Mobile communications have been around since WWI, but only recently (by recently I mean the last couple of decades) there have been a number of innovations that have given us the mobile phone as we know it today: small, easy to use and full of features.
These are important moments in the evolution of mobile telecommunications that you should think about while reading this on your 3G/WiFi capable handset.
1. The First Handheld Mobile Phone. Ever.
The 8000X hit the stores like a brick in 1984, and people waited in line to buy this. And when we say it hit like a brick, we mean it. The terminal weighed 28 ounces (793g). It took 10 hours to charge using a trickle charger and for that you would get approximately half an hour of talk time, after which you had to plug it in again. How much where people willing to pay for mobile communications back then? $3995. That was the price of the terminal at the time of its release.
By today’s standards, we can’t imagine paying for a phone so much money, no matter what it could do. The problem back then was that people had nothing else to compare it to. There was no other handheld mobile phone before the 8000X. The next best thing was a car phone. And portable phones which you could only carry around in a briefcase or a backpack.
2. The First SMS.
With 2.4 billion active users worldwide, the SMS (short message service) is, and has been for the last two decades one of the most popular features of mobile phones. The service has it’s origins in the pre GSM radio pagers which used radio telegraphy to transmit information.
The concept was originally proposed and developed by Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert back in 1984. Initially, due to network restrictions and limited signaling formats, the length of the message had to be 128 bytes. Only later was that limit increased to 140 bytes, or 160 seven-bit characters. As it stands now, most operators still use the 160 character limit for a message, but not because of limited network capability. With 3G networks being capable of streaming video on demand nowadays, it’s hard to believe we can’t send longer texts for the same price.
Actually, the first SMS ever sent was not sent from a mobile phone. In fact, it was Neil Papworth who sent it using his personal computer over Vodafone’s GSM network (UK), on December 3, 1992. The person who received it was Richard Jarvis using an Orbitel 901 handset, which was only capable of receiving text messages. The message was “Merry Christmas”
Initially, the service was used to send voicemail notifications to handsets capable only of receiving messages. In 1993, operator Radiolinja (Finland) offered the first commercially available person-to-person messaging service. In a time where the most terminals were only capable to receive messages, Nokia was the only manufacturer whose entire GSM line supported to send SMS messages.
3. The First Camera Phone.
The idea of wirelessly transmitting images from one device to another was floated around for years before the service became commercially available in Japan in 1999. Kodak, Olympus and Canon all had examples of digital cameras with cellular network transmission capabilities beginning with the early 1990 which were useful for live news coverage. In 1997, Philippe Kahn linked a digital camera with a cell phone using what he could find in a RadioShack and used the makeshift camera phone to e-mail a picture of his newborn baby to 2000 people. Most people has viewed him as the original inventor of the “camera-phone” since he is the only one who provided actual evidence (the time stamped image).
But the first true mobile phones with a camera were developed in parallel by two competing projects led by Kyocera and Sharp. By 1997 both teams had prototype terminals with cameras incorporated. The Kyocera team developed the first phone capable of capturing and sending images and video, the Kyocera VP-210 “Visual Phone “. Weighing in at 160g, the phone was surprisingly light, considering what it was capable of back then. You could make video calls with it. Well, better said slide show calls, since you couldn’t get more than 5 frames per second. In fact, there was a catch. The phone didn’t actually use the 2G network for video calls. It used a wireless system, similar to digital walkie talkie’s, with a range of about half a mile in urban areas. It makes sense since a 2G network using CSD data transfer would take a minute or two to send a small picture, never mind video calling (GPRS was still in the development phase). True video calls were only possible when 3G/UMTS standards were implemented.
This was happening 13 – 14 years ago. Since then camera phones have come a long way from taking a grainy, CIF resolution picture. Today you have phones with HD video capability, multi megapixel photography, 3G coverage almost everywhere to ensure you get your video call every time… and to think this all started because a guy wanted to share a picture of his newborn baby girl.
4. The First Mobile Web Capable Service.
Chances are the phone you have right now has some sort of internet connectivity feature. It might be something as simple as a WAP browser on a 2G phone, or a full HTML browser on a 3.5G capable smartphone. These features have evolved from a need for mobile connectivity back when we still had dial-up internet on our desktops (if we had it at all).
In 1996, Radiolinja and Sonera were the first operators who offered access to the mobile web in Finland, over the 2G GSM network that was then available. Back then the only way to use the network for data traffic was through a modem, either built into a phone or attached to it. If CSD (circuit switched data) was supported, you got a whopping 9.6 Kbit/s transfer speed. If not, then you were limited to 2.4 Kbit/s or less.
When the service was launched, the only device with features capable to use the new service was the Nokia 9000 Communicator. Launched in 1996, this “smartphone” weighed in at 397g and sported a Intel 24 Mhz i386 CPU, a total memory of 8 MB ( of which the user had access to 2 MB, the rest being occupied by applications and the phone’s OS ). It also had a IR port, QWERTY keypad, HTML browser, SMS, E-mail and Fax capability. It was cool at that time, yes.
5. The First Touchscreen Enabled Mobile Phone.
You would think that the touchscreen phone is a relatively modern invention, but actually, the first mobile phone using a touch sensitive display was developed in the early 1990s. It was back in 1992 when IBM and BellSouth unveiled the “IBM Simon Personal Communicator” concept.
It was the first of its kind, a “smart” phone. It was two years later in 1994 when the IBM Simon was commercially available, for the price of 899$. It was expensive, bulky, and not particularly visually appealing, but this device was unique back then. It had no dialing keys. People used the touchscreen exclusively, either with their finger or using the built-in stylus. It had 1MB ROM memory and 1MB RAM, the display resolution was 160×293 pixels. It’s built-in applications were: address book, calendar, calculator, note pad, e-mail, fax and games, and if that was not enough, you could use third party applications using an optional PCMCIA memory card.
