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The evolution of the mobile - it's much more than just a phone!

In 2007 the world changed. A man only a load of geeks had really heard of stood on a stage and introduced his company’s new device. He wasn’t wearing a suit, like you’d expect of a high powered CEO, instead he wore a black turtle-neck. His name was Steve Jobs and the device he held in his hand was the iPhone. The rest was history!

Years ago a telephone was something that sat in the hallway of the house. It had a windup dial on the front that you used to select the numbers you wanted, which made a very satisfying clicking noise as you wound it round. Subsequently it took about three minutes to dial a telephone number, partially because you often ended up accidently selecting the wrong number and had to start again. Once your call had connected you then had to sit next to it to have your conversation because the receiver cord was only a foot long – this was back in the dark days when the concept of ‘wireless’ was reserved for Clark, Asimov, Adams and other budding science fiction writers.

So what was the purpose of this device, with its strange whirly controls? Quite simply it allowed us to call and speak to someone else in another location, maybe even another country, nothing more. This device, the height of communications technology, even meant you could listen to someone telling you the time every five seconds. The idea that this is how you had to make a phone call before about 1995 is no doubt an utterly foreign concept to anyone under the age of twenty. It will seem incomprehensible to anyone who has grown up only knowing touch screen devices and cloud storage, but unbelievably it is true. Of course there were mobile phones around in the eighties and nineties, but they were the size of a breeze block and often required that you carry a car battery around with you in order to use it. We really were in the dark when it came to the possibilities of the mobile era.

But then along came Apple and Android to change the world. For most of us, the word ‘phone’ now means something quite different to the old fashioned devices we’ve just described and we associate far more than just making calls with a phone as well. ‘Mobile’ is certainly a world away from where it was only ten years ago. Gone are the days when we had a mobile phone so that we could make calls, now we often carry around our entire life on the device that is in our pocket.

The evolution of the ‘phone’ has been a rapid one and so has our expectation of what it can and should be able to do. In the mid-nineties the mobile became a mass form of communication for teenagers. It was just a means for anxious parents to contact their wayward children who had missed their curfew. It was a way for teenagers to continue their conversations with their friends. In the early nineties this was through phone calls, but then the era of the text message emerged. Suddenly the clacking of mobile phone keys was everywhere. It was a common site for teenagers to even be talking to each other via text when they were in the same room. Most importantly it meant they could talk to each other in class without the teacher knowing!

So in 2007, when Steve Jobs presented the iPhone, teenagers all over the world nearly spilled their Fantas with excitement. Apple timed the move perfectly. Facebook had launched three years earlier and was beginning to gain global attention. People were starting to use the internet on their phones and wanted screens that could cope with it and, most importantly, the techie world was beginning to get the idea that we all want to do things online and on the move. With the advent of the iPhone, we moved out of the night and into the day, and the sun was lovely and warm!

an infographic showing the development of the mobile phone between 1980s and today

Of course Apple weren’t the only manufacturer to do this, although they were arguably most responsible for driving the easy to use smartphone device. In short, they made it cool! So how has our usage of the mobile phone changed our lives? How much of our lives now revolve around our phones? We decided to ask some of our staff how they use their mobile phones. The results are very interesting:


Male, 30 (Peter), Managing Director

I’m an Apple user, as is my whole household. I would love to say I’m not a fan-boy but I probably am.

I think the best way to demonstrate the gregarious nature of my phone usage was last week. We were sat in a traffic jam, going nowhere fast, and my two young daughters were bored out of their minds, even with my phone bluetoothing my music library, set to Frozen, to the car radio. So taking advantage of the 4G I launched the YouTube app, loaded up the ‘My little Pony’ movie and wedged the phone in my headrest for them to watch. Whilst my phone was doing this my wife and I sat there going through the calendar app, synced onto all our devices, to plan the rest of the month. She set appointments which synced to my phone so that we know where everyone is meant to be and when. And how do I know the time? I use my phone. I haven’t worn a watch for a few years now. I just rely on my phone.

But my mobile isn’t just a handy portable cinema and calendar for the family. As anyone with children knows, having a camera handy for grabbing those candid moments on photo or video is a must. The camera on my phone allows me to grab those moments in HD and then I sync them to my computer with the dropbox app. They’re instantly backed up to the cloud so I know they won’t be lost.

