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Most of us have them; previous generations like to tell us how well they got along without them; but millions of us can hardly remember living life without them! The cell phone is, perhaps, one of the most influential developments in technology to the mass consumer in the last 50 years. The luxury of having a fully functional computer and communication device that fits in your pocket is undeniably convenient, and it’s made all of our lives easier (even grandma’s as she checks up on the tennis scores, the weather, and her grandchildren on social media).
While most of us use them everyday, many of us perhaps do not know the extent of their humble beginnings, and how the modern-day cell phone came to exist. Well, that’s exactly what we are going to discuss in this post.
Who Invented the Cell Phone
As most of us are aware, the first telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876; and he could not have imagined that his already remarkable invention would be the foundation upon which one of the most competitive and evolving industries would be built.
In the early 1900s, a man named Reginald Fessenden (a brilliant Canadian who was the founding father of radio communications) made the first voice transmission, via radio waves, across the Atlantic Ocean. This limited but exciting leap in technology would serve as the inspiration for the modern, wireless communication we take for granted today!
Almost half a century later (1947), an engineer named William Rae Young suggested that if radio broadcast towers were arranged into the shape of a hexagon, they could potentially support a wireless telephone network!
Not too long after that, a company called Bell Laboratories (known today as AT&T) offered their customers “Radio Telephones”. Whilst exciting to think about, the technology was very limited. The prehistoric network was unable to handle more than a handful of calls at a time, which meant that customers often had to wait for other conversations to end before being able to make their own calls. Not to mention, this ‘portable’ telephone weighed a jaw-dropping 80 lbs! Certainly not the convenient, hand-held super computers we are accustomed to today.
In the swinging 60s, two engineers working for Bell Laboratories (AT&T) named Richard H Frenkiel & Joel S Engel, were in charge of developing the tech to support and surpass William Young’s original cellular network concept. However, while Bell Labs was patiently awaiting permission to move forward with their design from the FCC, a man named Martin Cooper (an executive with rival company: Motorola) beat them to the punch in the early seventies.
The person who invented the cell phone was Martin Cooper and was in charge of the team that designed the great grandpa of cell phones. The device which most of us recognize from 80s movies and television. It was called the DynaTAC 8000x, and was released by Motorola in 1983. It cost $4000, and this “portable device” was a not-so-convenient 9 inches long, and weighed almost as much as a toaster! (2.5 lbs, to be exact). Hefty, but definitely better than an 80-lb behemoth!
As one final jab between competitors, one of the first cellular calls from the person who invented the cell phone, Martin Cooper, made on this ground-breaking device was to rival, Joel Engel (one of the engineers from Bell Laboratories) for some good-natured heckling- Harsh!
Cell phones continued to evolve through the next few decades by leaps and bounds, and more and more consumers realized the benefit of owning one of these little mobile phones! Let’s delve now into a few of the more major cell phone advancements, and the popular releases, over the past 3 decades!
The Evolution of the Cell Phone
Motorola’s initial DynaTAC 8000x was the modern cell phones ancient ancestor, and for a couple of decades, Motorola and Nokia would become the titans of the cellular market, producing mobile phones with almost constant advancements in technology. Here are some of the milestone devices that have lead to where we are today.
The Motorola International 3200 was released in 1992 with an 8 hour battery life, and was a great deal more compact than its predecessor. This size alteration would be just the beginning of cellular companies striving for sleeker and sleeker designs throughout the years.
In 1993, a company called Bellsouth released the IBM Simon Personal Communicator, which was the first PDA device to incorporate mobile communication capabilities! It also had a touch-screen! Sadly, the device’s battery life was barely an hour. But, hey, that’s still a LOT of tech crammed into such a tiny machine!
Motorola came back with another innovator in the form of their StarTAC! Released in 1996, this was the first mobile flip phone ever, and it was one of the first phones with a digital display screen! Talk about compact and futuristic!
