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The Evolution Of Mobile Phones: 1973 To 2019

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Modern society has always seemed to have a bit of an obsession with technology. But no single device has had as much of an impact on the world than the mobile phone.

Today, the average person touches their phone an unreal 2,617 times per day. More people in the world have access to a mobile phone than a toilet. In an average year, we spend just under 800 hours on our mobile phones (that’s over a whole month!). And with these figures rising all the time, it’s no surprise that the last ten years have been labelled as the ‘decade of the smartphone’.

Back in the early days of mobile phones, their sole use was for calling other people whilst on the move. Soon after, the ability to ‘text’ other mobile phones was introduced. Nowadays you can use mobile phones to do literally everything. From paying for your next meal to tracking your sleeping habits, the smartphone of today has almost no limits.

That’s not the only thing that has changed since the first mobile phone went on sale. Think the iPhone XS is pricey at $1,500? Well, the first mobile phones went on sale for a whopping $4,000 each! The increased demand for mobile phones has caused technology to advance rapidly, with prices continuously falling (until the last few years, where prices have shot up).

Regardless, the evolution of mobile phones has been a truly thrilling journey. In this blog post, we’ll be taking a walk through the full history of mobile phones, ever since the first call was made from one way back in 1973.

*Disclaimer – Be prepared for an overwhelming wave of nostalgia!

The First Ever Public Mobile Phone Call

The first ever public call from a mobile phone was actually made a whole ten years before any mobile phone was commercially available. Martin Cooper, a senior engineer at Motorola, made history when he called a rival telecommunications company and informed them that he was speaking from a mobile phone. The call was actually made with a prototype of their DynaTAC model – the first handheld mobile phone on the market, which was released a whole ten years later.

Technically, there were mobile phones before this; the history of mobile phones actually goes back to 1908 when a patent was issued in Kentucky for a ‘wireless telephone’. Saying that, this sort of ‘mobile phone’ was more like a two-way radio than the phones that we’re familiar with today.

Mobira (Nokia) Senator [1982]

Widely considered as the first true mobile phone available to consumers, the Mobira Senator (produced by Nokia) was probably more effort to use than it was worth. Weighing an incredible 10 kilograms, there’s no chance that you’d be able to carry one of these around all day. This pioneering mobile phone used a network called Nordic Mobile Telephony (NMT) Standard, part of the first generation (1G) of wireless cellular technology.

Motorola DynaTAC 8000X [1983]

Just one year after Mobira’s famous Senator model launched, Motorola launched the first ever handheld mobile phone with the DynaTAC 8000X. The phone in question weighed over a kilogram and took more than ten hours to charge – a lot of effort for something that only offered 30 minutes of battery when fully charged! This was also the phone that was used to make the first public phone call in the UK in 1985.

Nokia 1011 [1992]

The next ten years were relatively slow in terms of technological advances, with several similar models to the DynaTAC 8000X popping up; most notably Nokia with the release of its Cityman model under the Mobira brand.

This all changed in 1992 when Nokia launched its ‘1011’ model, the first mobile phone that could be used anywhere in the world. This was thanks to its ability to access the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) Network, often referred to as the second generation (2G) of wireless cellular technology. The handset in question weighed just under 500 grams, featuring a monochrome LCD screen and an extendable antenna.

? The First Ever Text Message

1992 also marked the year that the first ever text message was sent. Neil Papworth, a test engineer for Sema Group, sent the first text message to a mobile phone on 3rd December 1992. The message simply read “Merry Christmas”.

IBM Simon [1994]

First launching in 1994, IBM’s Simon Personal Communicator is widely considered as the world’s first ‘smartphone’. Way ahead of its time, the IBM Simon featured a touchscreen display and countless pre-installed apps such as an address book, calculator, calendar, digital notepad, world clock and more. Whilst it was only on the market for six months, IBM still managed to sell 50,000 units of the handset.