I consume the news almost entirely through my mobile, using the BBC apps to get the headlines when I’m on the train or even at home on the sofa. I also have all my emails plugged into it so that I can contact people on the move. And of course, all the obligatory social media is plugged in to it as well. I stay in contact with friends and family via Facebook and Twitter and will often arrange to meet friends via Kik or Whatsapp, rather than making a call – despite the device in my hand allowing me to do that – and I talk to my wife through the day with skype.

When I run in the evenings I use an app and my phone's GPS, which records my routes, times, splits and calorie usage. It keeps a full record of my achievements and workouts. Another app records my diet and lets me know what I should and shouldn’t eat. It is no exaggeration to say most of my life can be coordinated with my mobile, and it is all synced to my laptop and iPad so it is wherever I need it whenever I need it.

Do I use it to make phones calls? Occasionally. My call log says I’ve made about a dozen calls in the last 20 days! I probably spend upwards of a few hours a day using my phone for various things.


Male, Mid-40s (Andy), Technical Lead

I have a Samsung something or other. It’s really nice ‘cos it has a numeric keypad, a ‘dial’ key and a ‘hang-up’ key. I use the keypad for entering the digits of the number I wish to call. If you’re really clever you can use it to send these things called ‘text messages’. That’s what I do, as often as four or five times a week. The phone also receives incoming calls once or twice a day from my wife when she needs to rant at someone. I believe it can also receive calls from other people.

I used to have a posh phone – internet and everything. I used it as a PDA and for checking emails but I downgraded when I realised I wasn’t as important as I thought I was.

If I had a modern phone I would live in a perpetual battle trying not to spend all day e-mailing, texting, tweeting and facing my legions of imaginary friends.


Female, 38 (Dolly), Content Manager

My last three phones have been iPhones and I wouldn’t change that for the world, as I love Apple products. They’re sleek and chic.

I use ‘Family Sharing’, which I love, as my boys have to ask permission before they buy any apps for their iPads.

The main use of my phone is to make phone calls, listen to music or using my camera. I spend a fair amount of time on my phone, even when I’m at home watching TV. If I get a notification that’s it, I’m on it checking. I check my phone as soon as I get up in the morning and last thing at night, for any news or FB notifications! Sad, I know.

I also use my phone to catch up on Sky programmes using SKY Go, especially when I’m at football training with the boys!


Female, 58 (Jan), Company Chairman

My age explains why I’ve used a mobile phone since they were the size of a brick. Literally. From that, you can conclude that making calls is very important.

My current phone is an iPhone 6, the smaller footprint version. For communication, I think I use email most, then probably texting or Whatsapp, then voice calls, but I do a lot of all of these.

I have 148 apps, if you include the Utilities as one. I use 35 of these a lot, some daily, such as phone and email obviously, Safari, BBC News, Facebook, Whatsapp, notes, calendar, photos, camera, maps, Spotify, Geordie Motivator, banking apps, weather, Times, Telegraph, LinkedIn. I should delete many of the others as I realise now that I downloaded them on a whim, as you do, but have hardly used them.

I hate to think how much time I spend on my phone. Probably a couple of hours a day, and more if I have long phone calls. Wouldn’t be without it.


Male, 37 (Mitar), PHP Developer

Mobile telephones... I used to crave them. Now... not.

The last phone that I was really excited about was the iPhone 4. News and leaks about it were checked hourly.

Now... Well no matter how good the toy you eventually get bored with it, moreover it has become a thing of a nuisance, ringing sometimes etc... I find myself remembering the past and asking “Was the world a better place without them?”. I still have it in the pocket though. One never knows when GPS navigation will be needed or when a car accident will strike, in which case one is most wise to take evidential pictures.

It is also used as an alarm clock, which associates it with “don’t like this” things. My monthly spending has become £5 to £10 per month. Needing mobile internet resulted in a move onto a £15 a month contract, though only 25% or less of that contract actually gets used.

My iPhone 4 battery is dying now. Once it becomes unusable I might revert to my old first generation iPhone or alternatively buy my wife a new phone, so that I can inherit her old one. That is the hierarchy in our house!


Male, 28 (Luke), Senior Project Manager

My phone is a Moto G. I use it for a wide range of communication methods, and the method depends on who I am talking to a lot of the time. I do still use it for phone calls and text messages, but the latter is much less frequent than using WhatsApp or Facebook IM. Additionally I am texting and emailing far less frequently than on my old Blackberry Curve on 2G, as the Android operating system has much more diversity in terms of the social media and communication apps that are available. Also, 4G has revolutionised my experience of online activity from the dark old Blackberry days. Thanks to WhatsApp, I no longer need to drain away money on sending SMS messages.

