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In April 1973, Motorola engineer Marty Cooper made the first call from a “real handheld portable cell phone,” a point he made very clear during that historic conversation with Joel Engel, the head of rival research firm Bell Labs. Fast forward to June 29, 2007, and the iPhone was born. Now in 2014, innovation is showing no sign of slowing down.
Since that fateful phone call four decades ago, mobile phones have evolved dramatically. Those magical portable technology boxes have become an essential part of interpersonal communication, and their significance will only increase with time. From the rise of SMS to anywhere, anytime Internet connectivity to mobile photography, cell phones have been the catalyst for cultural and technological changes over the past 41 years. Let’s relive the defining moments and trends of the mobile era.
Radio Common Carrier (RCC)
This soldier was using a radio common carrier, which was introduced in the ’60s as a precellular system. Like a radio, it could transmit voice communication through a push-to-talk system, but it used a public telephone network and had its own telephone number.
Gordon Gekko may have been the star of Wall Street, but his Motorola DynaTAC played a major supporting role. The classic brick phone had an LED screen and boasted 30 minutes of talk time with eight hours of standby. The DynaTAC was priced at almost $4,000 in the early ’80s — no wonder it made its first appearance in the hands of bankers on Wall Street!
It was this phone with which Motorola employee Marty Cooper made the first mobile phone call.
Here’s Marty showing off the cell phone he used to make that historic call.
The MicroTAC had a red LED display and a standard 12-button keypad, plus a menu of options including a calculator, hands-free operation, keypad tones, and much, much more. By the time that MicroTAC was announced, the phone still cost consumers upward of $2,500.
Nokia was at the forefront of this type of device. The candybar phone was named as such, because it was approximately the size and shape of, well, a bar of candy.
The mid-’90s was a period of evolution for the mobile industry. The clamshell phone shed some heft and paved the way for the modern flip phone.
This Motorola hybrid satellite/GSM phone was one of the first of its kind. A satphone connects to orbiting satellites, rather than Earth-bound cellular towers, which means it can make a call from essentially anywhere in the world.
The personal digital assistants of the ’90s ushered in a wave of pocket computing and touchscreen devices. The industry game changer was popularized by Palm, which launched the Palm Pilot in 1997 for a retail price of about $200–$300. The virtual keyboard, handwriting recognition, and Internet connectivity were cutting-edge technologies during that time.
Nokia 6000 Series
Snake! Interchangeable face plates! You either knew someone who had a Nokia 6000 Series phone or owned one yourself. The popular cell phone of the early ’00s made mobile communication affordable and widely available for the masses.
Mobile-phone manufacturers looking to capitalize on the rise of SMS created a variety of wacky-looking phones that incorporated full-size QWERTY keyboards.
Ohhhh, the Razr. The slim, sleek, and superpocketable form factor made the Motorola flip phone, which launched in 2004, a surefire hit among the fashion-forward crowd.
The BlackBerry email client and BlackBerry-to-BlackBerry instant messaging took the mobile world by storm when it made its debut in the early ’00s. Thumbs were never the same again.
Originally named the “Hiptop,” the T-Mobile Sidekick was an SMS-friendly phone for the next generation of texters. Like, for texting your BFF Jill.
The world wasn’t quite ready for the iPhone when it was unveiled in 2007. Apple founder Steve Jobs launched the all-in-one digital music player, camera (2MP!), and Internet-enabled PDA device, and the rest is history.
Apps Take Over
App-enabled smartphones took over the market after the release of the iPhone. Google’s open-sourced Android platform made it possible for manufacturers like Samsung, LG, HTC, and others to create devices based on the mobile operating system.
The Fire Phone
In June 2014, Amazon got in on the cell phone game with the Fire phone. It comes with pretty innovative features, including a better camera and free photo storage in the cloud, 3D features, and Firefly technology, which can recognized 100 million items in the real world.
The Future Touchscreen phones are getting lighter, wider, and more powerful—but what else can we expect for the future of mobile communication?
Devices will be more resistant to their environments and (hopefully) get much better battery life as technology advances. Sony launched the waterproof Xperia Z at 2013’s CES, and Samsung followed suit in 2014 with the waterproof Galaxy S5.
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