In their most basic sense, mobile phones are used to allow us to keep in touch with others when we’re on the go. But, as technology has developed, there has been a very rapid evolution of mobile phones. These days, they do so much more than simply keep us connected. We can now carry out everyday tasks with ease, such as:
- Internet banking
- Paying for goods and services
- Staying connected with our customers
- Sharing pictures and stories via social media
- Browsing the internet
- Navigating to specific locations
- Working outside the office
Read on to follow the evolution of mobile phones, as we take a look back at how this technology has changed over the decades and where we’re at in the present day.
Back in 1984, it would have been hard to believe that mobile phones would evolve so much and provide us with so many services. Especially when the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x was first made commercially available.
Mobile phones have been in development since the late 60s, and throughout the 70s. But these were too hefty to be considered truly mobile, thus confined to cars – requiring the engine to be running.
As such, the evolution of mobile phones truly began with the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x as it was completely portable, despite weighing in at almost 1 kg and measuring a colossal 30cm in length with a thickness of 9cm.
Boasting a then incredible talk time of 30 minutes and standby time of 8 hours, the DynaTAC 8000x could be purchased for a mere £2,480 – this equates to £5,573 in today’s terms!
Five years later, Motorola released the MicroTAC 9800x. This much more portable device was designed to fit inside a shirt pocket. This was the first phone to feature a flip open design, so that no buttons were pressed when not in use.
Measuring about 22cm in length (when flipped open), the 9800x was much smaller than its predecessor, and weighed less than half as much.
Boasting special features such as storage of 30 numbers and standby time of 30 hours, the MicroTAC would set you back £2,170 in 1989. This is roughly equivalent to £3,774 in 2018.
Whilst Motorola dominated the early mobile phone landscape, Finnish company Nokia joined the mobile phone evolution, coming into prominence in the early 1990s.
In 1993 they released the Nokia 1011, which was the first GSM phone, using digital networks rather than analogue. This allowed the use of SMS text messaging, although this would not catch on in a big way for another few years. Along with it appeared “txt spk” as users tried to fit longer messages into a 160 character limit.
With features such as a dual line display and 99 contact storage, the Nokia 1011 was at the forefront of the evolution of mobile phone technology. It was appropriately priced at £1,049 – roughly £2,181.66 in 2020!
Great strides were made throughout the 90s, and Nokia continued to acquire market share…
In 1996, they released the 8110, a phone that would become popular due to its slide down front case and appearance in the 1999 film The Matrix.
Weighing only 145g, and just under 6 inches long, this phone represented a wave of mobiles that were practical in their weight and dimensions. With Nokia leading the way, the next 5 years would spawn many popular models:
- and one of the most popular and iconic phones ever, the 3310.
These models, released from 1998 – 2000, introduced the world to customisable appearances, ringtones and games. Mobile phones had now evolved to be very desirable gadgets, especially amongst teenagers. Specific features of mobile phones made them like fashion accessories, including:
- custom casing
- high scores on ‘snake’
These were often a measure of ‘coolness’ in the playground.
Nokia’s dominance began to slip in the early 2000s, with Sony Ericsson, LG and Samsung joining the evolution of mobile phones and becoming major players in the market. Flip phones were common, with the Samsung SGH-T100 employing a dual screen design. You could see notifications without having to flip the phone open.
Colour screens began to appear at this time too, as well as built in cameras. WAP enabled phones that could access a stripped back version of the internet. This only made phones more desirable commodities, relentlessly marketed to the masses using popular faces.
This tactic was promoted by Vodafone with David Beckham and Robbie Williams publicising “Vodafone Live!”. This multimedia portal allows mobile users to access and download multimedia content.
From this came the introduction of an unsavoury act known as “happy slapping” which was carried out by delinquent youths and publicised by the media.
Several innovations were churned out at this time, including a handheld games console/phone hybrid from Nokia, called the N-Gage, released in 2003. Phone manufacturers started building MP3 player functionality into their new releases, with the Motorola Razr being a popular example. Released in 2004, the Razr sold over 135 million units.
In the 2010’s, mobile phone technology developed more rapidly than ever before. At the start of the decade the market was dominated by phones like the HTC Droid Incredible, the T-Mobile G2, the BlackBerry Torch (complete with slide-out keyboard) and the Apple iPhone 4.
As the years have gone by, mobile phones have developed more and more capabilities, with Apple, Samsung and Huawei now dominating the market. Mobile phones are now used for just about everything, from online banking to paying bills or choosing a restaurant to eat at; the rise in application use on smartphones has majorly contributed to this.
For example, Instagram was launched in 2010 and has grown exponentially over the decade, being bought out by Facebook and becoming the second most downloaded free app in 2018, with approximately one billion users each month.
With the rise in photo sharing applications has come a significant development in the camera quality of mobile phones, with more lenses being added to rear cameras and improved optics. Features like optical image stabilization, optical zoom and low light performance are now standard for most smartphones – this would have been unimaginable in 2010!
