Mobile phones allow us to keep in touch at all times and perform a variety of everyday tasks such as internet banking, paying for goods and services, and even staying connected with our customers and working outside of the office.
Back in 1984 it would have been hard to believe that mobile phones would come so far and provide us with so much when the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x was first made commercially available. Mobile phones had been in development since the late 60s, and throughout the 70s, but they were too hefty to be considered truly mobile, and were confined to cars - requiring the engine to be running.
The Motorola DynaTAC 8000x was completely portable, despite weighing in at almost a kilogram and measuring a colossal 30cm in length with a thickness of 9cm. Boasting a then incredible talk time of 30 minutes and standby time of 8 hours, the DynaTAC 8000x could be purchased for a mere £2,480 – similar to £5,700 in 2013.
Five years later Motorola released the MicroTAC 9800x – a much more portable device which was designed to fit inside a shirt pocket. This was the first phone to feature a flip open design, so that you would not accidentally press buttons when the phone was not in use. Measuring about 22cm in length (when flipped open), the 9800x was much smaller than its predecessor, and weighed less than half as much. Boasting special features such as storage of 30 numbers and standby time of 30 hours, the MicroTAC would set you back £2,170 in 1989, roughly equivalent to £4,100 in 2013.
As Motorola dominated the early mobile phone landscape, Finnish company Nokia began to come to prominence in the early 1990s. In 1993 they released the Nokia 1011, which was the first GSM phone, using digital networks rather than analog. This allowed the use of SMS text messaging, although this would not catch on in a big way for another few years – bringing with it “txt spk” as users tried to fit longer messages into a 160 character limit. With features such as a dual line display and 99 contact storage, the Nokia 1011 was at the forefront of mobile technology and was appropriately priced at £1,049 – roughly £1,700 in 2013.
Great strides were made throughout the 90s, and Nokia continued to acquire market share. In 1996, they released the 8110, a phone that would become popular due to its slide down front case and appearance in the 1999 film The Matrix. Weighing only 145g, and just under 6 inches long, this phone represented a wave of mobiles that were practical in their weight and dimensions, with Nokia leading the way. The next 5 years would spawn many popular models, including the 5110, 3210 and one of the most popular and iconic phones ever, the 3310. These models, released from 1998 – 2000, introduced the world to customisable appearances, ringtones and games. Phones were now very desirable gadgets, especially amongst teenagers. Mobile phones had become fashion accessories – with ringtones, custom casing or high score on ‘snake’ often a measure of coolness in the playground.
Nokia’s dominance began to slip in the early 2000s, with Sony Ericsson, LG and Samsung increasingly becoming major players in the market. Flip phones were common, with the Samsung SGH-T100 employing a dual screen design, so you could see notifications without having to flip the phone open. Colour screens began to appear at this time too, as well as built in cameras and WAP enabled phones that could access a stripped back version of the internet. This only made phones more desirable commodities, relentlessly marketed to the masses using popular faces – a tactic employed by Vodafone with David Beckham and Robbie Williams publicising “Vodafone Live!” A multimedia portal through which mobile users could access and download various content. Camera phones soon became video phones. This saw the introduction of an unsavoury act known as “happy slapping” which was carried out by delinquent youths and publicised by the media.
Several innovations were churned out at this time, including a hand held games console/phone hybrid from Nokia, called the N-Gage, released in 2003. Phone manufacturers started building MP3 player functionality into their new releases, with the Motorola Razr being a popular example. Released in 2004, the Razr sold over 135 million units.
Between 2004 and 2006 the term “smart-phone” started to appear, and phones began to seriously bridge the gap between something you used to make calls and send text messages, to something altogether more useful. Phones were now GPS enabled devices that you could use to check your emails, manage your calendar, play music, take reasonably good quality pictures and download content. The Sony-Ericsson W810i is one example of such a device.
2007 was when phones started to appear that more closely match the smartphones of today. Apple was already a huge player in the technology field with their highly popular and desirable Macs, Macbooks and iPods. In 2007 they would release the first iPhone, a phone which would eventually take the world by storm and see people queuing outside stores for days to get their hands on the latest release. Uptake was slow at first, with users put off by prices and perhaps a bit reluctant to own a more complicated device. As such Nokia still enjoyed good sales of their more simple and durable phones. Blackberry represented a happy medium between the two, with their full ‘qwerty’ keyboard useful for emails, internet and instant messaging – a feature which would prove popular with younger users. Physical ‘qwerty’ keyboards have lost popularity as touchscreen has become the norm – something which Blackberry has eventually come to accept. During that time, Apple, Samsung and HTC have dominated the market.
Present Day and the Future
Questions about standby and talk time have been replaced with questions about operating systems and how fast you can download data. There are millions of apps which enable countless functions and abilities. Ordering and paying for goods and services online with just a phone is now a common practice, and for the past few years the internet has been rebuilt with mobile devices in mind. Apps such as passbook enable you to even pay for items in person, using your mobile phone. Phones offer seamless integration with social media, high quality photo images and HD video recording.
Phones have even developed into a core part of our work lives – becoming far more than just a way for the office and clients to keep in touch when we are out and about. Email functionality has been around for a while now, but now it is easier than ever to send and receive emails on our mobile devices. Our phones seamlessly integrate with our office diaries and allow us to keep track of business as well as personal contacts. Researchers have found that smartphones can add an extra 2 hours of work to each day by allowing us to start working as soon as we wake up, and during the commute*
There have been a several watershed moments in the history of mobile phones. We could be drawing close to the next with wearable tech and flexible screens and batteries on the not too distant horizon. With all the features and capabilities these devices now make available to us, it is valid to question whether we should even be calling them phones anymore. For many of us they are an indispensable item that is the central hub of our lives.