Nokia 9000 Communicator [1996]

Remember the Nokia 9000 Communicator? This was the first phone of its kind, marking the start of Nokia’s legendary ‘Communicator’ line. It also served as inspiration for RIM, the mobile phone company that made its name amongst business professionals throughout the mid-2000s with the BlackBerry brand. The 9000 Communicator featured a full QWERTY keyboard as well as being one of the first phones with the ability to send and receive emails and fax via its GSM modem. This was also an earlier model of the Nokia Communicator that Kelly Rowland used to famously text Nelly via an Excel Spreadsheet.

Motorola StarTAC [1996]

This was also the year in which the very first clamshell phone, often described as the ‘flip phone’, was released. Motorola released the first model from its StarTAC line, also one of the first phones to be branded as a luxury product. It featured in advertising campaigns alongside other luxury items such as the American Express Gold card, as well as appearing in numerous films, such as Nicholas Cage’s ‘8mm’. It weighed just 88 grams and was small enough to fit in your pocket, although it was marketed as a ‘wearable phone’ due to its ability to clip onto items of clothing with the addition of a custom back.

Nokia 8110 [1996]

Another notable phone that was released in 1996 was the Nokia 8110; nicknamed ‘the banana’ due to its curved profile. It attracted a lot of attention from consumers due to the fact that it was so easy to use; one of the very first ‘slider’ phones, users would simply slide down the keypad cover to answer a call and slide it back up to end a call. This model also featured in the first ‘The Matrix’ film, although some additional features were added to make it appear more futuristic.

?️ The First Pay As You Go Contract

1996 welcomed several new ground-breaking phones, but it also marked the very start of non-contract phone packages with the launch of ‘Vodafone Prepaid’. At the time, UK mobile phone ownership stood at just 16% of households. Ten years later, this figure was at a staggering 80%. Experts believe this is mainly due to the impact that Pay As You Go contracts had on the accessibility of mobile phones for the average consumer.

Siemens S10 [1997]

Siemens rocked the world when it launched its S10 model in 1997; the first mobile phone with a full colour screen. It displayed up to six lines of information in four different colours (white, red, blue and green). It also came with several basic apps such as an alarm, a phone book and even a voice note recorder. It weighed just under 200 grams and also featured a nifty antenna, like most phones in the 1990s.

RIM (BlackBerry) 850 [1999]

Three years after Nokia launched its ‘Communicator’ line, BlackBerry entered the professional mobile phone market with its first model, the BlackBerry 850 (although at this time the brand was called ‘RIM’). Whilst it was a very basic version of the BlackBerry’s that a lot of us were familiar with in the late 2000s it still rocked a fairly similar design, featuring a QWERTY keyboard as well as the ability to send and receive emails and browse the internet. Saying that, this ‘mobile phone’ was more of a two-way pager; it didn’t actually have the functionality to make phone calls.

Nokia 7110 [1999]

In 1999, Nokia also re-entered the slider phone market with its ‘7110’ model. Similar to the ‘8110’ model, this phone featured a sliding cover over its keypad which allowed users to easily accept and end calls. It was also one of the very first phones to offer mobile internet access via its revolutionary WAP browser, although this only allowed access to websites that had been optimised for WAP. It was also one of the first phones with the ability to download custom ringtones, something that would become highly popular throughout the mid-2000s; so much so that the ‘Crazy Frog’ ringtone was at Number 1 in the UK charts for four weeks.

Sharp J-SH04 [2000]

Following the turn of the millennium, mobile technology developments really started to pick up pace. Japanese tech company Sharp released the Sharp J-SH04 under the J-Phone brand in November 2000. Whilst the model was only available in Japan, it shaped the face of mobile phones forever; this was the very first mobile phone to feature an integrated digital camera, even if it was only 0.11 megapixels (yes, you read that right).

Nokia 3310 [2000]

Arguably the most iconic Nokia model of all time with over 125 million models sold, the year 2000 marked the release of Nokia’s ‘3310’. It featured screensavers, customisable ringtones and even the option to add a welcome message. It was famous for its long battery life and sturdy design, falling victim to countless durability tests over the years. This was also the phone that popularised the ‘Snake II’ mobile game, although the game actually first appeared in Nokia’s ‘5110’ model back in 1997. The 3310 was so popular that Nokia even released a revamped smartphone version in 2017, following the company’s acquisition by Microsoft.