Appearance of the “smart-phone”
Between 2004 and 2006 the term “smart-phone” started to appear; a significant milestone in the evolution of technology. Phones began to seriously bridge the gap between something you used to make calls and send text messages, to something altogether more useful.
Phones were now GPS enabled devices that you could use to:
- Check your emails
- Manage your calendar
- Play music
- Take reasonably good quality pictures
- Download content
- And a whole lot more…
The Sony-Ericsson W810i is one example of such a device.
2007 was when phones started to appear that more closely match the smartphones of today. Apple was already a huge player in the technology field with their highly popular and desirable Macs, Macbooks and iPods.
In 2007 the first iPhone was released. This phone would eventually take the world by storm and see people queuing outside stores for days to get their hands on the latest release. Uptake was slow at first, with users put off by prices and perhaps a bit reluctant to own a more complicated device. As such Nokia still enjoyed good sales of their more simple and durable phones. Blackberry represented a happy medium between the two.
Their full ‘qwerty’ keyboard useful for emails, internet and instant messaging – a feature which would prove popular with younger users. Since then, physical ‘qwerty’ keyboards have lost popularity as touchscreen has become the norm, something which Blackberry eventually came to accept. Moreover, phone screens of market leading brands have become larger over the years – providing users with improved capabilities for streaming videos, video calling, editing photos, and playing games.
Present day and the future
Questions about standby and talk time have been replaced with questions about operating systems, camera quality, battery life and how fast you can download data. There are millions of apps which enable countless functions and abilities. Ordering and paying for goods and services online with just a phone is now a common practice.
For the past few years the internet has been rebuilt with mobile devices in mind. We can now even use the devices themselves to pay in store. Phones offer seamless integration with social media, high quality photo images and HD video recording. Since the introduction of the first iPhone, we have seen various iterations each bringing with it new possibilities and design alterations.
We have seen:
- Screen sizes increase
- The competition for dominance of the market increase (after maintaining dominance for years, Apple now has stiff competition from the likes of the Samsung Galaxy range)
- Shaped and curved screens
- Facial and fingerprint recognition to replace passwords
- High-quality cameras
- Apple Pay, whereby you can pay for goods simply using your phone’s Face ID feature or passcode (without the need for your physical credit or debit card)
- Unlimited storage (from the Google Pixel 4, receiving rave reviews)
In the future, we can expect:
- Holographic displays
- Flexible phone frames
- Further integration of mobile phones with education
- A rise in eco-friendly smartphones
- A rise in the importance of mobile phones in the workplace
The iPhone 12
The evolution of mobile phones is continuously developing and isn’t set to slow down any time soon. For example, in recent news, Apple launched their new iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 mini range on the 13th October 2020. The Pro versions offer further enhanced camera capabilities (with three lenses), whilst the non-Pro versions offer a more affordable option (still with two lenses). Apple’s iPhone 12 mini has seemingly taken a step back in time, as it is the smallest iPhone Apple has launched since the iPhone SE in 2016, at 5.4 inches – this is ideal for any users who prefer to use their phone one-handed and are deterred by the larger screen size.
All of the iPhone 12s have flat edges, contrary to all of their predecessors (who have rounded edges). The front screens are also protected by a new ceramic shield which is infused with nano-ceramic crystals, offering 4X better drop performance. Users are also protected by IP68 water and dust resistance that means mobiles can be submerged in up to 6 metres of water for up to 30 minutes without damage. Additionally all iPhone 12 models support 5G connectivity (we’ve written more about 5G – which you can learn about here). Thus providing faster downloads, better quality video streaming, improved gaming and higher definition FaceTimes.
With all this information and so many options available, here are the key things to consider when purchasing a new phone:
- Build quality
- Internal processor
- Camera quality
- Battery life
Mobile phones have become a core part of our work lives
The evolution of mobile phones is not just relevant to our personal lives, they have also had a huge impact on the workplace. They help us keep in touch with colleagues and clients and the latest information. Email functionality has been around for a while now, but it is now second nature to us that we are able to send and receive emails on our mobile devices.
Our phones seamlessly integrate with our office diaries and allow us to keep track of business as well as personal contacts. Researchers have found that smartphones can add an extra 2 hours of work to each day by allowing us to start working as soon as we wake up, and during the commute!
They have also contributed in a large part to flexible working, which has become especially important this year due to the national lockdown and necessity to be able to work from home. Many professionals were required (and still are) to use their mobile phones for work purposes, something that wouldn’t have been possible just a decade ago. In fact, technology such as VoIP allows employees to make and receive work calls via the cloud using the professional office number (even when using personal mobile phones). Technology like this can also help record and transfer calls easily, without needing a specific business handset.
In fact, mobile technology has advanced so much that wearable tech is now an option to consumers – with many people now owning smartwatches that have similar capabilities to a mobile phone. With such vast features and capabilities, smartphones are no longer simply phones. They are powerful computers, which most of us find it hard to live without.