The Complete History of Cell Phones

Cell Phones and mobile phones have completely altered our day-to-day lives. Their evolution is a fascinating chart of how the way we interact with each other and our society has changed. Imagine how different our lives would be if we didn’t have them.

Cell phones were created as a way for us to communicate untethered to a landline phone. Now we use them as everyday mobile devices that can not only call, but text, email, and browse the internet as well. That is only the beginning of what today’s cell phones can do and what they will be able to do in the future.

The way we live our lives has changed in so many ways since cell phones were invented. Just look at our entertainment today; we can watch an old movie or TV show, or read a book, and imagine how all of a character’s problems could be solved if only they had a cell phone. Modern movies often have to take away a character’s phone or just pretend they do not exist to create drama just because of how useful cell phones really are.

It wasn’t always that way. Let’s take a look at the history of cell phones and see how we got to where we are. They were not always the modern convenience that went everywhere with us like they now are.

The First Cell Phones and Their Origins

Bell Labs (or AT&T as we know them now) began the initiative for cell communications back in 1947. There were many early attempts to create mobile communication devices, but it would not be until sometime later that the first cell phone was created. Until then, companies relied on the mobility of vehicles to create their mobile phones.

The Car Phone: The First Mobile Phone

The first concept of the mobile phone was the car phone. While the first car phone might have technically been invented in Sweden in 1910 by Lars Magnus Ericsson, it was not mobile, as it required the user to stop and manually connect to phone lines with a long pole. Not the most convenient thing out there. 

When car phones became mobile in 1946, they weighed 80 pounds. They required the power of the car battery to be able to operate, and were considered a luxury item. By the 70s, car phones were more common and cheaper but still required upwards of 30 pounds of equipment installed in the trunk and the installation of a massive antenna on the car to function. 

The DynaTAC 8000X

We can thank Martin Cooper for the creation of the first truly mobile phone. He worked for Motorola, Bell Labs’ biggest competitor as far as the creation of a cellular telephone was concerned. In 1973 he made history by using the cell phone he created to call his lead rival at Bell Labs as a statement of his success.

His phone was called the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, which stood for Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage. You’re likely familiar with the look of this brick phone, an iconic design of the 80s. It was by no means a good device, weighing a little over two pounds and with a battery life of 30 minutes, and required a 10-hour charge time. Despite its lackluster performance by today’s standards, it was a truly revolutionary device.

In 1983, the DynaTAC would be available commercially in a 16-ounce version, the one that we are most familiar with. This version cost between $3,500 to $4,000, which would be closer to $8,000 today. Obviously, this would not be the device that put cell phones into the massive number of hands that they are in today, but it was a major first step in introducing the technology to the public.

Motorola’s Improved Phones and Nokia’s Evolution

By 1989, Motorola would make their first improvements towards making their phones smaller with the MicroTAC 9800X. This new version of the DynaTAC was an evolution of the same format but designed to be lighter and to fit in a shirt pocket. Its flip-open design and collapsible antenna allowed it to be easier to carry around by its user. Motorola’s series of flip phones would be seen often on the TV show X-Files.

While the MicroTAC was the first cell phone out there to be slim and compact, Nokia would come to drastically change the cellular phone landscape. In 1992, they introduced the Nokia 1011, which was the first phone to introduce text messages. By then, the battery life had improved to 90 minutes of talk time, a significant jump from 30 minutes.

The Nokia 1011 would also be the first phone to make a call on the newly established GSM network. GSM stands for Global System for Mobile Communications. It was a standard of communications that united Europe under one cellular network, making cell networks easier for everyone to utilize.

Nokia drastically changed the game for cell phone design. The Nokia 6000, which had the iconic rectangular shape with a much smaller body, was one of the first commercially affordable cell phones. It popularized cell phone use and made it much easier for the average person to own a phone.

Cell phone games would also appear first on Nokia phones. They started simply with the game Snake, one which has appeared in many formats, even on scientific calculators. But it was an important step in making people realize the full potential of mobile devices.

The First Smartphone and the Internet Revolution

In 1994, there was a device that we can consider the first smartphone. It was a touchscreen phone, with email, a stylus, a calendar, an appointment book, and an address book. This device was the IBM Simon Personal Communicator. The device didn’t take the world by storm but was somewhat popular and an important step in making a mobile device and an all-in-one machine.

Another major step in the development of the smartphone was the ability to connect to the internet seamlessly with the implementation of a 3G network in Japan. In 2001 the network would be turned on, and soon more 3G networks would come about in the rest of the world. 3G allowed for better call quality and faster internet speeds.

Samsung and the Next Steps Towards the Normalizing the Smartphone

The Samsung SPH-I300 came out in 2001 and had a touch screen that was used to dial instead of a traditional keypad. Apple would not come out with the first iPhone until five years later. While this phone couldn’t do all of the things that our modern phones are able to do, it was another precursor to what phones are now capable of.

In 2002, T-Mobile released the Sidekick, which was also one of the forerunners of the smartphone generation. With a fully built-in qwerty keyboard, the Sidekick allowed people to have a little computer in their pocket, even if it did not have all of the full features that a computer has. It was meant to be affordable and easy to use.

