Mobile phones have become such a ubiquitous item of use that it seems difficult to imagine a time when they were not around. In fact, studies say that there are about 4.68 billion mobile phone users in the world, and this figure is likely to cross the 5 billion mark by the end of 2019. About five years ago, the number of mobile phone devices crossed the number of people in the world. Given this, it is natural to harbor some curiosity about the history and evolution of mobile phones.
Before the Advent of Mobile Phones
The earliest ‘mobile phones’ were not what we understand by the term these days. They were radio communication carrier systems used by soldiers, emergency responders, and taxi drivers. They worked on a push to talk (PTT) system but used either public telephone systems or had rudimentary transmitter systems that allowed one to one communication.
The First Mobile Phone
In 1973, Motorola researcher and executive Martin Cooper placed the first call from a handheld mobile phone to a friend at Bell Labs. He used a DynaTac phone which weighed about 1.1 kg. It would be another decade before the first mobile phones would be commercially available.
The very first mobile phone to be introduced to the public (1983) was the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. It was certainly a monstrosity by today’s standards and was called the Brick phone. It cost about USD 3,995 at the time. This phone operated on the first automated analog cellular network, known as 1G. While it had been used in Japan in 1979 and Europe in 1981, the 1G network came to the US in 1983. In the next decade, this phone became quite popular among the elite.
Mobile phones became lighter and cheaper. By the time the clamshell MicroTAC was introduced, mobile phones cost about USD 2,500.
GSM and CDMA
The 1990s was a time for steady evolution of the mobile telephony. The 2G cellular network was introduced and mobile technology developed along two different lines. The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) was developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and became the standard network in Europe. The US continued to use the Code-Division Multiple Access (CDMA) protocol. Nokia was at the forefront of developing lighter candybar shaped mobile phones through this decade. 2G cellular networks allowed for basic text communication. The first text message (or SMS) was sent on December 3, 1992 from Neil Papworth’s computer to the cellphone of Vodafone director Richard Jarvis. It read “Merry Christmas”.
Internet Based Telephony
In 1997, for the first time, the Palm Pilot was introduced. It cost between USD 200 and USD 300. It introduced internet connectivity which was the state-of-the-art technology at the time. The credit for being the world’s first smartphone, however, goes to IBM Simon, which was introduced in 1993. It included many features that we now use such as a QWERTY keyboard, calendar, clock, address book, and even had predictive typing. In 1999, Nokia introduced its 7110 model which harnessed the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) to send and receive data over the internet through a mobile phone. In the following years, the small size and ease of using Nokia devices made them immensely popular around the world.
Camera Phones and 3G Network
The world’s first camera phone was introduced in 1999 in Japan (J-SH04). It would take three more years for the western markets to receive their first camera phone introduced by Sony Ericsson.
By this time, Japan had started working on 3G cellular networks with increased data transfer speeds. The very first 3G network in the world was introduced in 2001 in Japan. By 2003, Blackberry’s range of mobile phones with front facing cameras brought in the concept of video calling. Within the next 6 years, the world would have about 295 million 3G users and the demand for online videos, music, pictures, and applications boomed. The Motorola Razr V3 introduced in 2003 made sleeker phones the rage, and forced mobile phone manufacturers to rethink their design strategy.
On to Touchscreen Phones
While the IBM Simon was definitely the first touchphone, the introduction of the LG Prada in January 2007, and the release of the first iPhone by Apple in June 2007 became gamechangers. The iPhone made a mobile phone as good as a personal assistant and a constant companion, and introduced people to mobile applications. In 2011 came the Galaxy Nexus which used the Android operating system. It was developed by Samsung Electronics. Ever since then, mobile phones have evolved to run everything from social networking, FM Radio, online games to payment gateways. Newer mobile applications are being developed everyday, so much so that nowadays, mobile phones can provide travel directions, remotely control airconditioners and CCTV cameras, and even provide keyless entry to access-controlled dormitories for students.
All in all, the quest for a thinner, lighter mobile phone, with a faster processor, a better camera, a better network, and newer features has become an obsession that the world has been unable to shake off.
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