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How Mobile Has Evolved Over the Decades

By Edited Jan 19, 2016 1 2
Evolution of Mobile
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In 1971 when the acclaimed band The Who sang about "Going Mobile", the term had an entirely different meaning than it carries today. Today mobile is synonymous with smartphones and other portable computing devices, such as tablets and pocket-sized computers. While cellphones were envisioned decades earlier, these devices did not become "mainstream" until approximately the 1990s.

Modern standards for mobile have rapidly changed over the last few years. Not only do a large percentage of people use smartphones today, the majority of individuals carrying one rely upon it for daily activities. According to Cisco, global mobile traffic grew a whopping 69 percent during 2014, reaching 2.5 exabytes per month by year's end. 7

Cellphones have also grown to become far more than being as a simple telephone, but rather has evolved to become a gadget that is both a communication and information sharing device. Hence the term "smartphone".

Mobile is Developed

Cellphones, which were first envisioned back in the 1940s, were not actually invented until 1973 when the first mobile phone designed for use outside a car was developed. It was this year the first phone call was made by Dr. Martin Cooper, a former general manager for the systems division at Motorola.

A big accomplishment, but it would be decades before cellphones became a true reality with commercial availability. Cooper has since been designated with the honor of spearheading the development of a commercial mobile market with the first phone approved for use.

Cellphones in the 1980s

In the 1980s, cellphones were clunky items. Not many people carried them and they didn't have much, if any, of an impact on the general population. If anything, cellphones were more seen in television and movies. These large and chunky phones were mostly portrayed in pop culture as being used by the elite and/or business communities. In this decade, most people probably didn't know anyone that actually carried one.

A Motorola DynaTAC 8000X from 1984.
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Mobile Becomes More Common in the 1990s

Even in the 1990s many people still did not carry a mobile telephone. Although, by the end of the decade, its use became more common. This was the era when the formerly popular "direct connect" features were used. With this feature, cellphones became usable as walkie-talkie type devices. It was also, however, in this time frame that the seeds of smartphones were planted by Phillips which dubbed the device "The Synergy"4. This concept in technology would explode in development only a few years later.

Alcatel HD1 mobile telephone mobiltelefon 1995
Credit: Bjoertvedt/Creative Commons License-Attribution

Mobile Phones in the New Millennium  

By the time 2000 rolled around, cellphones were quickly becoming the norm. However, fast forward to 2014 and the growth of mobile has been staggering. Last year the International Telecoms Union, a UN specialized agency, predicted that globally more mobile devices than people will soon exist.5  Other industry experts also predicted this exponential growth will continue for the next several years. Forbes reported last year, more people have access to a mobile than a flush toilet. To put it in perspective, according to the news outlet,

"Given that the water closet is several centuries old and the mobile phone really only about 30 years mature that’s a pretty stunning difference in the two technologies adoption."

While the comparison isn't as simple for many reasons, as the article goes on to explain, it does perhaps illustrate the value people find in mobile these days.

Nowadays, cellphones look nothing like earlier designs. For a time, mobile phones dramatically shrunk in size and can do most anything a computer can do. Then the trend shifted to smartphones becoming larger devices, a cross between an earlier cellphone and a table. Although, it seems size does not matter, people today do heavily rely on whatever device it is they carry.

Every day hundreds of millions of people text, surf the Internet, check social media accounts, and take photos and video. They use them in lieu of calendars and alarm clocks. These days, people can even deposit checks by taking a photo of their paycheck and send it to their bank, provided their bank offers this feature. If you want to do something, chances are there may be a mobile app that can help you.

An HTC Touch2 being operated with a stylus
Credit: Asim Saleem/Creative Commons License-Attribution

The possibilities are seemingly endless as technology races ahead at a rapid rate, and it is amazing to think what the next generation of cellphones will incorporate into daily living. Not to mention the current emerging trend of wearable devices, such as smartwatches, rings, socks, and even smart bras. As augmented reality becomes more prominent, what was only once seen or imagined in science fiction will likely eventually become mainstream.

Where it goes next is likely going to be very different than anyone had envisioned back in the 1940s.  How do you feel about the rapid evolution of mobile and the impact it has had on society?

Nokia smartphone
Credit: FirmBee/Pixabay


Sep 19, 2014 3:23pm
I used to own #3 in high school; was the only one without recent phone tech but was happy because it came in handy during last minute early-out announcements. I held on to the phone for as long as I could till my mom got me another one; it was a bar phone. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
Sep 21, 2014 4:09am
Thanks Browna86 for reading and commenting :). It's amazing how much things change at the speed it has, isn't it? I was late coming into cellphones, my first was a Nextel flip top. I can't imagine carrying one of those phones from the '80s!
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  1. Mary Bellis "Selling The Cell Phone - Part 1: History of Cellular Phones." About.com. 11/09/2014 <Web >
  2. " A Photographic History of the Cell Phone." TIME. 11/09/2014 <Web >
  3. Adario Strange "Vibrating Smart Ring Brings Notifications Center to Your Finger." Mashable. 11/09/2014 <Web >
  4. " A Photographic History of the Cell Phone." TIME. 11/09/2014 <Web >
  5. Peter Suciu "UN Agency Predicts More Mobile Phones Than People." Red Orbit. 9/5/2013. 11/09/2014 <Web >
  6. Tim Worstall "More People Have Mobile Phones Than Toilets." Forbes. 23/3/2013. 11/09/2014 <Web >
  7. "Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update 2014–2019 White Paper." Cisco. 03/02/2015. 25/11/2015 <Web >

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