The Blackberry would become an important player in the history of smartphones as well. With a focus on emailing, it was a unique device in its own right. It would take some time until it became a necessity for every business person out there, but its ability to let users connect to their email was important at the time.

Camera Phones Becoming Popular

2002 also saw the camera phone becoming popular, at least in the United States. It had actually already become a trend in Japan two years earlier. The first camera phones could only take mediocre photos, like the Sanyo SCP-5300 that was available through Sprint, which was able to snap photos at 640 x 480 pixels (that’s really bad!). It seems like a distant memory with how easily we are now able to take pictures, but this was the norm and it was revolutionary.

Phones continued to improve on their designs, making phones smaller, slimmer, and more usable. Think of the RAZR from Motorola. It was massively influential thanks to the sleekness of its design and was the top-selling cell phone for 12 quarters. This would be one of Motorola’s last influential designs for some time, however, because Apple would soon come bursting onto the scene with the phone we have all come to see as synonymous with smartphones: the iPhone.

Apple and the Iconic iPhone Design

In 2007, Apple threw the cell phone market on its head with the release of the iPhone. Apple had already made headway with the release of the iPod in 2001, and the iPhone in many ways was the evolution of that design but taken several steps further. It normalized the idea of the touchscreen, virtual keyboard, music player, web browsing capability, and email access all being rolled into one device.

It had heavy competition from the Blackberry, however, which was still the top-selling device around the same time. The Blackberry did not adopt all of the same features as the iPhone, but it did normalize texting and mobile devices keeping you connected to the internet and email. In fact, without the Blackberry’s full keyboard in conjunction with mobile networks, texting would probably not be what it is today.

Shifting Features of Cell Phones and the Smartphone Revolution

Phones began to incorporate more features prior to the iPhone, but even with the implementation of cameras and texting, it is still safe to say that the cell phone’s primary use was communication.In 2008, the cell phone would shift to become a mobile computer, the type that we all now know today.

Apple introduced the App Store in 2008. This storefront, designed to open up new access points on our cell phones, was a major step towards turning the cell phone into a multimedia device. Developers could create special programs designed to take advantage of the features of a mobile device.

Android and the Competition With Apple

The Android operating system came to exist back in 2003 but was not used in the first smartphone until a number of years later after Google had acquired the company that created it. The HTC Dream, also known as the T-Mobile G1 in the United States, was the first smartphone to have Android as its operating system.

Of course, Android was important for being an open operating system. Other operating systems, like the iPhone OS and the Blackberry OS, were unable to be modified by users easily. Android was based on the Linux platform, a well-known open-source operating system. The platform itself was well received for this fact alone.

However, while the HTC Dream was a well-received phone, Android did not yet take the phone market by storm. While the Google integrations were a big benefit because of the rising prominence of Google services, the platform was missing a number of convenient features introduced by Apple and others. But Android would soon come to be a standard operating system for any non-Apple phone.

Samsung introduced the Galaxy phone in 2010. The Galaxy was one of the first competitors to take hold of the phone market against Apple’s iPhone, aside from the Blackberry line of phones that still managed to keep a large market share (thanks to their focus on ease of typing and texting). Most competitors failed to truly take hold against Apple’s giant presence.

For example, Microsoft had its Lumia phone. This was an attempt by another tech giant to introduce not only a new smartphone but also provide people with the well known Windows operating system on a mobile device. Unfortunately, the devices did not take off as Microsoft hoped, and in 2017, after six years of production, Microsoft decided to drop its mobile telephone line and focus on laptops and tablets.

Cell Phones and the Transition to Fully Featured Smartphones

As we move on to phones produced within the last 10 years, we see more minor changes, but a more full realization into truly smart devices. Cell phones, despite still being our primary communication devices, are now used for far more than texting and calling. 

Emailing, gaming, and photography are all handled directly from our phones. The appeal of the smartphone is how many everyday devices it can replace and turn into one single tool. If you have seen the meme of someone carrying more than a dozen old devices that now fit in your pocket, then you have already probably realized how influential the smartphone is.

Cameras have gotten so powerful that we use them to film entire movies. Cell phones handle massive video games that used to only be playable on a console. We can stay in touch with our social media feeds all from one device. It just scratched the surface of what phones can do.

The Future of Smartphones

As we advance further in technology, we can expect new and exciting ways for smartphones to be used. We are already seeing innovation in tech with virtual reality and augmented reality, with phones being instrumental in making mixed media reality readily available without expensive equipment. Wearables are also changing the face of the smartphone, allowing us to do things without even needing to pull out our phones. We will likely see this tech integrated more and more with our devices.

With the implementation of 5G, we are also seeing phones becoming more powerful. They can connect to networks at faster speeds with more clarity. 5G is now the norm for phone plans and can be purchased easily.

We are enjoying more freedom as we connect with better cell phone technology. Don’t get left behind with the latest tech in the industry. Grab yourself the latest iPhone from Red Pocket Mobile and see how much cell phones continue to advance.


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