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The Matrix phone to the iPhone – and that unforgettable ringtone: 50 moments in 50 years since first mobile call

50 years ago, the first ever mobile phone call was made.

Martin Cooper, Motorola engineer, whipped out his biceps and called Joel Bell from rival company AT&T to get a chunky handset. It more closely resembled a clown shoe that a modern smartphone.

It was a proof-of-concept that is now part of communications history along with Alexander Bell’s 1876 invention of the telephone.

These are 50 moments that have shaped smartphones into what they are today, from the past 50 years.


1. Dawn of 1G (1979).

One to four is required to get to 5G. Japan created the first analogue cellular system that was widely available in 1979. However, it couldn’t be used outside of cars as the portable batteries weren’t powerful enough for truly mobile use.

2. The first mobile phone (1983)

Cooper used the prototype of Motorola’s DynaTAC8000X mobile phone on 3 April 1973 in Manhattan. This was the first commercially-available mobile. It cost $3.995 (about $12,000 today) and took 10 hour to charge for half an hours of call time.

Image Martin Cooper holds an exact replica of the first smartphone at a 2008 trade show

3. First mobile phone call made in the UK (1985)

On 1 January 1985, Michael Harrison made the UK’s first mobile phone call from London’s Parliament Square to his father, Vodafone chairman Sir Ernest Harrison.

“Hi Dad, it’s Mike. He said that this was the first ever call made on a UK mobile network. This prompted raucous celebrations at Vodafone’s original headquarters above an Indian restaurant near Newbury.

Image: Michael Harrison calls the UK for the first time using a mobile phone. Pic: Vodafone

4. Flippin’ ‘eck! (1989)

The phone was now a potential doorknob and something James Bond might have thought of using with Motorola’s MicroTAC-9800X. It introduced the flip phone format, which was more glamorous than its name.

Image: The MicroTAC-9800X. Pic: Redrum0486 on English Wikipedia

5. Mobiles go digital (1991)

Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) is another catchy name. This was the European standard that became 2G. We owe it to SMS text messaging.

6. ‘Merry Christmas’ (1992)

This was the initial text message that was sent to a mobile phone on 3 December 1992. The message was sent by Neil Papworth, a British engineer. It was sent from a PC to an Orbitel 901. Sky News interviewed him to mark the 25th anniversary. It was done by text .

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What was your first SMS message?

7. Nokia brings UK up-to-speed (1992)

Orbitel had already introduced 2G when Nokia launched the 1011 phone. However, the Finnish company’s efforts were more affordable and accessible, which allowed the technology to be brought to the masses of Britons.

Image: Nokia’s 1011

8. Simon (1994): A phone that is called Simon

Forget about the iPhone. Simon, a touchscreen device by IBM, was the first smartphone. Although it was only available in 15 states, and only 50,000 units were sold, it was a pioneering smartphone.

Image: IBM’s Simon phone. Pic: TheToyChannel, YouTube by Mike Mozart

9. That ringtone… (1994).

Mariah Carey; Bon Jovi; Wet Wet Wet were just a few of the 1994 chart-toppers. The ringtone for Nokia was the sound that defined 1994. It was the Nokia ringtone.

10. GSM receives an A (1995).

Mobile operators were able to join a trade organization when the GSM Association was founded. It hosts Mobile World Congress where many companies announce major product launches.

11. Slide into your SMS (1996)

There have been phones that fold and flip, but we also have phones that slide. The Nokia 8110 is perhaps most famous for its hidden number pad that was revealed by sliding off a cover.

12. The first color screen (1997)

The first mobile phone to get the colour treatment was the Siemens S10, a year before Nintendo Game Boy. It couldn’t show all colours of the rainbow, only red, green and blue.

13. Snake gives us gaming (1997)

When the Nokia 6110 arrived, Snake would be joining the ranks of the Game Boy. It’s rare that a game has been so synonymously associated with one device as it is with Tetris on Game Boy and Wii Sports… Wii.

Image: Best. Game. Ever? Pic by James Hamilton-Martin

14. Showing off your style (1998)

Although we’re used to phones being available in a variety of colours and many case options, it was not always easy to personalise them. Manufacturers didn’t realize the value of interchangeable covers until the Nokia 5110.

15. For the children! (1999)

The Nokia 3210 is a classic 90s mobile, easily recognisable as one of the most recognizable. It was lighter and thinner than previous Nokia phones. It also featured multiple games, including Snake. Finally, it got rid of the external antenna that looked like a walkie-talkie and could send pictures.

Add in the launch price of PS150 and the introduction of pay-as you-go SIM cards, and parents will soon realize that Tamagotchis are no longer cutting it.

