The History & Future of the Mobile Phone

Written by: Alan Donohoe
Date: 9th Janurary 2010
An excerpt from 'The Essential Mobile Phone Handbook'

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On September 21, 1983, Motorola made history when the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) approved the DynaTAC 8000X phone, the world's first commercial handheld portable mobile phone. After more than 10 years and a 100 million USD investment, Motorola's commitment produced an innovative portable technology that revolutionized the communications industry and changed the lives of people around the world forever.

The DynaTAC 8000X model featured specifications that included 30 minutes talk time and eight hours of standby time. It was a massive 13 x 1.75 x 3.5 inches in dimension and weighed 28-ounce (794-gram). The phone first became available in 1984 to consumers in the US, with a price tag of 3,995USD.

Motorola DynaTAC 8000X mobile phone

When Motorola engineers began researching cellular technology, they soon recognized its potential. But their vision went far beyond car-based phone technology. "When you park your car and leave, you can't use your mobile, but you can take your portable with you," stated Martin Cooper, who was one of the leaders in early cellular development at Motorola.

Creating the first wireless portable mobile phone in the world was an enormous challenge. No one had ever seen one before, so there was nothing to compare it to.

Cooper called on Motorola's industrial design director, Rudy Krolopp, and his team to design the shape of the phone. A three-dimensional model needed to be built within days in order to have a working prototype for the FCC meeting in six weeks. After several days of continual work, Krolopp's team gathered in a restaurant to present their concepts. Hours later, they emerged with a winning design. "We called it a shoe phone, because it sort of looked a little bit like a boot," recalled Krolopp.

Martin Cooper is the inventor named on US Patent Number 3,906,166 entitled "Radio telephone system" filed on October 17, 1973. He is considered the inventor of the first handheld mobile phone and the first person to make a call on a mobile phone on April 3, 1973.

That first call, placed to his rival Dr. Joel S. Engel, Bell Labs' head of research was made standing on a street near the Manhattan Hilton, New York. Mr. Cooper decided to attempt a private call before going to a press conference upstairs in the hotel. He picked up the 2-pound Proto type Motorola handset called the DynaTAC and pushed the "off hook" button. The phone came alive, connecting Mr. Cooper with the base station on the roof of the Burlington Consolidated Tower (now the Alliance Capital Building) and into the landline system. To the bewilderment of passers-by, he dialed the number and held the phone to his ear.

Martin Cooper pictured with a 1973 prototype ‘shoe phone’

"People want to talk to other people - not a house, or an office, or a car. Given a choice, people will demand the freedom to communicate wherever they are, unfettered by the infamous copper wire. It is that freedom we sought to vividly demonstrate in 1973," said Martin Cooper.

Martin Cooper added, "As I walked down the street while talking on the phone, sophisticated New Yorkers gasped at the sight of someone actually moving around while making a phone call. Remember that in 1973, there weren't cordless telephones, let alone cellular phones. I made numerous calls, including one where I crossed the street while talking to a New York radio reporter - probably one of the more dangerous things I have ever done in my life."

After the release of the DynaTAC 8000X, mobile phones began to proliferate through the 80’s, the race was on!

A challenge to the dominance of Motorola came surprisingly from Finland. By 1987, Nokia released its first phone that could be held to the ear, the Mobira Cityman 900. Though it had to be recharged every six hours, the 790-gram Cityman became a status symbol after it appeared in popular movies such as Wall Street. Nokia’s mobile phones got a big publicity boost in 1987, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was pictured using a Cityman to make a call from Helsinki to his communications minister in Moscow. This led to the phone’s affectionate nickname of the "Gorba".

Mikhail Gorbachev pictured using the Nokia Mobira Cityman 900

The Nokia Mobira Cityman 900 weighed 800 grams and had a price tag of 24,000 Finnish Marks (approximately EUR 4,560).

Previous to the Mobira Cityman 900 model in 1982 Nokia released the Nokia Mobira Senator. It lacked the 'mobility' weighing in at a heavy 21 pounds, so in the true meaning of the word it can’t really be classed as a ‘Mobile Phone’.

