A brief history of mobile

We’ve been talking a lot about phones in the office recently. Some people see their phone as an essential part of their lives, whereas others feel it is ‘just a phone’. Then I saw this stat about phones getting larger and it got me thinking about the history of the mobile phone and how it seems to already be repeating its own history.

The first mobile phone call actually took place in 1973, by a senior Engineer at Motorola. He phoned a competitor using a prototype mobile phone that weighed over 1.1kg, and took over 10 hours to charge, and only had a half hour talk time. It wasn’t until ten years later, in 1983, that Motorola launched its first commercial handsets and the mobile phone market was born. I actually remember the first mobile phones and recall how they started off very large and over the years got smaller and smaller. My uncle had one of the first ones and used to carry it, and its huge battery pack, around but never got calls. Not surprising really considering the battery life was minimal, the phone was heavy, and not many people even had them. So who would you call? He also didn’t seem to understand that you actually had to turn the phone on to receive calls!

During the 1990s anybody who was anybody carried a phone, it became the ultimate status symbol and the brick phone was so large that you couldn’t help but notice it.

Image from FacultyWP

Phones gradually got smaller, but they were still simply just a phone. Then texting took off. I remember the big debate about the new text language and how it was going to warp school children’s understanding of the English Language! My daughter recently did an English project where they had to put the iconic Romeo and Juliet balcony scene into text language, demonstrating clearly how times have moved on.

But it wasn’t until the introduction of the Blackberry at the turn of the Millennium that things started to change. Blackberry’s phones brought in new features such as a diary, to-dos and email. And more significantly gone was the traditional numbered keyboard and a QWERTY keyboard was introduced, allowing people to send longer messages and even email through the limited 2G network. The Blackberry became synonymous with business use, but also had a younger following. I remember when my daughter started senior school she just had to have a Blackberry because anybody who was anybody in school had one! This new fan base used their Blackberry for IM (Instant Messaging) to other Blackberry users over the Blackberry network for free!

Other mobile phones in 2007 vs the iPhone in 2007

Then in 2007 Apple launched the iPhone, which revolutionised the mobile market and rewrote the book on what a mobile phone should look like and what features it should offer. And where Apple led all the others have followed. The iPhone allowed users access to more than just a phone, text, email and a diary, as Blackberry had done. They introduced maps, web browser, camera and music. But not only that, it allowed developers to make their own apps and so a new market was born. The most significant change is that Apple made using a mobile phone not just procedural, but fun!

All of a sudden your phone could be personalised, what apps you had were down to you and not the manufacturers choice. We take it for granted now that our phone reflects who we are and what is important to us, but before the iPhone we really had no choice. Of course the biggest change was a lack of a physical keyboard or number pad. How could you make a phone call or send a text, without even a keyboard? My daughter was adamant that she would never swap from her beloved Blackberry to an iPhone! But of course she did.

And the rest, as they say, is history. But now history is turning on itself as phones are actually getting larger again. Why is this?

Well a lot of it is due to the fact that our smartphones are now not just a phone. Each of us use our phone in different ways and nearly all of us use it as more than just a phone or communication device. In fact for most of us the function of phoning or messaging someone is very much a secondary usage now. This means that extra functionality is required, and therefore processing power, and we need a bigger screen to interact with this functionality. But all of this functionality also means a drain on batteries. Battery technology has not kept pace with phones, so larger phones allow for more and larger batteries. I remember my little Nokia phone would only need charging once a week, now my iPhone 5 needs charging at least once a day!

So the Phablets have returned us to a time when we were unable to put our mobile phone in our pockets. But it also means that surfing the web, emails, videos and games, is easier on such a large screen. Since my husband has got his iPhone 6 Phablet he refuses to use my iPhone 5 and claims all other phones are like toys – maybe he has hit the nail on the head in terms of how our perception of the mobile phone has changed. It is more of an entertainment device now than a phone. The huge growth in the Phablet sector of the market could indicate that this is the future of smartphones. But with the development of Wearable technology who knows where the future of the smartphone truly lies. It will be very interesting to see what the next few years hold for us and our mobile phones.

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