Image: Nokia 3210. Pic: MiNe/Flickr

16. Surf the internet! (1999)

Nokia launched the 7110 model in 1999, the first web-based phone. You could get news, email and, if you’re lucky, even new ringtones.

17. The original camera phone (2000

The Sharp J-SH04 was only available in Japan, so you may not have heard about it. Its place in mobile phone history is undisputed, since it was the first smartphone to have a camera.

Image: Sharp J-SH04 cameraphone. Pic by Morio

18. I’m impressed, Mr Bond (2001).

In 2001, the Sony Ericsson T68I was the first mobile phone to have full-color screens. It was also the first mobile commercially available to feature in James Bond films.

19. Camera phones go mainstream (2002)

Nokia used Sharp’s camera phone idea and launched the 7650 across Europe. Hidden behind a slider at the back was the 0.3-megapixel lens.

20. BlackBerry is business (2002)

A BlackBerry is a smart phone that can be carried by a person who looks busy in a suit, 2002. To appeal to business people, the 5810 model was a complete QWERTY mobile. This was not a phone to have fun with – it was meant for serious business people who needed to send serious emails about their meetings, and not just play Snake.

Image BlackBerry phones were discontinued

21. 3G arrived (2003)

Because 3G was faster than 2G people could do things that were normally reserved for a computer, such as video calls. This was the foundation for many features that will be key to the next wave of smartphones, such as downloading apps.

22. Crazy Frog… (2003)

3G made it easy to change ringtones, and even had a mascot. A dark time.

23. Nokia’s top-selling phone (2003)

The relatively simple Nokia 1100 didn’t suffer from 3G, thanks in large part to its low price and long battery life. With more than 250,000,000 sold, it was the most popular mobile in developing countries.

Image Nokia 1100 is the most-sold phone

24. The most loved flip phone in the world (2004)

Flip phones had one major drawback: you couldn’t see what was on the screen. Motorola’s Razr series changed that. It featured a small display on the cover to show information such as the time. The V3 phone, which was launched in 2004, sold more than 130 millions units. It is the most loved of all phones.

Image Motorola’s Razr line proved to be extremely popular

25. Google buys Android (2005)

Google is still primarily a search company but the $50m acquisition of Android changed everything. It is the backbone for just about every non- Apple handset and has fought off potential rivals like Microsoft, Nokia and others to make the iPhone maker the only true rival.

26. Nokia uses a familiar pitch (2006)

Ah, Nokia. Nokia is a staple in the history of mobile phones and a reminder of how fast things can change.

When it presented a familiar pitch for its future, the firm was at the top of the market. The N95 would not be a phone but an all-in one entertainment device. The iPhone had already arrived by the time that the N95 was available for purchase in stores in 2007.

Image: Nokia N95. Pic: Asim18

27. The iPhone (2007)

The success of the iPod ( do you remember those?) led to Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone in January 2007. Apple’s first smartphone was available in June 2007. The innovative multi-touch display that covers most of the iPhone helped it be named the invention of the Year by Time Magazine.

Image Steve Jobs unveiled Apple’s iPhone 2007

28. Applaud the future (2008)

It is easy to forget that the iPhone was launched without its App Store. This store opened on July 10, 2008. At launch, there were 500 apps (remember the lightsaber? There are now almost two million.

29. The first Android phone (2008)

The HTC G1 phone was the result of Google’s Android acquisition. The keyboard was BlackBerry-style and slid out of the touchscreen. Push notifications were also included.

Image The HTC Dream was also called the G1 phone by Google.

30. WhatsApp launched in 2009

WhatsApp was created by a few former Yahoo employees. Although it made a modest debut in 2009, it has since grown to be the most popular messaging platform worldwide.

31. 4G speeds up (2009)

4G, which is a faster mobile network, was introduced to the market. This will allow us to enjoy our growing media habits on the go.

32. Angry Birds (2009)

Angry Birds was a highly addictive smartphone game that allowed millions to slingshot wingless chickens to eliminate an army of green pigs. Although it sounds strange, you can’t deny its popularity. There have been numerous sequels and spin-offs. Tons of merchandise has also been produced.

Image These guys make a huge deal…

33. Google’s first smartphone (2010)

Google’s first Nexus smartphone was marketed as the best Android experience. It offered quick updates when the latest version (always named after dessert) was available.

Image The Google Nexus One phone

34. Instagram launches (2010)

Insta was one of the most popular social media startups. Its focus on square-shaped photos of your friends made it a favorite.

