An Introduction


It has been four decades since Dr. Martin Cooper (who was then the general manager of Motorola’s communications systems division) made the world’s first cellular mobile phone call. This year marks the 41st year when that call was made, and with it, it is also the 41st year of the mobile phone’s existence. With that being said, compared to other communications-related inventions, the mobile phone (or hand phone, or cell phone, depending on where you come from) is still a relatively young invention, although it has made rapid progress in its design and technology.


Today, most of our mobile phones have become what we call “smartphones.” We use them for virtually everything. From the basic functions of communicating with one another via phone calls or text messages to online communication applications (or apps) such as Skype and Whatsapp, we use our mobile phones today to explore social media, do our online shopping, book appointments, and play games. We also use them as our alarm clocks, to watch videos, view photos, and listen to music. But what were mobile phones like back then? I am sure that for many of us at least, we have used some of these older mobile phones, but are we still able to remember what kind of functions these older models had, or its limitations?


This report will trace the development of the mobile phone, from when Dr. Martin Cooper made that very first call, to the 4G smartphones that are so commonly available to all of us today. In this report, I will present significant milestones and phone models and how each of them have shaped and made an impact on mobile phone culture and technology today.


So, let us begin!






It’s a phone, and it’s mobile!







This is Dr. Martin Cooper holding a Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. DynaTAC stands for Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage, and it was the first mobile phone to become commercially available, being released in 1983-84. Of course, we might then wonder what phone was used in the phone call he made 10 years before this. It is generally believed to be a prototype of the DynaTAC.

The DynaTAC had only one function—to call. Operating it was relatively simple, but it had a bulky design and a battery life of only eight hours. It was definitely something you could not fit into your pocket.





CRAZY! According to one article I read, it cost about $4,000 to get one! Talk about overpriced goods!


But yes, this was the first mobile phone to become commercially available. It was a huge leap in technology because prior to the DynaTEC, any phone that was considered ‘portable’ or ‘mobile’ just looked like large boxes with a cord connecting to the headset, much like the radio packs used in the military. Culturally, as seen in advertisements from that period, it gave people a sense of freedom as they could now get things done outside of the office, home, or even the car.


Here are some of the DynaTEC’s competitors released soon after and throughout the 1980’s:


(L-R): Motorola DynaTEC 8000S; Mitsubishi Roamer; Technophone PC135


(L-R): NEC 9A; Motorola 8500X; Nokia Cityman 1320; Philips PRC30E; British Telecom Coral


(L-R): Motorola MicroTAC 9800X; British Telecom Ivory; NEC P3



Increase In Popularity

Phones that were released shortly after the Motorola DynaTAC followed a similar trend. That trend was to make each new model smaller and slimmer than the last. Three manufacturers were the biggest of them all during the late 80’s and the 90’s—Ericsson, Motorola, and Nokia.



The Motorola MicroTAC


(L-R): Nokia 1610; 2110i; 8110; Motorola 7500; Ericsson GA318; Motorola StarTAC

As a kid growing up in the 90’s, I remembered that these 3 manufacturers in particular were churning out new mobile phone models almost every quarter of a year. Because of this, there was a certain ‘competition’ among consumers over who would have the latest phone model. There were not any huge leaps in terms of technology, but in design there was a constant shrinking in size, as seen in the photos I have posted. Phones still had black-and-white display screens and the standard number keyboard layout.




Ericsson (L-R): GH172; GH337; GA628; GF768; T28; Sony Ericsson T68i

Here is a manufacturer we will never ever see again (since it merged with Sony to form Sony Ericsson).







SMS ‘or text messaging’ was a ground-breaking technology in mobile phone culture. The first text message ever sent was in December 3rd, 1992. Despite its early limitations of 160 characters per message, its popularity grew immensely and was particularly trendy among the young, who enjoyed multi-tasking between their studies and communicating with their friends.






The one jinx about text messaging, however, was its usage by consumers while driving. As a driver myself, I am aware that many countries have laws against talking on the phone or texting while driving. Personally, I see nothing wrong with talking on the phone while driving because I am still able to focus on what I see while going along the road. It would be just like talking to a passenger. However, I understand the dangers of text messaging while driving, as it forces me to look at my phone and take my eyes off the road. There have been many campaigns raising awareness against texting (the act of text messaging) while driving. Here is one by AT&T that I found to be quite an impact.




Enter the Nokia 3310. It played a significant role in the history of mobile phones, and it was also my very first mobile phone. Known for its easy-to-use functions and simplicity in design. It became especially popular in Europe and total sales worldwide reached 126 million. It was also virtually indestructible.





So okay, maybe not that indestructible.



Color Your Life

Entering the 21st century, in 2001, mobile phone technology began to modernize more rapidly than before. Color screens were the biggest noticeable change. The norm of black-and-white screens was broken by the arrival of the Nokia 8250 with its blue backlight.



A year later, phones with full-color displays were being released by major manufacturers. Examples include the Nokia 7650, 3510i, and the Sony Ericsson T68i. Since then, color displays have been the norm for each and every new mobile phone model.



Oh Snap!

With the advent of mobile phones with color displays, phone manufacturers began toying with the idea of putting a camera into a mobile phone. The camera phone is, in my opinion, THE shift in mobile phone technology.

The first camera phone was the Sharp J-SH04.




Many other camera phone models have followed since then, with improvements not just in the design, function, and software of the phone, but also in the camera’s technical specifications. This meant cameras with higher megapixels, and more functions such as video recording and flash photography.


The culture and the world around us have changed because of this simple idea of combining a camera and a mobile phone. Of course, probably the biggest thing about camera phone culture is the selfie.