Nokia Mobira Senator

Hot on their heels was Japanese manufacturer NEC (Formerly Nippon Electric Company), who in 1987 launched the NEC 9A, which became the fastest selling handheld mobile phone. It was smaller, lighter and had more features than any others of its time.

The NEC 9A

In addition Siemens and Ericsson released their own versions of a ‘Mobile Phone’, however, once again they can’t really be classed as ‘Mobile Phones’ in the real sense of the word.

The Siemens Oxford C1

The Ericsson Hotline

It wasn’t until the 1990's that mobile phones became popular among the general public, this was mainly due to innovations in technology, which made parts and components smaller thus reducing the size of the phone and ultimately reducing the cost.

Now mobile phones were truly portable without the need for a large battery. Advances in battery technology, as well as computer chip technology also helped to make them much smaller than their predecessors. With these innovations, mobile phone usage soared. This so called ‘second generation’ introduced a new variant to communication, as SMS text messaging became possible, initially on GSM networks and eventually on all digital networks. We also saw the ability to consume media content on mobile phones, when Radiolinja (now Elisa) in Finland introduced the downloadable ringing tone as paid content. Bluetooth was another advancement with many doubters who believed it would be a distant memory in just a couple of years. However, multiple years have passed and Bluetooth continues to make strides and advancements everyday.

While the Motorola DynaTAC may have been the first portable phone, the Motorola StarTAC, was the first that was actually pocketable. The 3.8 x 2.25 x 1 inch flip phone (at the time the smallest ever built) was considered minuscule, and its revolutionary clamshell form factor has been imitated ever since. It was the first phone in the world with vibrating alert feature. It was then only used by Motorola, as they held the patent.

The Motorola StarTac
First phone in the world with Vibrating alert function

The StarTAC was unveiled in North America on January 3, 1996. StarTACs remained popular until the early 2000s, appearing in many Hollywood movies of the period such as 8mm starring Nicolas Cage. Many MicroTAC owners switched to this particular model due to its compact size and light weight. During its initial launch, magazine ads for the phone would include a cardboard cutout in real-size that could be pulled from the page to demonstrate the diminutive nature of the device. This is the actual model which I refered to in the introduction – my first mobile phone!

In early 2000, the mobile phone became less about calling others and more about sharing images, media, and music. A major turning point was the introduction of the camera phone.

The Sharp J-SH04 was the industry's first mobile phone to feature an integrated 110,000-pixel CMOS image sensor for taking digital photos. It was followed by the industry's first application of a 65,536-color TFT LCD on a flip type phone (J-SH05). Both models were supplied to J-Phone Co. Ltd., and raised Sharp's presence in the mobile phone market.

The camera feature proved popular right from the start, as J-Phone in Japan had more than half of its subscribers using cameraphones in two years. The world soon followed. By 2003 more cameraphones were sold worldwide than digital cameras. In 2004 Nokia became the world's best seller of digital cameras. By 2008 Nokia sold more cameraphones than Kodak sold film based cameras, and thus Nokia is now the biggest manufacturer of any kind of camera, not bad for a ‘mobile phone’ manufacturer. As a direct result of the rapid popularity of cameraphones, two of the four giant camera makers, Minolta and Konica have quit the camera business altogether!

The Sharp J-SH04
First commercially available mobile phone with integrated camera.

One phone we can’t pass without mention would be the Nokia 6310i, not for its looks or technology, but for how robust it was, not to mention its simplicity and excellent battery life. This model even until this day is highly popular, why? Simply because many people see the 6310i as the best handset that Nokia have ever made in terms of usability. It was discontinued in 2004. However, due to its perputual popularity this model is still on sale via -

The Iconic Nokia 6310i

Year 2002 saw the release of the Sony Ericsson T68i. This phone bridged the gap from the older generation phones with ground breaking features including two-way MMS and simple WAP web browsing. Although a camera was not present it was sold as an add-on at the end of the model’s life cycle.

Sony Ericsson T68i

From this point on smartphone technology exploded. Blackberry begun to take the market by storm. Although IBM, Ericsson, Kyocera and Nokia has released a so called ‘smartphone’ it was a Blackberry handset which was first optimized for wireless email use. Not forgetting the Danger Hiptop, which later became known as the T-Mobile Sidekick, which had a unique swiveling design.