Nokia 1100 [2003]

Mobile technology advancements really started to pick up the pace in 2003, starting with the release of Nokia’s monumental ‘1100’ model. On the surface it was a fairly basic mobile phone, offering little more than calls, texts, and other standard features such as an alarm clock and Snake II. It also arrived at a time where smartphones with advanced features such as cameras, complex applications and internet access were becoming more popular. So, you’d probably be surprised to find out this was one of the best-selling phones of all time, selling over 250 million models worldwide. This was largely down to the fact that the phone was marketed towards developing countries; it was actually Nokia’s cheapest mobile phone when it was first released to market in late 2003.

BlackBerry (RIM) 6210 [2003]

The BlackBerry 6210, also known as the ‘Quark’, was named by TIME Magazine as one of the most influential gadgets of all time. Whilst there were many successful BlackBerry models before this, the 6210 was the first BlackBerry to actually offer integrated phone functionality (i.e. the ability to make phone calls). This really changed the way people saw the phone company, becoming the go-to-choice for most business professionals around the world. This was also the first phone to feature BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) – BlackBerry’s widely popular instant messaging service that had well over 150 million users at its peak. The word ‘BBM’ was even added to the dictionary in 2012.

? The First 3G Contract In The UK

2003 was also the year that the 3G network standard began to be adopted worldwide. The network was built to encourage faster data speeds on mobile technology; to meet the official standards a network is required to offer data peak rates of at least 0.2MB/s in order to be classed as ‘3G’. The mobile network provider Three offered the first 3G network in the UK with the Motorola A830, NEC e606 and the NEC e808.

Motorola Razr V3 [2004]

Released at the end of 2004, the Razr V3 is Motorola’s most popular handset to date, selling 50 million units between 2004 and 2006. It also claimed the title of the best-selling clamshell phone of all time. Famous for its remarkably slim design the phone also featured 3G connectivity, a VGA camera, video recording, Bluetooth, WAP internet browsing and a variety of downloadable MP3 ringtones. Off the back of this model’s success, Motorola released countless models with similar clamshell designs including the Razr V3i, the Razr2 V9 and the Razr3 V13. This was also one of the phones that was made popular by Motorola’s famous ‘Hello Moto’ advertising campaigns.

Sony Ericsson Walkman W800 [2005]

2005 marked the year that Sony partnered with Ericsson to release the first mobile phone under the famous Walkman brand, made famous through its portable cassette players throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. The W800 was one of the very first phones on the market to prioritise music; possibly as a result of the iPod’s recent success. Its features included a 2-megapixel camera with video recording, Bluetooth, Infrared connectivity, downloadable games, MP3 ringtones and wallpapers, a WAP browser, and of course a 3G network connection, which was commonplace by this time. It also featured 34MB of internal memory, with the option to add up to 2GB via a memory card. This phone was, in every sense, one of the first models to prioritise its creative features over the basic features of a mobile phone, such as calling and texting. If you were buying a Walkman, it certainly wasn’t just to call people.

Nokia N95 [2007]

Nokia launched its N95 model back in March 2007, sparking the start of the smartphone craze. Boasting 160MB of internal memory with the option to add up to 8GB on a microSD card as well as a set of dedicated media controls for watching films and listening to music, it was clear how much thought the manufacturers had put into it. One of the stand-out features of this phone was its 5-megapixel camera, featuring auto-focus, flash, and even the ability to change ISO, white balance and contrast. But this was just the very start; it also featured a complete office suite, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, voice commands, FM radio, a browser that supported Flash, and even a second, front-facing camera for video calls. Research suggests the phone was so successful that Nokia claimed 49.4% of all smartphone sales worldwide in 2007. Saying that, this was the start of the end for Nokia; by 2013 its smartphone market share had dropped to just 2.3%.

