The Evolution of the Cell Phone

The Evolution of the Cell Phone

Remember a time when texting was something new? We do. Kind of. Remember when having a cell phone was optional. We do. Barely. Remember when you didn’t see the point of having a cell phone? Neither do we.

Calling, texting, taking pictures, email, social media, etc. Our cell phones are a vital component of our daily lives. But not too long ago owning a cell phone was something of a rarity. An oddity. Owning a cell phone meant you were special, ahead of the curve, on the cutting edge of technology. Now, having a cell phone is not only normal, it’s essential in our 21st Century world. These days if you don’t have a cell phone you’re something of a rarity. An oddity. So how did we go from flashy accessory to vital component? When was the cell phone born and how did it evolve? From the ‘brick with an antenna’ to the first smartphone, here’s the lowdown on the history of the cell phone.

NEW BEGINNINGS – 70s and 80s

Martin Cooper of Motorola is credited with developing the first working prototype of a cell phone. In 1973 he called his friend, Joel Engel, an electrical engineer at AT&T and said: “Joel, I’m calling you with a real mobile phone. A portable handheld telephone.” The cost of this first prototype was astronomical (think thousands of dollars), and the phone itself was tall and very heavy (think lugging around a small brick in your pocket). But Cooper’s invention was the beginning of a revolution. Fast forward ten years later to 1983 and the first cell phone hits the market – the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X.

Next came the Motorola MicroTAC in 1989, which, weighing in at 340 grams, was certainly not the lightest. But it was revolutionary, because it was the first ever ‘flip’ phone and (for the time) it was a lot smaller device and therefore a lot more mobile.

RAPID EVOLUTION – 90s and 00s

Arguably the first ‘smartphone’ was the IBM Simon created in 1993 which sold for around $1,100. Features included a calendar, address book, clock, calculator and a notepad. Even better, you could use it to send emails using the nascent Internet.

Another big step forward was the trendy Nokia 3210, released in 1999. With interchangeable faceplates, T9 predictive text input for text messages and a built-in antenna the Nokia 3210 was hugely popular, with over 160 million units sold. Its successor, the Nokia 3310, came out a year later and went on to sell 126 million units.

The first phone with a camera was the Sharp J-SH04, released in 2000 in Japan. The 0.1 megapixel camera was able to shoot pictures with 110,000 pixels. The J-SH04 was also the first device that used a colour display (256 colors). The first picture was sent via cell phone on 11 June, 1997. It was taken with a normal camera and then sent via cell to over 2,000 contacts.

The first 3G phone with fast Internet, the Nokia 6650, was released in 2002. The camera of 6650 was able to take photos and videos. Unfortunately, YouTube didn’t exist yet, and users had to wait another 3 years to upload or download videos.

The iPhone 2G released in 2007 was the first Apple phone. The mobile operating system iOS made the device easier to use than other phones. Apple introduced the App Store, a store where users can purchase applications for their phones. Today there are hundreds of thousands of apps, with the numbers rapidly rising.

Google joined the fray in early 2010 with its Android mobile operating system, releasing its first cell phone the Nexus One. Watch videos, navigate the Internet, buy applications, read news, play a game, texting, even actually calling someone – everything was possible with the Nexus One.


Fast forward to the present day and we’re on the verge of the iPhone 6s (see our last blog) with features that are rumoured to include an A9 processor; 2GB RAM; improved 13-megapixel camera; Force Touch; and improved Touch ID. We’ve come a long way, and we’re not done yet.

What do the next 40 years of cell phone technology have in store for us? A phone without a battery that charges via wifi? A phone the size of an earplug with a holographic screen? Whatever happens, our mobile technology will continue to evolve, and our lives will continue to benefit from it.

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