With 3G technologies creeping in from the initial launch by NTT DoCoMo in Japan on October 1, 2001, the designers had taken it to the next level. Manufacturers now realized that mobile phones in their most common form seemed outdated. Over the next few years they became thinner, lighter and packed with so much technology.

DoCoMo president Keiji Tachikawa shows a 3G handset

The first major step in the evolution to 3G occurred with the introduction of GPRS. So the cellular services combined with GPRS became 2.5G.

GPRS could provide data rates from 56 kbit/s up to 114 kbit/s. It can be used for services such as Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) access, Short Message Service (SMS), Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), and for Internet communication services such as email and World Wide Web access. GPRS data transfer is typically charged per megabyte of traffic transferred, while data communication via traditional circuit switching is billed per minute of connection time, independent of whether the user actually is utilizing the capacity or is in an idle state.

The roll-out of 3G networks was delayed in some countries by the enormous costs of additional spectrum licensing fees. In many countries, 3G networks do not use the same radio frequencies as 2G, so mobile operators had to build entirely new networks and license entirely new frequencies.

Increasing use of 3G mobile phones can change the way people communicate and create new social trends and tribes, a behavioral study by Analysts Future Laboratory has suggested.

Then, like a bolt of lightning the Apple iPhone was released on 29th June 2007 and was named Time magazine's "Invention of the Year" the same year.

The revolutionary trend setting Apple iPhone

Steve Jobs, CEO Apple Inc, unveiled the iPhone to the public on January 9, 2007 in a keynote address. Apple was required to file for operating permits with the FCC, but such filings are available to the public, so the announcement came several months before the iPhone received approval. When iPhone went on sale Apple closed its stores at 2:00 pm local time to prepare for the 6:00 pm iPhone launch, while hundreds of customers lined up at stores nationwide. On launch weekend, Apple sold 270,000 iPhones in the first thirty hours. The original iPhone was made available in the UK, France, and Germany in November 2007, and Ireland and Austria in the spring of 2008.

It’s hard to think of any other device that's enjoyed the level of exposure and hype that was found in the launch of the first Apple iPhone. Who could forget it? Even those completely disinterested in technology seemed to come down with iPhone fever.

Such was the massive impact that the iPhone had on the worldwide market; manufacturers had now begun to imitate the iPhone to the best of their ability to gain back some market share. The sincerest form of flattery some might say, but LG Electronics claimed the iPhone's design was copied from the LG Prada. Woo-Young Kwak, head of LG Mobile Handset R&D Center, said at a press conference, “We consider that Apple copied our Prada phone after the design was unveiled when it was presented in the iF Design Award and won the prize in September 2006.

While many other manufacturers released their own verions of the ‘iPhone killer’ Apple were pushing ahead with the next version of the iPhone - introducing new ‘3G’ iPhone. With fast 3G wireless technology, GPS mapping, support for enterprise features like Microsoft Exchange. The most substantial differences are internal - the iPhone 3G adds support for faster 3G networks - usually twice as fast as the EDGE standard supported by the original - as well as GPS hardware that is capable of pinpointing a user's current location, automatically geotagging photographs taken with the internal camera, and providing the location of the user to third-party applications.

Steve Jobs, CEO Apple Inc.

Apple reports that the iPhone 3G also features modestly better battery life - most notably "up to" 10 hours of talk time while using a 2G network (compared to 8 hours for the original) and 300 hours of standby time (compared to 250 hours for the original). However, it is worth noting that Apple reports that the iPhone 3G only provides 5 hours of talk time or web use on a 3G network and real-world tests have shown that battery life can fall short of this estimate.

Without a doubt the most popular style of phone to emerge in the last few years is the touch screen mobile phone, coming in all different colors, sizes and with features to suit everyone’s need. And though a thousand and one different people will tell you that they weren’t the first to do it, the current popularity can certainly be attributed in some part to the iPhone, and Apple, who now set the trends.

