A history of mobile phones – what was the first mobile phone?

Most of us can’t imagine being without our mobile phones. But these all-important gadgets haven’t been part of our lives for as long as you might think. Here’s how and when they first came to be.  

Most of us can’t imagine being without our mobile phones. But these all-important gadgets haven’t been part of our lives for as long as you might think. Here’s how and when they first came to be.  

Holly Niblett
From the Digital team
4
minute read
Do you know someone who could benefit from this article?
Posted 29 APRIL 2021

When were mobile phones invented? 

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment mobile phones were invented, as their progress wasn’t an instant thing – more the result of a series of small steps. You could trace the invention of the mobile phone back to the walkie-talkies used by taxi drivers and policemen.

Who invented the mobile phone?

Some people think the mobile phone was invented by a farmer in Kentucky, who patented a design for a wireless telephone way back in 1902. But Martin Cooper, an engineer at Motorola, is widely credited to be the inventor of the ‘mobile phone’.  

Who made the first mobile phone call?

Martin Cooper, the Motorola engineer, made the first mobile phone call on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, on 3 April, 1973. The purpose of his call? To ring his rival at Bell Laboratories and gloat.

The first mobile phone call made on this side of the Atlantic happened just after midnight on New Year’s Day 1985. Vodaphone Chairman Sir Ernest Harrison received a call from his son. A few days later, legendary comedian Ernie Wise dressed up in Victorian garb and made a mobile phone call in front of a gathered crowd.

What was the first-ever mobile phone?

The world’s first commercially-produced mobile phone was the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x. It was launched in 1983 in the US and came over here in 1985. It weighed more than a kilo and gave you about 20 minutes’ chat after a 10-hour charge.  
 
That didn’t stop rich City types wanting one, even though when it first went on sale in the US, it cost the equivalent of $10,000.  

The evolution of mobile phones

Early mobile phones were huge beasts, and it wasn’t until 1989 that they evolved into something smaller and (slightly) more manageable. Here’s a phone timeline of some models you may remember:

Motorola DynaTAC 8000X
The world’s first commercially-available mobile phone, and the one Gordon Gekko uses in the classic 1987 movie Wall Street.

1989 – Motorola MicroTAC 9800X
The MicroTAC was a huge step forward for mobile phone technology, being the first phone that could fit in your shirt pocket. It was a flip phone that cost £1,765, which was serious money.

1996 – Nokia 8110
The Nokia 8110, – otherwise known as the banana phone, – hit peak fame when Keanu Reeves dropped it out of a window in the Matrix. These days it’s considered a design classic – so much so that Nokia re-released it in 2018.

1996 – Motorola StarTAC
The other big contender in the late ‘90s was the Motorola StarTAC. Not only was it the first flip phone, it was the smallest and lightest mobile on the market.

1999 – BlackBerry
The first BlackBerry was released in 1999. Having one became a real status symbol, and at one point BlackBerry had 50% market share in the US. At the BlackBerry’s peak in 2011, the company sold more than 50 million units.

2007 – iPhone
29 June 2007 saw the launch of the first iPhone. These days the iPhone 1 seems almost hilariously old-fashioned, with 2G internet, just 16GB memory, and no App store. But it was the first touchscreen phone available and it revolutionised the mobile phone market.

When were camera phones invented?

The first camera phone was the Sharp J-SH04, which was a big hit in Japan in 2000. Here in the UK, camera phones didn’t really become a thing until 2002.

When did smartphones come out?  

Smartphones really took off in 2008, when iPhones became more commonplace and Android phones hit the UK market. These days it’s fair to say we’re addicted, with two-thirds of UK adults admitting that the internet is essential to their lives.  

What’s next for mobile phones?  

What will smartphones of the future look like? Obviously, that’s hard to say with any certainty, but what we can be sure of is that the future for mobile phone development will be fast-paced and full of technological firsts.

What will the iPhone 13 be like?  

Looking to upgrade your phone? There are lots of rumours flying around about the new iPhone 13, likely to arrive later in 2021. The likelihood is it’ll come with benefits like WiFi 6E, along with a new design and more powerful cameras.

What’s WiFi 6E?

WiFi 6E is an extension to WiFi 6, which is the next generation of Wi-Fi. All you really need to know is that it’ll give you super-speedy connections and fewer dead zones.

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