In the same year, the Nokia 8110 arrived on the scene with its eye-catching curves! This uniquely designed phone (called the ‘banana phone’) was made famous by being used in the Matrix movie!
1996 seemed to be a big year for cell phone tech, and the 9000i Communicator was Nokia’s very first smartphone. It sported a CPU from Intel 386, clamshell design, a full keyboard, digital display, and was the first phone capable of sending short SMS messages (AKA, texting had been born!)
In 1999, the Nokia 7110 was released as the first mobile phone with a WEB BROWSER! That’s right, the power of the internet was not just at our fingertips… but could be kept in our pockets!
While this next phone was mostly sold in Europe, the Benefon ESC that was also released in 1999, and it was the first phone with GPS integration! For those of us who are directionally challenged, we thank you, Benefon!
Samsung made a name for itself in the cell phone industry by releasing it’s SPH-M100 Uproar. This fellow ‘99 mobile was the first cell phone to be MP3 compatible! Nothing like being able to listen to your favorite ‘90s hits and call your BFF all on the same device.
In 2001, the Nokia 5510 countered Samsung with their full QWERTY keyboard and 64MB capacity for music! Our taste for multi-featured devices was becoming clear, and the industry was listening.
The Ericsson T39 was released in 2001. Sporting a compact design and one of the fastest web browsing capabilities. It was also the first mobile phone with Bluetooth!
In 2002, the Nokia 7650 (featured in the film: Minority Report) and the Sanyo SCP-5300 were not just stylish little phones, but also the very first phones with a built-in camera! They might have been a lot more challenging back then, but the Selfie-craze could now commence! Capturing moments with your friends and family no longer needed to be missed because the big, clunky camera was forgotten at home!
2003 was the year the infamously popular Blackberry was released! It’s first iteration was the Quark 6210, and it had optimized the integration of PDA and Phone compatibility. Before the iPhone, Blackberries were the devices everyone wanted! You were quite the hot-shot if you pulled one of these out of your pocket!
A couple of popular 2000s phones most of us might recall, especially if you were a teenager at the time, were the Motorola Razors and the LG Chocolates! These phones were sleek, attractive and pretty reliable. The Razor had multiple iterations, one of which was released later on with metal parts, which made it even more durable.
And now, we have arrived… the beginning of what modern consumers would recognize as the smartphone. The company and the device that pretty much everyone has heard of. That’s right, it’s 2007, and the first Apple iPhone was released. With a touchscreen display, 128Mb of RAM, 4GB of internal storage, MP3 compatibility (of course), and more… what most consider the Alpha and Omega of mobile communication devices was born. If only Martin Cooper- let alone Alexander Graham Bell– could have imagined what the modest dream of long-distance communication would become. Only a year later, in 2008, Apple would release a new iteration of its device, called the iPhone 3G. This smartphone won acclaim and popularity thanks to its introduction of the “APP STORE”!
A couple of years later, in 2010, Samsung would release its Galaxy S. A fantastic device with 16GB or storage, 0.3 megapixel camera, and the Android OS, developed by Google! As most of us know, the next decade would be dominated by Samsung and Apple when it came to the cell phone market; and devices like the Google Pixel would begin to gain modest traction and popularity due to its fantastic hardware, storage, and camera.
All the while, companies like Motorola and Nokia, once the behemoths of the industry, had faded in popularity.
Back to the Present and Into the Future
The potential of the mobile phone is one that continues to grow and advance at a record pace. Our modern tastes continue to favor sleek designs, while we’re beginning to distance ourselves from compact sizes. Where once it was “the smaller the better”, in a bit of an ironic twist, consumers have now begun to prefer a nice large screen, as our desire to view and record media becomes a highly desired feature in our devices.
Many of us are now able to conduct most of our daily business in the palm of our hand; whether it be sending business emails, buying movie tickets, recording videos for vlogs, or even blogging, itself! The humble beginning of the mobile phone was a technological advancement that has improved our day to day lives, and we can only imagine what the future holds.