Touchscreen devices have come a long way since then. Handhelds with capacitive multi-touch screens and features which makes the Simon seem like a heavy, antiquated typewriter. But you have to look at it for what it was back then. Some people where still wondering “what’s with this internet thing”, and with the Simon you could send an e-mail by tapping virtual buttons on a screen. Wirelessly!
6. The First color screen mobile phone.
This one is especially hard to pinpoint because of the numerous prototypes that were around at the end of the 90s. Most people think that the first mobile with a color screen was the Sony Ericsson T68. Announced in 2001, it became commercially available in 2002 and instantly became a hit because of its small size, long lasting battery and unique color screen. The CSTN display had a resolution of 101×80 pixels and had 256 colors.
Actually, the first commercially available color screen mobile phone was announced in 1997 by Siemens. The Siemens S10 had a 97×54 pixel screen which could display 6 lines in 4 colors (red, white, green and blue). The device was pretty simple, other than a 20 second voice memo feature it had SMS, an alarm, and a phone book. But people still bought it because of the novel (at the time) color screen. The S10 was available for purchase starting from 1998.
Comparing this to today’s mobile phones you can see how display technology evolved, from the simplest LCD’s to the Retina display we have on the Iphone 4.
7. The First Mobile Phone With GPS.
If a few years ago GPS capability was something usually found only in smartphones, today you can find this feature even in mid-level phones. Granted, the GPS signal reliability and the device’s ability to acquire satellites doesn’t compare to those of a standalone navigator, but still it’s nice to know you have it there just in case.
GPS devices were already widespread when the first mobile phone with integrated GPS was developed. The concept was put forward by Benefon in response to the MORE project (Mobile Rescue Phone) started by the European Union in the late 1990s. Benefon launched the Benefon Esc! in 1999 and this was the first ever mobile phone with a built-in GPS receiver.
The device had a big monochrome LCD display, and allowed users to load maps in the phone’s memory and track their location. It also had an interesting “Friend Find” feature which allowed you to track the whereabouts of other Esc! users. When using the GPS you would flip up the receiver on the back just like on a normal GPS navigator, Also, the device was water and shock resistant.
Granted, you couldn’t get turn-by-turn navigation with it, but keep in mind, this device was meant to be mostly used for orientation by people who find themselves outside the GSM network’s coverage area, not driving directions.
8. The First MP3 Capable Mobile Phone.
The first MP3 phone appeared just as standalone MP3 players began gaining popularity. Due to their small size, these devices were preferred over the bulky CD players which were being used, up until then.
Samsung was the first who provided a commercially available mobile phone with mp3 capability, with the Samsung SPH-M100 UpRoar, in 2000. The device was light at the time, weighing 119g, and small (106 x 46 x 23 mm). It had the usual set of specifications among which was a WAP browser and the possibility to use the phone as a modem for PC. Users had 64MB of memory available for mp3 files. It boasted 11 hours of listening time or 3.3 hours of talk time on one charge, and 140 hours in standby.
At the time of its release the phone was being sold for $400, which was more expensive than the average price of other mobiles, but the M100 had the mp3 feature to justify the price. Now people didn’t need to carry another gadget with them for listening music.
TIME Magazine named the UpRoar one of the top 100 most influential gadgets of all time from 1923 to 2010.
9. The First Bluetooth Enabled Mobile Phone.
Bluetooth has become a must-have even for entry-level devices today. The feature helps with interconnectivity between a multitude of electronic devices: mobile phones, PDA’s, PC’s, printers, accessories, etc.
Bluetooth technology was created by Ericsson in 1994, before its merger with Sony, but it wasn’t until 2000 when the first mobile phone with Bluetooth capability was announced. The Ericsson T36 was packed with features suited for business related activities. The phone was small, weighing 88g; it had a monochrome display, Bluetooth, IR port, WAP browser, voice dialing/answering, games, and a long lasting talk time of 7 hours.
Sadly the T36’s launch was cancelled, and only in 2001 we had seen the first Bluetooth phone in shops. The T39 was almost identical with the T36. Added to the list of features were GPRS and E-mail support, and the possibility to extend battery life to 29 days in standby or 25 hours talk time by purchasing a high capacity battery. This is what made this business-class phone an instant bestseller.
10. The First 3D Phone.
Mobile phone displays have slowly evolved from rudimentary screens with one line dot matrix LCD’s, to capacitive high resolution touchscreens, but other than the jump from monochrome to color screens, there weren’t many big leaps in this evolution. Recently however, LG announced the first mobile phone with a 3D display, for which you don’t need special glasses.
This isn’t the first handheld device with a 3D display (there was the Nintendo 3DS before) but it is the first mobile phone with one, and the first commercially available. LG Optimus 3D was announced in January and launched commercially in the UK on May 28, 2011. The handset has everything you would expect from a modern-day smartphone, but what makes it stand out, is its ability to display 3D images and video without the need to wear 3D glasses. The camera also records in 3D at 720p.
Reviews have been mixed about this phone; some people say that users get headaches after 5-10 minutes of staring at the screen. Also, the 3D effect is only visible if the phone is kept perfectly straight towards the user. It’s been called a gimmick employed by LG to hype up the new terminal to increase sales, but even so, you have to acknowledge the fact that without these “gimmicks” there would be no innovation, and instead of evolving into something better, mobile phones would only be “mobile” if you kept them in your car.