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Evolution of Mobile Phones

Human beings have been communicating electronically since the carrier pigeon was replaced by telephone networks. Writing letters was swapped for typing texts, and while the first portable device was much too large and clunky for daily use, it inspired an era of mobile phone development that led to the sleek smartphones we use today. In this article, we take a look at the evolution of mobile phones, from their humble beginnings to the pocket supercomputers we know today. 

Last updated: 30th Sep 2020 at 9:31am

Motorola - The First Mobile Phone

In April of 1973, Martin Cooper, an engineer at Motorola, called a telecommunications company and told them he was using a mobile phone. April 3rd marked the day of the first ever mobile phone call; the first time communication wasn’t linked directly to a cord or cable. 

Though Cooper’s device was only a 1.1kg prototype, shortly after in 1983, Motorola released the DynaTAC 8000X. It became known as the first handheld mobile, birthing the Zero Generation (0G) family, a stark contrast to the 3G, 4G and 5G mobiles today. At an eye-watering £3000, this bulky square offered 30 minutes of talk time and six hours standby. 

Due to its high price tag, the DynaTAC 8000X wasn’t marketed as a consumer-friendly luxury. Only the rich could afford to use a mobile phone, until Nokia came along. 

Nokia - The Indestructible Beginning

Known as the manufacturer of some of the most indestructible phones on the planet, Nokia are a much-beloved company. Back in 1987, they followed in Motorola’s footsteps and released their first handheld, called the Mobira Cityman 900. 

It weighed significantly less than the Motorola, at 0.76kg, though the aesthetical design still had room for improvement. Like the DynaTAC 8000X, Nokia’s Mobira Cityman 900 allowed the user to make calls and store a number of phone contacts. 

But texting, a form of communication we rely heavily on nowadays for quick, instant messaging, was not invented until 1992 by Vodafone

The Motorola and Nokia mobile phones were the quintessential devices of their time, but technology began to develop at a rapid pace, and soon more companies were jumping on the bandwagon. 

IBM - The First ‘Smartphone’

After a couple of years of new releases from Motorola and Nokia, IBM took an innovative step towards the 21st century smartphone by making the first phone to feature a touch screen and applications.

The IBM Simon was released in 1994, and catapulted the telecommunications industry into a new style of mobile. With a screen and stylus, users could directly interact with the screen. 

It also featured a number of applications, like a calendar, clock, notepad, email and QWERTY keyboard. Its software also included predictive typing. However, all of these new and exciting features took their toll on its battery - the IBM Simon could only last about an hour before needing to be recharged again.

It cost around $899, roughly the same as a modern iPhone, but would only work in the United States, with a signal that stretched to 15 states. Despite that, it still sold 50,000 units within a year of its release. 

Nokia 9000 Communicator - The All-Rounder

Not one to be outdone, Nokia rose to the challenge of creating the smartphone of the 20th century. 

Released in 1996, this heavy mobile phone had 8MB of RAM and ran on an Intel 24 Mhz 1386 CPU with a full QWERTY keyboard. 

Looking a little bit like a miniature laptop, it trumped the competition in telecommunications. It could send and receive emails, text messages, and make calls - the three core components of a communications device. 

When it was released in the UK, it retailed at £1000, which is more than the average new iPhone release today.

Noteworthy Mentions

While Motorola, Nokia and IBM revolutionised the invention of mobile phones, many other companies began to release their own versions as the years went on. 

Back on the list again, Motorola designed and released the first clamshell mobile, kickstarting the trend of flip phones throughout the early 2000s. 

The BlackBerry, which became a millennial obsession in the mid-2000s, was released in 1999, just before the turn of the century catapulted the Nokia 3310 into the spotlight. Many still believe the Nokia 3310 was one of the best devices ever created, branding it indestructible. 

When the Nokia 1100 came out in 2003, over 250 million were sold, marking it one of the most successful handsets of all time. 

Nokia, BlackBerry and Samsung released a few more phones before Apple made its entrance in 2008 with the iPhone 3G. With its touchscreen, intelligent applications, sleek finish, and 3G data technology, Apple launched itself to the front of mobile phone creation. 


So, which phone was your favourite? Do you still own any of our pre-2000 devices? Let us know on Twitter!

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