The History of Mobile Phones From 1973 To 2008: The Handsets That Made It ALL Happen

News Richard Goodwin 14:15, 16 Apr 2015

All the mobile phones that mattered from the first Nokia handset right up to the iPhone 3G

A LOT can happen in 40 years. But when it comes to technology, 40-years is like going back to the days of Moses or the Roman Empire. Case in point: the mobile phone –– and, more recently, the rise of mobile internet communications, social networks and super-fast internet. But what were the phones that made it happen; who were the pioneering brands that made today's handsets possible; and which phone, out of the thousands launched since the 1980s, was the most important? Answer: quite a few.

But first: a history lesson. 

The world’s first mobile phone call was made on April 3, 1973, when Martin Cooper, a senior engineer at Motorola, called a rival telecommunications company and informed them he was speaking via a mobile phone. The phone Cooper used, if you could call it that, weighed a staggering 1.1kg and measured in at 228.6x127x44.4mm. With this prototype device, you got 30 minutes of talk-time and it took around 10 hours to charge. 

In 1983, Motorola released its first commercial mobile phone, known as the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. The handset offered 30 minutes of talk-time, six hours standby, and could store 30 phone numbers. It also cost £2639 ($3995).

In the very early days of the mobile space handsets weren’t designed with consumers in mind. You’d need a couple of thousand pounds to get hold of one, and even then performance wasn’t great. Back then, mobile phones were designed with the likes of Gordon Gecko in mind, businessmen-types that drove big Jags and flew Concord. Not your average Joe.

Mobile Phone FACTS

Here is a selection of facts, courtesy of Fact Slides, about mobile phones that show just how much the world has changed since the early days of mobile communication:

  • In 1983, the first mobile phones went on sale in the U.S. at almost $4,000 each.
  • Over 250 million Nokia 1100 devices were sold, making it the bestselling electrical gadget in history.
  • More People In The World Have Mobile Phones Than Toilets.
  • So many Facebook photos and videos are uploaded via mobile that it takes up 27% of upstream web traffic.
  • The technology behind smartphones relies on up to 250,000 separate patents.
  • The average person unlocks his or her smartphone 110 times each day.

Even at the start of the 1990s this was still the case despite Nokia and NEC entering the fray. Nokia’s first 'handheld' mobile phone, the Mobira Cityman 900, launched in 1989 and weighed just 800g – a huge improvement over 1982’s 9.8kg Mobira Senator model. 

1990 to 1995 represented an upward swerve in design and portability, with mobile devices gradually starting to appear in the hands of average consumers for the first time. By the late-1990s, mobile devices were fast becoming the norm thanks to the following handsets… 

1997 – Nokia 6110

Features:

  • Three games: Memory, Snake, Logic
  • Calculator, clock and calendar
  • Currency converter
  • Works as a pager
  • Profile settings
  • 4 colours

1997 – Motorola StarTAC

Inspired by the communicator from Star Trek, this bad boy was the world’s first clamshell handset. Another first for Motorola.

1998 – Nokia 5110

Excellent battery, slim by 1998’s standards, and it also featured Snake. What more could a 90s consumer want?

Features:

  • Dimensions   48 x 132 x 31 mm
  • Battery        900 mAh NiMH
  • Display         47 x 84 B/W

1999 – BlackBerry 850

The BlackBerry 850 was the first handset released under the BlackBerry brand. Ten years later, RIM would be crowned the fastest growing company on the planet. And we all know what happened post-2010.

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