phone evolution 1

Brief history of the world’s first mobile phones

If you’re reading this, you probably have your own cell phone. Over the course of the 21st century, our need for, and dependence on, phones has grown exponentially. You may have said, “I can’t live without my phone!” several times in the past.

In a way, this is indeed the case. Today, we work, shop, communicate and learn via our phones. But how did this gigantic industry begin? Where did cell phones start and where will they go next?

1973: The first mobile phone

Comparison of old and new mobile phones
Image credit: Umut Çolak/Wikimedia Commons

Of course, phones existed before 1973, but they always required a wired connection. Not everything changed until this year.

In 1973, Motorola, a telecommunications company founded in 1928, made history when it manufactured the world’s first mobile phone. Motorola engineer Martin Cooper created this revolutionary device called DynaTAC 8000X.

The DynaTAC 8000X weighs just over a kilogram and is over nine inches long. Today’s phones weigh between 150 and 200 grams, which is a stark contrast to the DynaTAC 8000X. But at this point, any cell phone was a hack.

It was reported that the first ever call made to the DynaTAC 8000X prototype was actually to the wrong number. But either way, a call was made, and cell phones became a reality. However, the DynaTAC 8000X only had 30 minutes of battery life and took twenty times as long to charge.

We had a long way to go before we got to the kind of technology found in today’s phones. Until then, the DynaTAC 8000X was only a prototype and not available to the public. So, when did cell phones become publicly available?

1983: Cell phones become accessible to the public

A man holds ten dollars in his hand

It took another ten years for the DynaTac 8000X to become commercially available. You might think phones are expensive today, but the DynaTAC 8000X cost $3,995 when it first came out — the equivalent of more than $14,000 in 2022.

So, although you can now buy a mobile phone, it was not affordable for ordinary people. In 1987 Nokia-Mobira released its first cell phone, the Mobira Cityman 900. But this was also very expensive. It will take a few more years for it to become mobile

Cell phones didn’t start to become popular until the 1990s. In 1992, Motorola released the 3200 International Phone, the first digital mobile phone. This was much cheaper than the DynaTAC 8000X, but it couldn’t connect to GSM networks.

In 1999 Nokia released the 7110 at a much more affordable $475. After 7110, the prices of cell phones began to fall, making them more affordable for ordinary people.

1992: The first touch screen phone

IBM Simon's photo

Although touchscreen smartphones only started to become widely available beginning in 2007, the touchscreen technology itself had been in the works for more than four decades before the iPhone was released. In 1965, Eric Johnson of the Royal Radar Establishment (RRE) created the first finger-controlled touch screen.

However, this was not a phone and was never made commercially available. It would take another 30 years before IBM, together with Mitsubishi Electric, created the IBM Simon – the first touchscreen phone. This was a personal digital assistant (PDA) with a touch screen and cellular communication capabilities.

Many consider this to be the first smartphone, but this was not the beginning of the smartphone revolution. Before the smartphone boom, someone must first create the first modern smartphone.

2006: The first “modern” smartphone

Image of LG Prada on laptop
Image credit: Andrew */flickr

The smartphones we know today basically look like small TV screens without physical keyboards. This type of modern smartphone appeared in 2006 with the LG Prada (or LG KE850). LG announced the upcoming Prada in late 2006, and sales began in May 2007.

This phone was only 3.89 x 2.13 x 0.47 inches in size, with 8MB of internal memory and a 2MP camera. The screen was only 240 x 400 pixels, but its touch capability was big news. LG sold over 1 million units within 18 months of its initial release. However, another smartphone maker will soon overtake this flagship device.

2007: The era of smartphones begins

A stack of different iPhone models

Today, billions of people around the world own a smartphone. But that wasn’t the case in late 2010. At this point, the smartphone industry had blossomed with the release of the first ever iPhone, the A1203. Apple has been around since 1976 and made mostly consumer electronics, such as the iMac and iPod.

But in the mid-2000s, Apple made history when it was the iPhone. No one knew then that this type of smartphone would become the most popular all over the world. But since the original iPhone was ahead of its time, it became insanely popular. In just one year, more than six million iPhone A1203 devices were sold, priced at less than $600 each, so it was an undeniable success.

However, the iPhone was not the only smartphone that people bought at this time. In 2009, Samsung released its first smartphone, Samsung GT-I7500 Galaxy, and started the Galaxy smartphone series.

Besides, HTC released the Dream, Sony released the Xperia X1, and Huawei released the Ascend. Between 2006 and 2010, several carriers made their first step into the touchscreen smartphone space.

By 2011, smartphones have become popular, with many manufacturers launching new models annually. This remains the case to this day, although there have been many improvements in screen size, resolution, battery life, connectivity, and software.

2018: The first foldable touch screen phone

Photo of three Samsung Galaxy Flip phones
Image credit: Ka Kit Pang/Wikimedia Commons

In late 2010, something ridiculous began to happen. Smartphone manufacturers wanted to bring back the foldable portability of the cell phone, something we all thought was already a thing of the past. But the goal wasn’t to recreate old phones. Instead, the developers wanted to create a touchscreen phone that could fold in half – a very daring undertaking that is still a work in progress today.

A lot of work had to be done to create a foldable touch screen – a foldable screen is needed to avoid damage to the screen when opening and closing it. If you want to know more, you should check out our explanation of how foldable screens work. In 2018, Chinese startup Royale released Royale Flexpai, the world’s first commercially available foldable touchscreen phone.

It didn’t take long for the big names to jump on the bandwagon. In 2019, Samsung launched the Galaxy Fold. The Galaxy Fold can expand to 7.3 inches when opened, essentially allowing people to own a tablet and an all-in-one smartphone.

However, Samsung delayed the release of the Galaxy Fold to implement further improvements. Despite the delay, the company still received a lot of criticism after its launch. Most importantly, some users noticed creases and cracks in their screens shortly after purchase.

2020 and beyond: the future of the cell phone

Front and back iPhone 14 Pro
Image credit: Apple

Today’s smartphones are fundamentally different from those available fifteen years ago. In just a decade and a half, the smartphone industry has developed several groundbreaking technologies that have transformed phones from a communication device into a pocket computer.

Today, you can use your smartphone to order food, find a new roommate, or even buy a car. The phone’s capability is already amazing, but we’re not done yet. What does the future hold for mobile phones?

The phones of the future will undoubtedly be smart, so we will refer to them as smartphones in this section. There are a lot of rumors and theories about what the smartphones of the future might look like. transparent? Almost weightless? embedded on your wrist? There is no denying the expectations are high.

In fact, smartphones are likely to evolve in a way that falls short of science fiction. Today, developers are focusing on some critical areas of smartphone development: faster internet speeds, virtual SIM cards, faster over-the-air charging, and higher screen quality. For example, 6G has already begun to scale up, with estimates for release reaching around 2030.

vivo V25 Pro back cover when exposed to UV light

Moreover, future smartphones could have 3D capabilities, built-in cameras, and maybe even change exterior colors with LED backlights. Smartphones may one day become more environmentally friendly.

Many are looking forward to seeing new features in future smartphones, but only time will tell which new technologies and improvements will be brought to the table. All we can do now is theorize with enthusiasm.

The cell phone has really changed the world

Just fifty years ago, no one would have dreamed that we would be able to do almost anything on such a small touch screen device. But these small devices have certainly changed the way we shop, communicate, work, learn, and consume content.

There is no telling what amazing developments we might see in smartphones in the near future. But let’s hope the price is not higher than that.