The iPhone [2007]

As most of you will know, one of the main factors for Nokia’s demise was the launch of Apple’s iPhone. First launching in June 2007, priced from $499 for a two-year contract, Apple managed to sell over 6 million units. Whilst this wasn’t the first touchscreen phone on the market, it came at a time when the mobile phone industry was predominantly made up of phones with physical keyboards, small screens and clunky designs. Apple truly revolutionised the smartphone industry with the launch of the first-generation iPhone, with many experts noting this as the most significant moment in smartphone history.

HTC (T-Mobile) Dream G1 [2008]

HTC launched its ‘Dream G1’ model, also known as the T-Mobile Dream G1 in some areas, in September 2008. Whilst the phone itself was nothing extraordinary for its time, featuring a QWERTY keyboard, a touchscreen and a few buttons for key features such as answering calls, its significance lies in its operating system. This was the very first phone on the Android operating system; now dominating the smartphone industry with a 74% market share at the time of writing this article.

iPhone 3G [2008]

Just one year after the launch of its first-generation iPhone, Apple rocked the smartphone industry yet again with the launch of the iPhone 3G (there wasn’t ever an iPhone 2 or 2G, although some people refer to the first iPhone as the ‘2G’ as it was the only iPhone to operate solely on 2G networks). It featured upgraded battery life, support for 3G networks and a new and improved operating system. The model was significantly more affordable than the first iPhone, with prices starting from just $199 for a two-year contract compared to $499 for the first-generation model. The iPhone 3G was also one of the first phones to prioritise apps, coinciding with the launch of Apple’s ‘App Store’, which featured 552 apps at launch.

?️ The Launch Of The First App Store

Android also launched its ‘Android Market’ (now Google Play Store) in 2008, although it didn’t offer support for paid apps until 2009. In every sense, 2008 marked the start of the ongoing ‘Apple vs Android’ debate.

BlackBerry Curve 8520 [2009]

BlackBerry launched its Curve 8520 model in 2009, further reinforcing its transformation from a business-focussed to a consumer-focussed manufacturer. Following the phone’s release, BlackBerry sales spiked; going from just under 20 million units sold in 2008 to 50 million in 2010. This was largely due to the widespread popularity of BlackBerry’s instant messaging app, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), which had amassed 190 million users by 2015. It allowed users to add friends, publish status updates, send broadcast messages and loads more.

? The Launch Of Whatsapp

The widely-popular instant messaging network Whatsapp, now boasting more than 1.5 billion monthly active users, was incorporated in February 2009. It allowed users to ‘instantly’ send messages, documents, images and other forms of media as well as make voice and video calls. Five years later, the company was acquired by Facebook for just under $20 billion.

✅ The First Successful 4G Connection In The UK

In December 2009, O2 announced it had successfully demonstrated a 4G network connection using Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology installed in six masts in Slough. This was the very first time that a 4G connection had been tested successfully in the UK, although it wasn’t until 2012 when the first 4G mobile network was launched commercially.

Samsung Galaxy S [2010]

Arguably one of the most successful phone lines in history, Samsung launched the very first Galaxy S in June 2010. With 16GB of storage, a 1 GHz ARM ‘Hummingbird’ processor, an AMOLED touchscreen, a 5-megapixel camera and a 0.3-megapixel front camera it was a very strong attempt at competing with Apple’s popular iPhone series. The Galaxy S line has been one of Apple’s biggest and most consistent competitors over the last ten years, with the most recent releases, the S9 and S9+, reportedly outselling all other smartphones in April 2018.

? "App" Chosen As The Word Of The Year

2010 was also the year in which the American Dialect Society chose “app” as its word of the year, following Apple and Android’s ongoing push on apps.

