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Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

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A Breakdown of the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

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Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

In an increasingly connected world, smartphones have become an inseparable part of our lives.

Over 60% of the world’s population owns a mobile phone and smartphone adoption continues to rise in developing countries around the world.

While each brand has its own mix of components, whether it’s a Samsung or an iPhone, most smartphones can carry roughly 80% of the stable elements on the periodic table.

But some of the vital metals to build these devices are considered at risk due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, and other factors.

Smartphone PartCritical Metal
Touch Screen indium
Displaylanthanum; gadolinium; praseodymium; europium; terbium; dysprosium
Electronicsnickel, gallium, tantalum
Casingnickel, magnesium
Battery lithium, nickel, cobalt
Microphone, speakers, vibration unit nickel, praseodymium, neodymium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium

What’s in Your Pocket?

This infographic based on data from the University of Birmingham details all the critical metals that you carry in your pocket with your smartphone.

1. Touch Screen

Screens are made up of multiple layers of glass and plastic, coated with a conductor material called indium which is highly conductive and transparent.

Indium responds when contacted by another electrical conductor, like our fingers.

When we touch the screen, an electric circuit is completed where the finger makes contact with the screen, changing the electrical charge at this location. The device registers this electrical charge as a “touch event”, then prompting a response.

2. Display

Smartphones screens display images on a liquid crystal display (LCD). Just like in most TVs and computer monitors, a phone LCD uses an electrical current to adjust the color of each pixel.

Several rare earth elements are used to produce the colors on screen.

3. Electronics

Smartphones employ multiple antenna systems, such as Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi.

The distance between these antenna systems is usually small making it extremely difficult to achieve flawless performance. Capacitors made of the rare, hard, blue-gray metal tantalum are used for filtering and frequency tuning.

Nickel is also used in capacitors and in mobile phone electrical connections. Another silvery metal, gallium, is used in semiconductors.

4. Microphone, Speakers, Vibration Unit

Nickel is used in the microphone diaphragm (that vibrates in response to sound waves).

Alloys containing rare earths neodymium, praseodymium and gadolinium are used in the magnets contained in the speaker and microphone. Neodymium, terbium and dysprosium are also used in the vibration unit.

5. Casing

There are many materials used to make phone cases, such as plastic, aluminum, carbon fiber, and even gold. Commonly, the cases have nickel to reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI) and magnesium alloys for EMI shielding.

6. Battery

Unless you bought your smartphone a decade ago, your device most likely carries a lithium-ion battery, which is charged and discharged by lithium ions moving between the negative (anode) and positive (cathode) electrodes.

What’s Next?

Smartphones will naturally evolve as consumers look for ever-more useful features. Foldable phones, 5G technology with higher download speeds, and extra cameras are just a few of the changes expected.

As technology continues to improve, so will the demand for the metals necessary for the next generation of smartphones.

This post was originally featured on Elements

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Technology

Ranked: The Top Startup Cities Around the World

Here are the global startup ecosystem rankings, highlighting the scale and maturity of major tech hubs worldwide.

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This bar chart shows the top startup ecosystems in the world in 2024.

The Top Startup Cities Around the World

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

A richly connected network of founders, venture capital firms, and tech talent are some of the key ingredients driving a startup ecosystem.

As engines of growth, these tech clusters are evolving on a global scale. While the world’s leading startup cities are concentrated in America, several ecosystems, such as Beijing and Seoul, are growing in prominence as countries focus on technological advancement to spur innovation.

This graphic shows the best startup cities worldwide, based on data from Pitchbook.

The Global Startup Ecosystem Rankings

To determine the rankings, each city was analyzed based on the scale and maturity of their startup ecosystem over a six-year period ending in the second quarter of 2023.

Among the inputs analyzed and used to calculate the overall development score were fundraising activity, venture capital deals, and exit value:

RankCityDevelopment ScoreCapital RaisedDeal CountExit Value
1🇺🇸 San Francisco90$427.6B19,898$766.3B
2🇺🇸 New York76$179.9B13,594$171.7B
3🇨🇳 Beijing76$161.2B8,835$279.2B
4🇨🇳 Shanghai73$130.3B7,422$186.8B
5🇺🇸 Los Angeles71$144.6B9,781$181.4B
6🇺🇸 Boston70$117.0B6,044$172.8B
7🇬🇧 London64$99.0B11,533$71.9B
8🇨🇳 Shenzhen63$46.4B5,020$66.3B
9🇰🇷 Seoul61$31.1B6,196$71.0B
10🇯🇵 Tokyo60$26.2B5,590$28.0B
11🇨🇳 Hangzhou59$50.7B3,361$88.7B
12🇺🇸 Washington D.C.55$43.7B2,706$28.2B
13🇺🇸 Seattle54$31.7B2,693$35.6B
14🇸🇬 Singapore52$45.7B4,507$38.0B
15🇺🇸 San Diego52$33.5B2,023$44.7B
16🇺🇸 Austin52$26.4B2,636$22.9B
17🇨🇳 Guangzhou52$24.7B1,700$24.0B
18🇮🇱 Tel Aviv51$21.0B1,936$32.2B
19🇺🇸 Denver51$26.8B2,489$29.9B
20🇩🇪 Berlin50$31.2B2,469$15.9B

San Francisco dominates the pack, with $427.6 billion in capital raised over the six-year period.

Despite a challenging funding environment, nearly 20,000 deals closed, highlighting its outsized role in launching tech startups. Both OpenAI and rival Anthropic are headquartered in the city, thanks to its broad pool of tech talent and venture capital firms. Overall, 11,812 startups were based in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2023, equal to about 20% of startups in America.

Falling next in line is New York City, which raised $179.9 billion over the same time period. Crypto firm Gemini and machine learning company, Hugging Face, are two examples of startups based in the city.

As the top-ranking hub outside of America, Beijing is home to TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, which is one of the most valuable private companies in the world.

In recent years, much of the startup funding in China is being driven by government-backed funds. In particular, these funds are focusing heavily on “hard tech” such as semiconductor-makers and electric vehicle companies that align with the government’s strategic long-term goals.

Another leading tech hub, Singapore, has the highest venture capital funding per capita worldwide. In 2023, this was equal to an impressive $1,060 in venture funding per person. By comparison, venture funding was $345 per person in the U.S., the second-highest globally.

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