Now it’s all about how well other operating systems, including those from more established manufacturers and the Linux-based Android platform, or even open-source rivals will do in the market. Android devices could be paired with hundreds of open market applications, even ones from garage-based developers who believe that the future of computing is in the palms of our hands.

So what futuristic feature could we look at now that could become the norm in the near future?
Our friends in Finland have come up with the Nokia Morph concept phone. The idea of being able to “morph”, change shape and adapt to the task at hand sounds quite promising. You have the morph on your wrist as a watch. The phone rings. You take it off, straighten it out and answer the call. The Morph concept phone uses Nano-technology to create self-cleaning surfaces. Nanotechnology is very diverse, ranging from novel extensions of conventional device physics, to completely new approaches based upon molecular self-assembly, to developing new materials with dimensions on the nanoscale, even to speculation on whether we can directly control matter on the atomic scale!

The Nokia Morph Concept Phone

Korean manufacturer Pantech have developed the Pantech Sky Wind phone, which responds to air blown at the microphone. Using what Pantech refer to as a “Blow Engine”, simply blow in to the microphone and the phone will react accordingly. It gives a whole new meaning to interaction.

Pantech Sky Wind Phone

The popularity of electronic devices is never going to fade; so new functions and features will be introduced quite rapidly over the coming years. A new technology “Near-Field Communications" or abbreviated NFC, can transform an ordinary mobile phone into credit or debit card. In order to pay for the purchase through a built-in NFC chip it is enough just to place a phone on a special, sensitive surface or hold it at a distance of a few centimeters near NFC-reader. The money will be immediately withdrawn from the bank account or deposit on credit.

We will also see the "mass production" of inexpensive mobile phones complete with full HTML browsers. The result will be the promotion of the online communities and as result the increase in the number of participants. We may see mobile phones become the primary device used for Internet access. Indeed, mobile phones have one indisputable advantage over the computers with the Internet access - it is the mobility.

Nokia 888 Communicator Concept Phone

The Nokia 888, which uses liquid batteries, speech recognition, flexible touchscreen and touch-sensitive body cover, is designed by Tamer Nakisci and won the Nokia Design Award.

There is no doubt that module technology for digital camera phones will be constantly developed and also in the future, mobile phones. The 10-Megapixel camera phones will be quite the norm in the not too distant future.

With technologies such as Google Streetview, we'll not only be able to get a map of where we're headed. We'll get traffic reports, a gps signal, and a 3-dimensional video of which direction to take. The future will bring lots of amazing things.

Benq-Siemens Snaked

Benq designers thought of women too and presented Snaked. The Snaked phone is a fashion bracelet worn by sport loving women, because it also has body sensors monitoring activity rates and performance.

With components and parts been miniaturized constantly we’ve seen another interesting emergence, the mobile phone watch. Not all James Bond's gadgets are only in the movies!

LG Electronics was the first recognized brand to introduce the GD910 Mobile Phone watch, although some small lesser-known Chinese non-branded companies produced a mobile phone watch in late 2007. The device makes part of a trend towards multi-tasking gadgets that can perform a host of functions. The device represents a remarkable achievement for today’s technology, showing the world that there is still a lot of room for improvement. In 2003, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, unveiled plans for smart watches that worked as mini FM-radios rather than mobile phones. However, this idea has been overtaken by LG even before it reached the mass market.

LG GD910 Mobile Phone Watch

In the future, your phone will know your credit card number. You'll be able to walk into a store, be greeted by name, pick out a shirt you want, and walk right out the door. Your phone will broadcast directly to the store's network and exchange information instantly and silently. You'll be charged simply by stepping outside with a tagged product. No more waiting in line, no more dealing with annoying customer service.

One day, you'll probably be able to glance at your phone and it will tell you where your clothing size is located, or which aisle the milk is located at in the grocery store.

Now, of course, many people are afraid that our society will become a dystopia. They fear a 1980’s world and with the way things are going, it's definitely a very rational problem. Though, our world is headed in one of two directions. Within one hundred years we’ll have either destroyed each other for good or we'll have completed the first cycle of sociological evolution and will become a type one civilization.

Mobile phones will become the new human language.

Does this sound like one step away from a powerful sermon?
The truth - this is the shape of things to come....

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