Samsung Galaxy Note N7000 [2011]

Samsung launched its first ‘phablet’ (phone/tablet), the Samsung Galaxy Note N7000, in October 2011. With a screen size of 5.3 inches, something that was pretty unheard of at this time, iPhone users ridiculed it as “too big”, asking questions like “does it even fit in your pocket?”. Quite ironic when you see that Apple currently sells iPhones with a screen size of 6.5 inches. There’s no doubt the first Galaxy Note had a huge impact on the future of mobile phones.

iPhone 5 [2012]

Mobile technology really started to accelerate in 2012. Just five years ago apps had only just been introduced and it was fairly uncommon to find a phone with Wi-Fi capabilities. Within the next few years, most of the world would be able to unlock their phones using their fingerprints and there would be an app for pretty much anything you could think of. This acceleration in technology was largely down to the mainstream success of the iPhone 5. With five million units sold in the first weekend of its release, this phone went on to be one of the most popular models of its time. It also marked the start of Apple’s successful attempt at standardising the luxury phone market. The iPhone 5 featured a lighter, sleeker design, an extra-tall screen, and the infamous Lightning connector (which has managed to survive up to the iPhone XS, despite all of its controversy). It also welcomed the introduction of Apple Maps, as well as an ever-improving Siri.

Samsung Galaxy S3 [2012]

Often labelled the ‘first great Android phone’, the Samsung Galaxy S3 also launched in 2012. With more than 20 million units sold in the first 100 days, this was the first Android phone to consistently outperform the iPhone in polls. The phone introduced several new features to the Galaxy S line including eye-tracking capabilities, support for wireless charging and support for 4G networks.

⚡ The First 4G Contract In The UK

Whilst many media outlets reported EE’s 4G network as the first to be available to consumers, launching in 11 cities in October 2012, this wasn’t actually the case. Internet Service Provider UK Broadband was actually the first UK company to offer a commercially-available 4G network, which launched in February 2012. However, its network was limited to just Reading, Southwark and Swindon.

iPhone 5C [2013]

In September 2013, Apple once again changed the face of the luxury phone market with its attempt at a cheaper version of the iPhone 5, known as the iPhone 5C. Whilst the iPhone 5 launched with prices from $199 to $399 on a two-year contract, the 5C launched at a fairly affordable $99.

iPhone 5S [2013]

Apple also launched a higher-priced model at the same time as the 5C, known as the iPhone 5S; this was the first time it had announced two iPhones at the same event, setting the tone for years to come. Apple’s Phil Schiller described the 5S as “the most forward-thinking smartphone in the world, delivering desktop-class architecture in the palm of your hand”. As well as improved software, the model featured something that iPhone users had only seen before in Sci-Fi movies (although this was actually a feature in Motorola phones since 2011); the ability to unlock your phone with your fingerprint. It also featured an improved 64-bit A7 processor and the first use of Apple’s ‘Control Center’ on an iPhone.

Nokia Lumia 1020 [2013]

Released in 2013, the Nokia Lumia 1020 is still known as one of the most powerful camera phones on the market. At a whopping 41-megapixels, this incredible phone has been described as “able to replace the digital camera” and as “a compact camera with some phone features tacked onto it”. It runs on the Windows Phone 8 operating system and has received several software and firmware updates over the years, including the “Lumia Black” update which allows it to capture RAW image files. Just to put this phone’s capabilities into context, Apple’s new iPhone XS, hailed for its incredible camera, is just 12-megapixels.

iPhone 6 Plus [2014]

Apple launched its first ‘phablet’, the iPhone 6 Plus, at the same time as its iPhone 6 in September 2014. The phone brought a new, sleeker design to the iPhone, sporting a thinner body but a huge 5.5-inch screen. This new design didn’t go down well with everyone though, with some angry customers reporting that the 6 Plus had bent whilst being carried in their pockets. Despite these two models being the most expensive smartphones on the market at the time Apple still managed to break its previous sales record, selling a staggering 10 million units in the first weekend that the handsets went on sale.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge [2015]

Easily one of the best-looking smartphones of its time, the Galaxy S6 Edge boasted a truly unique, curved edge-to-edge screen. It also boasted an incredible battery, offering 4 hours usage out of just a ten-minute charge. It also offered wireless charging, a 16-megapixel camera and a Quad HD Super AMOLED display. This phone was another key player in Android’s gradual dominance over Apple.

