The history of the mobile phone

19th May 2014
The history of the mobile phone

How long could you cope without your smartphone? Whether it's because your device has run out of battery, you've misplaced it or you're simply 'in between phones', it's not a pleasant experience as you feel disconnected from the whole world. 

Nevertheless, it's hard to believe these mobile devices have only really been in widespread circulation for the last ten to fifteen years or so. Have a look at our timeline here to see how technology has evolved from the first brick-like phone to the current masterpiece that enables you to communicate with the whole word in an instant.

Precursors to the mobile

While the first official mobile phone didn't materialise until the early 1980s, there were forms of mobile communication around before this milestone date. 

In the 1930s, the first commercially successful car radio emerged. This later became a two-way radio that was of vital importance for the allies in World War II. 

From this, other forms of mobile communication devices came into being, such as pagers, radio transponders and car radio telephones. Such advancements in technology enabled Neil Armstrong's famous words in 1969 to be broadcast for the world to hear. 

The first mobile call came on April 3rd, 1973 by Martin Cooper, who worked at Motorola. Mr Cooper phoned a rival firm to tactfully announce he was speaking from "a 'real' cellular telephone". 

The beginnings

Motorola then started working on trying to create a mobile device for the public to use and this is where the landmark creation of the DynaTac 8000x on March 6th, 1983 came in. Weighing in at a huge 785 g and measuring up at 300 mm x 44 mm x 89 mm, it wouldn't exactly fit in your pocket but nonetheless, the waiting list for this product was reportedly in the thousands. 

In comparison, Apple's latest iteration of its iPhone range weighs seven times less at 112 g. Its height is just 123.8 mm, while its depth is remarkably less at just 7.6 mm. What is interesting, however, is that Motorola's seminal product was actually not as wide as the iPhone 5s (58.6 mm). 

The capabilities of Motorola's first mobile phone were severely limited. Boasting just half an hour of talk time and coming with a price tag of nearly $4,000, this was only for those with a healthy bank balance. 

Furthermore, there was a 150 mm aerial sticking out of the top of the phone, while its contact list could only hold 30 numbers – so you had to choose your friends wisely. 

However, there were thought to be as many as 300,000 users worldwide by the end of 1984. 

Rapid advancements

This innovative creation paved the way for many more to join the market. Nokia started to emerge as a credible contender, with the 1981 release of the Mobira Cityman and the 1992 Nokia 101, which were both equally ground-breaking in terms of allowing individuals to communicate with each other remotely. 

The latter invention was helped along by the change to digital networks towards the beginning of the 1990s. 

In addition, the arrival of operators Orange and One2One into the UK market at the start of this decade showed how not only were mobile phones here to stay, but also that the competition was heating up. 

Text messaging

The first text message was sent on December 3rd, 1992. Engineer Neil Papworth, who was just 22 years old, used a personal computer to send a text to Richard Jarvis' phone. While his greeting of 'Merry Christmas' might have been a few weeks premature, this sparked off the whole concept of sending brief messages to one another via a mobile device. 

In 2013, it is thought approximately 145 billion text messages were sent. While this was slightly lower than the year before's tally, this modest decline does not deter from the fact that this form of communication is still very much in the public's interest. 

New shapes and sizes

Up until the beginning of the 2000s, while phones were getting smaller, they were fundamentally of the same design. 

Motorola turned this on its head in 2004 with the release of the mega-slim RAZR flip phone, which instantly became the device that everybody wanted to be in possession of. 

A couple of years later, Silicon Valley giant Apple entered the market and again revolutionised what a phone looked like by the introduction of the iPhone. It was among the first to utilise the touchscreen element, especially eliminating the need for any buttons except the home screen and on / off switch. 

Since this landmark release, the concept of the smartphone has proliferated and, as of 2014, the market does seem somewhat saturated. With the likes of Samsung, Nokia and HTC fighting to bring out the very best device, along with many up-and-coming manufacturers, the world is waiting for someone to, once again, turn the very concept of what a mobile phone is upside down. 

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