Wednesday, October 20th, 2021 by Gina Thompson
Can you believe it’s been nearly fifty years since the invention of the mobile phone? It’s true! A prototype mobile handset developed by Motorola was used to make the world’s first mobile phone call in 1973 – they called one of their competitors to let them know the good news.
However, while mobile phones existed way back in the 70s, it would be a long time before the average person owned one! In Australia, the earliest mobile network wasn’t built until 1981 with just three 500MHz base stations operating out of Melbourne, and 2G mobile networks didn’t roll out in capital cities until 1993. It’s fair to say that mobiles have gotten pretty popular in the decades that followed, with 75.8% of Aussies owning a smartphone as of 2017.
Let’s take a walk down mobile memory lane and find out how our handsets got to be the way they are today.
1983: The not-so-mobile mobile
You couldn’t fit this one in your pocket! The Motorola DynaTAC 8000X was roughly the size of a brick and weighed in at a hearty 784 grams. That said, at the time, this handset was considered revolutionary because its predecessors were more ‘suitcase’ than ‘phone’ and could weigh up to 10 kilos. Taking about 10 hours to charge up for just 30 minutes of talk time, the DynaTAC didn’t offer much bang for its buck – its 1980s price tag had the buying power of about $10,000USD in today’s money. The latest iPhone is looking a bit less expensive now, huh?
1992: Ready, set, GSM!
Fast forward to the rollout of the GSM 2G mobile network, and mobile handsets had already gotten considerably smaller. The Nokia 101 was a much more convenient 280 grams, allowing it to be marketed as “the world’s most portable phone”. With spaced-out buttons and a backlit monochrome display that you could see in the dark, they were simple devices that were designed to be easy to use.
1996: The first smartphone
Bet you didn’t expect to see a smartphone this early in the timeline! It’s very different to the smartphones we enjoy today but by definition, a smartphone is a device that combines the functions of a mobile telephone and a computer. The Nokia 9000 Communicator ticked these boxes, featuring fax, email, a calculator, and even a web browser. Since these were the days before touchscreens, it flipped open to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard.
1998: Gettin’ funky with it
By the late 1990s, mobiles were starting to gain status not only as an important tool, but also as fashion accessories. The Nokia 5110 was one of the first phones to feature snap-on plastic covers, allowing users to customise the handset’s appearance according to their own personal tastes. Combine that with excellent durability and great battery life, and you can see why this was a very popular model in its day.
P.S: This model also featured the Snake game that so many of us know and love!
The new millennium saw the dawn of a new technology: camera phones. Two new mobile phones were capable of taking happy snaps: the Samsung SCH-V200 in South Korea and the Sharp J-Phone in Japan (pictured below). While the SCH-V200 came out slightly ahead in terms of picture quality with a 0.35 megapixel camera, you had to connect the phone to a computer to see your photos. The J-Phone, however, let you see your photos on its 256-colour display (even if the camera was only 0.11 megapixels). Sadly, these two models weren’t released in Australia – we had to wait for some later models to hit our market before we could start taking pics on our phones.
2005: The age of itty-bitty 3G machines
As the 3G mobile market began to roll out in the early 2000s, more and more mobile devices were able to connect to the internet. However, there still wasn’t too much to do on that new-fangled mobile internet beyond basic browsing, particularly within the constraints of early mobile web browsers which were much clunkier than the ones we enjoy today (arrow keys, anyone?). The trend was still very much focused on making 3G handsets smaller and lighter – often in weird and wonderful ways, such as the tiny Nokia 7600 that weighed just 123 grams!