I use the phone for surfing, social media, streaming music and communicating with friends and family. As a huge music fan, with a long commute, the Spotify and Soundcloud Apps are a godsend.

I spend a lot of time on my phone, far more than my wife would like – time that I should be spending interacting with those around me, no doubt! Probably about 10% of my spare time.


Male, 24 (Guti), Project Manager

I own a Samsung S4 and my main method of communication is to make phone calls. I use my phone for a variety of things; communication, browsing, mp3 player/media player. I wouldn't say any of those categories outrank the other for me personally. I most likely spend no more than 2.5 hours a day using my phone.


Male, 26 (Ralph), UX Developer

I have an iPhone 4s. I tend to phone people and use loudspeaker mostly as I prefer it to texting or holding my phone up to my ear. I tend to take a very long time to reply to texts as I put it down and think ‘I’ll do it later’, but then forget. I deleted all of my social media accounts from my phone as I found that I spent too much time scrolling through updates.

I use my phone mostly for calls, checking emails, surfing the net, as a Tom Tom, and for transferring money with my Nationwide app. I don’t ever play games, but do take a lot of photos /videos when I’m out with my phone and every so often copy them to my laptop and then delete them from my phone to keep it clean and fast. I think that’s why my iPhone 4 still works well! Though I’ll be upgrading to the iPhone 6 soon.

In a day I check it approx every 10mins but don’t spend more than a second on it unless I have a text or email.


Male, 33 (Will), UX Developer

Despite being an avid Mac user, I’ve never owned an iPhone. I’m currently on my third Android phone, an HTC One M7. I like Android for its customisability, and its “all shapes and sizes” philosophy.

I mainly use my phone for web browsing - this takes up maybe three quarters of my phone time. Other than that I use it for texting/messaging, and checking Twitter. For messaging I stick to WhatsApp, followed by Facebook Messenger (for those of my friends who haven't succumbed to WhatsApp yet), followed by boring old SMS. I tried Snapchat once; never again.

The four apps I keep close at hand are WhatsApp, Gmail, Chrome, and the camera. I removed the phone app from the dock because I rarely make or receive actual phone calls. A phone call is basically a way of saying "drop whatever you're doing and talk to me instead", which makes me cringe; I'd much rather send a message which the recipient(s) can read in their own time. That said, there are some interesting asynchronous voice chat apps on the horizon, such as Talko which I'm keeping an eye on.


Female, 44 (Lindsey), Marketing Manager

I have an iPhone5 and am waiting patiently for my iPhone 6. As an Apple evangelist I would always choose an iPhone over Android. Apple leads the way and the rest of the market follows. For me my phone is my life, it contains not just mine but the entire family’s diaries, acts as my GPS, and has all my favourite music and photos on it.

Mostly I use my phone to text and IM, but also use it to keep up to date with FB, Instagram, Snapchat, Yo etc. Sometimes it is the only way to see what my girls are up to! I spend a lot of time in the car so use my phone as a GPS and music player. And I do still use it as a phone, but I’m old fashioned like that. The iPhone feels much more than just a phone. I love the camera, and the fact I can turn the heating on as I head home (hive) and manage my hockey team!

The state of my battery often shows that I spend too much time on my phone and it is a constant battle not to constantly check emails and updates. But, unlike my teenagers, my phone is not a permanent extension of my arm.


Female, 41 (Ange), Service Delivery Manager

I have an iPhone 5C, in Siteset Green! I use it mostly for phone calls and IM, plus checking Facebook, WhatsApp & Viber. So I mainly use my phone to communicate!

I spend a bit of time on my phone, and I especially like finding out how clever it is and what I can do with it... like controlling it with my head if I am busy cooking and I want to go back to a previous page. I can just flick my head right or left to switch the page, or just give it a shake if I want to undo a type or text!


Female, 26 (Rachel), Customer Support Administrator

I have an iPhone 5s 32gb. I use Whatsapp a lot. My friends create group chats for every event known to man and sit planning every little detail through this.

I also use social media...all the usual including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but I also spend a lot of time surfing the web. Google is my best friend!!!

I probably spend around three hours a day on my phone, mainly in the evenings.

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