Its popularity led Facebook in 2012 to pay $1bn. However, it has become one of most loved apps in the world, despite concerns about its effects on mental health and unpopular changes.

35. Windows… on a smartphone? (2010)

Microsoft thought it could compete with Apple and Google when it attempted to create a smartphone experience based on its most popular product, Windows. Clippy was not visible in the device’s start screen, which looked like a PC.

Image: Windows Phones Launched in 2010

36. Apple’s huge error (2010)

The iPhone 4’s biggest scandal was likely to have been in 2010. It came with an antenna design flaw, which meant that users would lose signal if the device was held in their left hand. Apple finally acknowledged the issue after initially downplaying its severity and sent out free cases to assist. Apple also settled a class-action lawsuit.

Image Steve Jobs displays the iPhone 4

37. Lock phones with your face (2011)

While most of us now unlock our phones using our faces these days, it was not always reliable. Google’s Galaxy Nexus and Samsung made tentative attempts at facial recognition. While it was cool, it soon became obvious that it wasn’t very secure. You could trick it by using photos.

38. ‘Hey, Siri…’ (2011)

Siri on the iPhone 4S introduced voice assistants, making it mainstream. This enabled us to stop being too lazy to switch our living rooms lights on . Alexa, Bixby and “Hey Google” would soon follow.

Image The staple of all Apple products is Siri.

39. Google Play Store (2012)

Google’s solution to Android Market was launched as the App Store in 2012. It was a good timing, because in 2012, Candy Crush was also launched.

40. Fingers ready (2013)

Before the iPhone 5S, mobile biometrics such as fingerprint scanners or the aforementioned facial unlocking weren’t a common feature on smartphones. Later, it was added to iPads and Macbooks.

Image iPhones and other smartphones have adopted fingerprint technology

41. Facebook purchases WhatsApp (2014)

Mark Zuckerberg bought Instagram. He also purchased WhatsApp for $19bn to bring the messaging service under the Facebook umbrella. Regulators have only recently started to question whether allowing tech giants to dominate was a good idea.

42. An iPhone on your wrist (2015)

Apple hadn’t launched a new product for five years before the Watch was released. It was only a matter of time. Many have made the wearable a necessity, inciting many others to follow suit. However, recent versions of the wearable are powerful enough that you can go out without any phone.

Image Apple’s Watch series is one of the most popular products

43. Pokemon Go takes us outside (2016)

In summer 2016, , everyone was using a smartphone when Pokemon Go was introduced. The game’s augmented reality allowed 90s children to fulfill their childhood dreams by catching pocket monsters in nature. This reporter caught a Pikachu at Strood station.

Image PokemonGo sent millions of people on scavenger hunting

44. Samsung’s explosion of batteries (2016)

Samsung is the largest manufacturer of Android phones in the world, so it was difficult to understand the crisis surrounding launch of the highly anticipated Galaxy Note 7. Due to defective batteries that caused some phones to catch fire or explode, the South Korean company suspended sales.

45. Google launches the Pixel (2016)

Google began making its own phones using the Pixel to replace the Nexus brand. Six years later, the annoying ads about how to remove chips from your photos arrived.

Image: Google Pixel phones were introduced in 2016

46. Microsoft kills Windows Phone 2017

Microsoft , having failed to challenge Android and iOS’s dominance, followed BlackBerry from the market by eliminating Windows Phone. This was a clear admission of failure in an otherwise huge year for smartphones, with the iPhone X being Apple’s most significant design change in a decade.

47. TikTok goes global (2018)

TikTok, as we know it, became widely available in 2018. However it was only after the COVID pandemic did its popularity soar. It is now available on more than 2 billion smartphones , but how long will it be there?

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Why is TikTok being banned?

48. 5G rollout starts (2019).

This upgrade also includes conspiracy theories about how the radio antennas have been spreading coronavirus. While some of us have yet to experience the full benefits, experts believe 5G will transform our lives in the years ahead.

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2020: 5G conspiracy ‘dangerous absurdity’

49. COVID (2020).

The impact of COVID on smartphones was significant. Sales fell due to reduced spending and disruption in supply chains. Manufacturers had to adjust to our changing habits. To recognize you wearing a mask, facial recognition software needed to be updated . Both iOS and Android introduced contact-tracing functionality.

Image We all wore masks and our phones had to account for that.

50. USB-C later (2022).

Throughout the history of smartphones and their evolution, tech giants have always been able to get their way. But last year’s EU ruling suggested that things may be changing. The EU made a historic decision that all mobiles must use the same charging standard. This forced Apple to abandon its lightning connector and switch to USB-C.

No matter what happens over the next 50-years, we will have less tangled cables in drawers.


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