The first mobile phone with a camera — we can’t really consider this to be a smartphone in the modern sense of the word — was released in Japan in May 1999. This little rascal — the Kyocera Visual Phone VP-210 — had a 110,000-pixel front-facing camera, which basically meant it was intended to take pictures of its owner. As pitiable and pathetic as it may seem to a modern audience, the VP-210 could store only 20 JPEG images, which could subsequently be sent to one’s friends over email.

As an aside, typical landscape 4:3 aspect ratios for digital imagery on handheld devices at that time were 320 x 240 = 76,800 pixels and 640 x 480 = 307,200 pixels. If you look at images of the VP-210, you’ll see that the display is a portrait presentation, but I have no idea what aspect ratio corresponds to 110,000 pixels.

The first camera phone to make an appearance in the USA was the Sanyo SCP-5300 in November 2022. At that time, people were proud to proclaim, “Why would I want a camera in my phone? All I want to do with my phone is make calls!” Today, of course, smartphones are essentially portable computing platforms laden with sensors and replete with functions allowing you to determine where you are via GPS, take photos and videos, play music, stream videos, read books, and communicate via texts, emails, and video calls. Occasionally, if backed into a corner, you might even use the little scamp to make or take a phone call.

The thing is that, as many sensors as smartphones have, there’s always a desire for more. Just a couple of days ago, for example, we discussed the CO2GO, which plugs into your smartphone (or a USB port on your PC) and uses an app to report the quantity of carbon dioxide in your immediate environment (see How Much CO2 is in Your Home and Office?).

Over a year ago now, I purchased a tasty-for-the-time non-contact thermometer accessory for my smartphone (see Super-Duper Smartphone Thermometer). On the one hand, this was a great resource as we learned to fight our way through the COVID-19 pandemic. Quite apart from anything else, it was much more convenient than an oral thermometer or… let’s say a non-oral thermal measuring device and leave this topic behind us.

The reason I say “tasty-for-the-time” is that — on a good day — this little ragamuffin was perhaps a tad less accurate than one might have hoped for (on a bad day it reported exactly the same temperature irrespective of whom it was pointed at).

Meet the TempBuddy — This is how I feel when I take my own temperature (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: YouTech)

I still carry it around with me in my backpack “just in case,” but I have less faith in what it tells me than I would wish. So, you can only imagine my surprise and delight when I heard from entrepreneur, electronics engineer, and nanotechnologist Milad Zoghi. Milad is the Founder of YouTech, which specializes in creating electronic gadgets with which you can boost the capabilities of your mobile phone.

The reason Milad contacted me is that, today, just a couple of hours ago as I pen these words, he and his companions launched their TempBuddy Kickstarter.

Like my existing temperature sensor, TempBudy will plug into my iPhone (the iOS version comes with a built-in Lightning connector, while the Android version is presented with a built-in USB C connector along with a Micro USB adapter for use with older Android devices).

Unlike my existing temperature sensor, the TempBuddy is accurate, which has to be a plus. According to the Kickstarter, the TempBuddy boasts an accuracy of ±0.15°C (±0.27°F), which makes me feel much more confident. Also, unlike my existing sensor, Milad has gathered an awesome TempBuddy team (every Kickstarter project would benefit from having a crew like this).

In addition to instantaneous results, you can create profiles and track people’s temperatures over time (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: YouTech)

Another big difference is that my original temperature sensor uses my iPhone only for power, and it displays its (inaccurate) result on its own OLED display. By comparison, the TempBuddy uses an app on the smartphone along with the phone’s main display. This app allows you to do things like creating profiles for multiple users and keeping track of their temperatures over time. Just this feature alone would be incredibly useful if you have a multigenerational family with loads of kids and you all come down with the same thing around the same time.

In the before times (prior to the pandemic) I used to travel a quite a lot speaking at conferences and giving guest lectures at universities and suchlike. Things have been quiet for the past couple of years, but they are starting to pick up again. All I can say is that having a TempBuddy in my backpack will make me feel a lot happier when I’m on the road. Also (and I hate to say this), it will be a useful gadget to have around when the next pandemic starts to surge (seriously, the chances are high that we have seen only a glimpse of what is to come).

In the fullness of time, I expect all of these sensors — and more — to be incorporated into our smartphones or augmented reality (AR) goggles or whatever we end up using in the future. Until then, I think the TempBuddy will make a very useful addition to my smartphone sensor collection. How about you? Do you see a TempBuddy in your future?