Most of us in this day and age only faintly remember what it was like without Mobile Phones. Some of the younger readers might have never experienced a time when mobiles were literally non-existent in most countries. However, we fully appreciate the piece of technology that we’re carrying around in our bags and pockets; a device that took over the job of a bunch of other things like maps, cameras, calendars, beepers, telephones and compressed all of that into a handheld computer. The notion sounds like it was ripped right out of a sci-fi novel but it’s our reality right now and mobile phones are not going away any time soon.
But how did the smartphone begin? The way mobile phone evolved to what it is today is a curious thing to most, and it also piqued our curiosity. We’re not Darwin, but writing about the evolution of mobile phones does not need a theorist. Let’s start the journey.
The first mobile forms of communication were developed by the US military so that information can be passed around a hectic battlefield. At the moment, we are enjoying 4G networks that are unparalleled in terms of speed and susceptibility to interference. But for the original Mobile Radio Telephone Systems, they used the Zero Generation or 0G technology which used Radio Signals to transmit voice over the air. It had terrible coverage – only a few short distances – and had the tendency to be interfered with by nearby radio signals.
The forerunner in this category was the Motorola MTS (Mobile Telephone System) that was first introduced in 1946. Mobile Radio Telephones became widespread for military purposes in the 60’s and was a staple of any platoon. It wasn’t released to the masses yet, but it is what many agree on, the ancestor of today’s mobile phones.
Fast forward to the early 80’s when technology advances have it made it possible to mass produce chipsets; the brick phones were first introduced. You might have seen these bulky luxury items in antique shops where they look like a brick that you can make a house with (hence the name), rather than something you could fit in your pocket. These phones mostly used the first generation of networks or 1G, which used analog signals similar to how antenna TV works. Brick phones were heavy but at least it can double as both your phone and a weapon you can throw at someone to deal damage. We’re joking of course.
A notable piece in this category is the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, as the first commercial portable cellular phone. You could dial any number and see it appear on the LED screen and you could bring at around – the first widespread iteration of a mobile. It was priced 4000 US dollars (around Rs 613,500 today) when it was first released and boasted 30 minutes talk time, which was amazing at the time. You had to charge it for 10 hours first though. Though this gadget is far from being the all in one computer we carry around today, it was one of the first steps in making that magic happen in a few years’ time.
Mobile phones were steadily gaining speed in the late 80s and early 90s – there were yearly iterations that improved on the last one, whether it is with features, portability, battery life or weight. And with the evolution of the mobile phone, mobile networks also followed suit. Enter the second generation of mobile communications, more popularly known as 2G, in the year 1991. 2G was similar to its 1G ancestor but rather than transmitting in analog signals, it made the jump to digital, transmitting ones and zeroes.
With each new mobile phone, the way networks were handled had to be controlled one way or another. Have you ever wondered what GSM meant? Well, GSM or Global System for Mobile Communications (originally called Groupe Spécial Mobile) is the standard to describe protocols for 2G. Essentially, GSM makes sure that any mobile phone will be able to transmit and receive in 2G. It is with this standard that mobile phones took the world by storm in the last decade of the 20th century, allowing mobile internet through GPRS and EDGE, and a lot more innovations in the technical realm.
But all of that gets thrown out the window without a major aspect that we haven’t discussed: how mobile numbers work. Without mobile numbers, it would be difficult to contact whichever person you want. Essentially, mobile numbers are the addresses to the different mobile phones connected to a network. The first numbers were standardized by AT&T in 1947 and allowed people to easily remember landline numbers, similar to how we keep track of a mobile number today.
This manufacturer of mobile phones was so popular that it deserves its own category. Nokia was heralded as the king of mobile in the late 90’s and early 2000s to the point that the brand was synonymous to mobile phone. The company released model after model of better and better phones, and most likely, one of your first mobile phones might have been a Nokia. With their popularity, they had a lot of leeway to experiment with new technologies and funny enough, some of their creations stuck and became a standard for all competitors. They added to mobile phones what were seemingly impossible at the time: polyphonic capabilities, colored screens, cameras and a whole lot more – heck, they even made a mobile gaming console slash phone in the Nokia N-Gage.
But none came close to how groundbreaking the Nokia 3310 was when it was first released in the year 2000. With the turn of the new century, Nokia definitely nailed it with a bang. The 3310 boasted features that were scarce at the time of its release: a calculator, a stopwatch, and a whole slew of games that can keep you hooked for ages. And the thing was durable – you could drop it from a building (that you can see in some YouTube videos) and it will survive. You had the ability to swap the shell of the phone depending on your style. The different cases of modern smartphones just pales in comparison to the degree of customization you can get with the 3310. We can go on and on about how awesome the Nokia 3310 was but of course it’s just one of the many mobile phones that modern gadgets of today descended from.
Another innovation that shattered the mobile market and kicked out a lot of competitors was the iPhone. It was in a word – revolutionary.
The original iPhone (released in 2007) was and is the pinnacle by which a lot of manufacturers are trying to emulate. And it heralded the start of the modern era of phones – the Smart Phones. It was the first ever mobile phone to utilize fingers on a touchscreen as the primary input device. Up to this point, you had to either use a keypad, a keyboard or a stylus to get anything done on a mobile phone. It had its own full-fledged Operating System in the iOS and it was one of the most user-friendly interfaces that graced the masses during the time.
The iPhone was the first to feature a robust App Store and had rabid developers creating app after app for it. This paradigm shift resulted to a flurry of new apps that you can easily download with a tap. And this is also where the phrase “there’s an app for that!” – And there definitely is an app for everything. Apple and the iPhone pioneered this new App market and this market is continuing to grow until today.
If the iPhone hadn’t come along, we would still be struggling with keypads and keyboards for all I know. It was that radical.
Smartphones today take everything that we’ve learned from the previous generations, both on the gadget aspect and the network aspect to improve on their design one step at a time. We’ve seen dual cameras, fingerprint sensors, GPS integration, and 3G (which has evolved to 4G). We owe it all to the drive of man to keep discovering new things and the geniuses constantly prototyping and inventing new gadgets.
Android by Google has been making advances in mobile operating systems and is another key player in the mobile technology realm. Better and better features are being added to Android systems and it is currently a major driver in the mobile market today. Android and Companies that manufacture Android phones have definitely been on track when it comes to innovation and the mobile world is excited for the next iteration. Whether it be just a minor change in design, a new feature, or a new revolutionary change that will shatter all expectations.
I often wonder what the next big Mobile Phone will look like. Only time will tell.
All images are from Pixabay.