Google (Huawei) Nexus 6P [2015]

One of the first two phones on Android 6.0, Google’s (Huawei) Nexus 6P model was one of the most popular phones of 2015. With a solid 12.3-megapixel camera, boasting 4K video recording and 240fps slow-motion video, a 5.7-inch AMOLED display, and an impressive aluminium shell, it certainly had good specs for its time. And with pricing from $499 for a 32GB model, it was significantly cheaper than the iPhones of 2015, which started from $649 for a 16GB model.

Google Pixel [2016]

Google launched its flagship phones, the Pixel and Pixel XL, to a great reception back in 2016. Whilst the model’s design was nothing special, its high-quality hardware and software led to it receiving near-5-star reviews across the board. On top of this, the phone received a ton of good press surrounding its camera, scoring a rating of 89 on the DxOMark – the company that rates the quality of smartphone and DSLR cameras. This was the highest score ever awarded to a mobile phone at the time. Despite all this, the Pixel didn’t perform amazingly from a commercial point of view, selling just two million units by the end of 2016.

Samsung Galaxy S8+ [2017]

Samsung released what were arguably its two best models to date in April 2017, with the Galaxy S8 and S8+. The models featured a full-screen ‘Infinity’ display, support for wireless charging, a 12-megapixel camera with an f/1.7 lens and fool-proof security features including a fingerprint-scanner, iris-scanner and face-scanner, all packaged into one. With 41 million units sold in 12 months, the devices went on to be the world’s best-selling Android smartphones during the first quarter of their release.

iPhone X [2017]

Apple yet again changed the game at its annual September conference with the launch of the iPhone X – the first iPhone with a full-screen display. Launched to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the original iPhone, the model received a lot of bad press at first due to its staggering price tag; with prices starting from $999 for the 64GB model. Despite the heavy price tag, the iPhone X took the spot as Apple’s top-selling phone each and every week for the first 6 months following its launch; helping Apple to generate a record $100 billion in revenue during this time. Its main features included the lack of any on-screen buttons, support for wireless charging, a 5.8-inch AMOLED display with True Tone, a dual 12-megapixel camera and ‘Face ID’.

OnePlus 6T [2018]

Shenzhen-based manufacturer OnePlus launched its strongest proposition yet in October 2018, with the OnePlus 6T. The company has slowly been gaining popularity since the launch of the OnePlus One back in 2014. Since then it has released a new model every six months, making its name as the affordable smartphone to buy. The 6T went on sale from just $529 for the 128GB model, compared to the iPhone XS that starts at $999 for the 64GB entry-level device. The model sported a new in-screen fingerprint sensor, an updated 6.41-inch full-screen AMOLED display, a powerful 16/20-megapixel dual camera and the latest Snapdragon 845 processor.

? The First 5G Contract In The UK [2019]

EE launched the first 5G mobile phone contract at the end of May 2019, with prices starting from £54 per month plus a one-off fee of £170 for a compatible handset. The service was launched to mixed responses, with many experts claiming that 5G would lead to rapid advancements in other technological industries such as self-driving cars, virtual reality and drones. However, some experts voiced their concerns for the health consequences of 5G, calling for a halt in its roll-out until further research was undertaken into the relationship between 5G and increased cancer risk in humans.

⏩ A Look To The Future

We’ve come a very long way from the days of the Mobira Senator, but what’s next for the evolution of smartphones? The days of the smartphone giants dominating the industry seems to have passed, with countless new manufacturers launching products that will really put Apple and Samsung to the test. From Light’s nine-camera smartphone to the foldable Royole FlexPai, never-seen-before concepts are popping up every other month. Smartphone innovation seems to be at an all-time high, with everything to play for in this increasingly-competitive industry. You never know, by 2020 we may finally have something that bares resemblance to the transparent LG phone from Iron Man 2.

Did we miss out any phones that should have been on this list? Let us know on Instagram or Twitter!

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