May 25, 2012

Mobile Phones Now and Then – a Little History Lesson

Posted in Just for fun, mobile news by Lisa Leitner

The mobile phone has accompanied us for about 30 years now. Within the last decades it has evolved from a means of simple communication to a personal assistant who facilitates our everyday life. Today, we can’t imagine a world without our beloved cell phones, let alone mobile internet, apps, built-in cameras and mp3-players.

Just a couple of days ago my 7-year-old nephew asked me: “What did you do with your iPhone before there was internet?” That’s when I decided to go back in time and tell a little history about the evolution of mobile phones. So read along, whether you are 7 and want to know where the iPhone comes from or you are 25+ and can still remember a time without apps and all the bells and whistles.

Evolution of mobile phones

Mobile phones now and then

1980s –the first generation of mobile phones

The early 1980s brought us the first generation of mobile phones. Believe it or not, back then the only purpose of the mobile phone was to make phone calls. This is how a cell phone looked some 30 years ago:


Motorola DynaTAC 8000X

Motorola DynaTAC 8000X

Here are some key facts of the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x:
Talk time: 1 hour
Standby time: 8 hours
Display: red LED
Memory: you were able to save 30 phone numbers
Weight: 790 g (28 oz)
Size: 250 mm long (10 in)
Input: 21 keys

Not very surprising, this phone was also called “The Brick”. Nowadays it may seem as if Motorola didn’t have any appreciation for design, however, the brick was considered revolutionary back then.

1990s –the rise of Nokia

In the 1990s mobile phones started to look very differently to their predecessors, following a trend to build tiny 100 – 200 g (3.5 – 7 oz) devices. There’s one handset many of you will remember from that time: the Nokia 3210.

Nokia 3210

Nokia 3210

Key facts of the Nokia 3210:
Talk time: 3 – 4.5 hours
Standby time: 55 – 260 hours
Display: backlit monochrome
Memory: 250 names in phonebook
Weight: 153 g (5.4 oz)
Size: 123.8 mm x 50.5 mm x 16.7 – 22.5 mm (4.9 in x 2 in x 0.6 – 0.9 in)
Input: 15 keys

Some changes are pretty obvious –size and weight shrunk enormously, it got a real display, fewer keys and battery lives improved. Also, mobile phones got some cutting-edge features, like an internal antenna, mobile games (Snake!) and SMS messaging. With its killer features the Nokia 3210 became one of the most popular mobile phones in history.

2000s – the smartphone revolution

The trend of making cell phones tinier and tinier lasted until the mid 2000s. Holding a teeny Sony Ericsson Z525a in 2006 I was making fun of huge phones, not knowing trend was about to teach me a lesson. A major event in the history of mobile phones lead to a fundamental change in size and look of devices: the launch of the first iPhone in 2007.


iPhone 2G

iPhone 2G

Key facts of the iPhone 2G:
Talk time: 8 hours
Standby time: 250 hours (that’s what Apple says)
Display: 3.5 in (88.9 mm) screen, 320 x 480 pixel resolution, multi-touch display, 18-bit LCD
Memory: 128 MB eDRAM
Storage capacity: 8 or 16 GB flash memory
Weight: 135 g (4.8 oz)
Size: 115 mm x 61 mm x 11.6 mm (4.5 in x 2.4 in x 0.5 in)
Input: 1 key, touchscreen
Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth
Rear camera: 2 megapixel

The release of the iPhone 2G was the start of the smartphone revolution. Apart from making phone calls and sending text messages, smartphones seemed to have nothing in common with mobile phones from the 1990s. The mobile phone of the late 2000s was a mini-computer, with which you could surf the internet and make use of apps. Furthermore it replaced your camera, your calendar, your mp3-player and your remote control. Suddenly all the other handset manufacturers started to build smartphones and the devices got bigger and bigger.

Mobile phones today

Today it gets harder and harder to tell cell phones and tablet computers apart. The newest member of the smartphone family is the Samsung Galaxy S III, announced on May 3rd in London.

Samsung Galaxy S III

Samsung Galaxy S III

Key facts of the Samsung Galaxy S III:
Talk time: 6 – 10 hours
Standby time: 24 – 50 hours (way more realistic than Apple’s 250 hours)
Display: 4.8 in (120 mm) screen, Super AMOLED, 1280×720 pixles, multi-touch, proximity sensor, scratch resistant glass
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Storage capacity: 16/32/64 GB flash memory
Weight: 133 g (4.7 oz)
Size: 136.6 mm x 70.6 mm x 8.6 mm (5.4 in x 2.8 in x 0.34 in)
Input: 1 key, touchscreen, voice recognition
Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, 4G, NFC
Rear camera: 8 megapixel
Front camera: 1.9 megapixel

Obviously, over the years design and usability have become very important to the mobile industry. Technical improvements are impressive. Pictures you take with your new Samsung Galaxy S III are of a higher quality than those you took with your Canon Ixus a few years ago. Also, the performance of today’s mobile phones is stronger than those of computers we used a decade ago. The only real disadvantage that’s involved is the poor battery life. So there’s still room for improvement.


Anyway, it’s for sure that the evolution of mobile phones has turned out pretty great so far. Our smartphones are great assistants, who we can even talk to now. So all that’s left to say is: A world without a mobile phone is possible, but pointless 😉