but I think consumer demand also played a big role. Before smartphones, mobile phones were only capable of mobile communication, but then various functions slowly started being added to them. Consumers loved new features, such as MP3 players and cameras, and I think semiconductors also developed as these features were adopted.

Professor Choi Jae Boong Yes, most likely. It’s amazing how many things people have tried to squeeze into this little phone. As MP3 players were developed and became popular based on semiconductor memory, efforts were made to incorporate MP3 functions into mobile phones. The same is true with cameras. During the transition period from film cameras to digital cameras, the demand for digital cameras exploded, and phone manufacturers began to release cell phones with cameras. We’ve even seen beam projectors being added to phones, DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting) phones, game phones with a gamepad, and even wristwatch-type wristwatch phones.

Today, only music (MP3) and photography (camera) remain as core features. In fact, music and photography are also what we humans are drawn to the most. Even before mobile phones, people enjoyed the culture of music as a form of art. The same goes for photos. Throughout history, photography has played a vital role in keeping humankind’s history alive. And through photography, individuals are resolving their desire to cherish their happy moments. The desire for music and photography has already been proven over hundreds, if not thousands of years. Mobile phones are the easiest way to satisfy these people’s needs. With the advancement of semiconductors, we are all able to listen to music and take pictures through our cell phones, aren’t we?

▲ A variety of efforts have been made to incorporate functions such as MP3 and TV into mobile phones.


Technical Leader Choi Wonjae Yes, that’s right. In the MP3 function, which relies heavily on data storage, the development of semiconductor memory has made a significant contribution. In fact, the development of semiconductors also had a significant impact on camera functionality. The emergence of semiconductor-based CCD2) and CIS3) technology played a major role in the transition from film cameras to digital cameras. From the 1990s, most mobile phones started to have a camera function. This has been the case since the 1990s, when the relatively inexpensive CIS technology improved and was put to practical use. With the help of CIS technology, which is still being used in smartphones, we have been able to carry personal cameras around with us for years.

In my opinion, the change in the display also played a significant role. In the past, the display of brick phones, which could only indicate numbers, developed to display characters. With the introduction of LCDs (Liquid Crystal Displays), mobile phones were able to handle a large amount of data. In fact, I think that the DMB and camera you mentioned earlier were functions that would not be imaginable without the development of better displays. Although displays are not a technology that can be implemented only with semiconductors, in the end, they are essential for their normal operation. In this regard, I would say that semiconductors have played a very important role in the development of mobile phones.

▲ (From left) Professor Choi Jae Boong, Technical Leader Lee Gaeun, Technical Leader Choi Wonjae looking around the Phone Museum in Yeoju City


Professor Choi Jae Boong Really interesting stuff. Well, today, we explored the evolution of phones at the Phone Museum. From our discussion, I can definitely feel that semiconductors have played a very important role in the development of mobile phones. I also believe that smartphones, which are now inseparable from our lives, are the result of all of these processes, and are in some ways actually an extension of them. From now on, we’re going to talk about the smartphones that we use today. Let’s take a look at what impact smartphones have had on, and what are the essential semiconductors that make up smartphones.

In this conversation, Professor Choi Jae Boong and SK hynix’s Technical Leaders Choi Wonjae and Lee Gaeun looked at how humans communicate and how mobile phones have evolved. The next episode will focus on the people who use smartphones and the semiconductors that are applied to them. Their discussion will cover semiconductors such as NAND, which can store large amounts of data, and LPDDR, which has an impressive cost-effectiveness ratio and low power requirements. See you next time, when SK hynix and Professor Choi Jae Boong continue their discussion about smartphones and semiconductors.


1DRAM, a type of semiconductor memory, was first developed in 1966 at the Watson Research Center of IBM in the US. The first product that Intel, another American company, produced since its foundation in 1968 was also DRAM
2CCD (Charge-Coupled Device Image Sensor): A sensor that converts light into an electric charge and creates an image, called a charge-coupled device. The image quality is high, and the noise and afterimage processing effects are excellent.
3CIS (CMOS Image Sensor): An image sensor with a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) structure that consumes a low amount of power. CIS technology consumes about a tenth of the power of CCD technology. A single 3.3V power supply and integration with peripheral circuits are also possible. Even though the sensitivity of CIS is lower than that of CCD, image quality has improved significantly in recent years, so it is widely used in both mobile phones as well as high-resolution digital cameras and car rear view cameras.