Cellphone evolution

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  • From enormous, 80-pound, car-mounted beasts to tiny terminals in our back pockets, mobile phones have come a long way. What once cost thousands, weighed 2 pounds, and packed 60 minutes of battery life now costs $99, weighs 4 ounces, and packs 5 to 10 hours of battery life--and also includes a full-fledged computer, a video camera, audio/video playback, and high-speed Internet access.How did we get from there to here? Let's take a brief tour through the history of the cell phone. The following phones don't necessarily reflect the first or best of each type, but instead represent certain phases in mobile phone evolution over the last 50 years.Evolution of the Cell Phone

  • In the days before cellular phone networks, the world's mobile phones lacked a unifying standard. Instead, they used varying communication methods defined on a company-by-company basis.The 88-pound MTA phone, shown here, is typical in size and weight of early mobile phone systems from the pre-integrated-circuit era. Most were so heavy and power-hungry that they required permanent installation in a car or other vehicle. Very few people owned, used, or even encountered such devices; for example, the service for the model shown here existed in only two Swedish cities and served a mere 125 subscribers from 1956 to 1967.Notable qualities: The first automatic mobile telephone system (it didn't require a human operator to manually connect the user to an outside phone line)Photo: EricssonSRA/Ericsson MTA (Mobile Telephone System A)Year: 1956

  • Though Motorola announced the world's first handheld mobile phone--a prototype of the DynaTAC 8000X in 1973, it took ten years for the DynaTAC to reach the market. In those ten years, engineers squeezed more capability into less space, and Motorola built much-needed infrastructure--the towers necessary for cell phone service.Upon its release in 1983, the DynaTAC 8000X became an instant cultural icon, both as a status symbol for the rich (thanks to the $3995 retail price--$8657 in 2009 dollars) and as an almost miraculous wonder-phone that a person could use anywhere. With the DynaTAC, the cell phone revolution had finally begun.Notable qualities: Small size, light weight; the first handheld mobile phonePhoto: MotorolaMotorola DynaTAC 8000XYear: 1983

  • Motorola's handheld DynaTAC was an amazing breakthrough, but in reality its size proved limiting due to the battery technology of the era. The DynaTAC could manage only 60 minutes of talk time in ideal conditions, while larger "luggable" phones equipped with capacious batteries--such as the Mobira Talkman, shown here--could provide many hours of continuous operation.Notable qualities: Early luggable mobile phone; relatively long talk timePhoto: NokiaNokia Mobira TalkmanYear: 1984

  • After the success of the DynaTAC, Motorola followed up with the much smaller and lighter MicroTAC phone in 1989. The MicroTAC included a novel space-saving idea: Motorola engineers placed part of the phone's hardware in a hinged section that could fold inward or outward as needed, thus reducing the phone's size when it wasn't in use. The flip concept lives on in many cell phones today.Notable qualities: First flip phone, first pocket phone; smallest and lightest cellular phone at the time of its debutPhoto: MotorolaMotorola MicroTACYear: 1989

  • When many people think of the "car phones" of the 1980s and 1990s, they picture bag phones like the Motorola 2900, shown here. The bag contained a transceiver and battery, and the user operated a much lighter corded handset. Owners could carry the bag on their shoulder, but a bag phone's general bulk mostly limited its usage to cars.Despite the availability of smaller phones on the market, bag phones remained popular well into the late 1990s due to their long talk times and their superior range. Thanks to heftier batteries, bag phones could afford to transmit a cell signal with greater power, allowing the phone to be used farther away from a receiving tower. This was especially important in the days when cellular coverage wasn't nearly as widespread as it is now.Notable qualities: Long talk times, plus greater battery life and signal rangePhoto: MotorolaMotorola 2900 Bag PhoneYear: 1994

  • In 1994, just before the first democratic elections, one of the most dynamic companies in South Africa did not exist. Today, Vodacom is valued at between 6 to 7 billion dollars, making it one of South Africa's top ten companies. Vodacom now delivers a service to some 5.5 million South Africans, forming an integral part of their lives.

    1994M-Cell incorporated in South Africa and owned 25% of MTN Holdings. 1995-1996M-Cell converted to a public company with investments that include a 25% shareholding in MTN Holdings and a 60% shareholding in M-Tel (now MTN Service Provider). MTN Holdings acquired Service Provider M-Tel.1st Cellular Networks launched in South Africa: VODACOM & MTNYear: 1994

  • In 1996, Motorola further shrank its line of pocket cell phones, producing the 3.1-ounce StarTAC--which immediately proved popular and influential. The StarTAC expanded on the partially collapsible design of its precursor, the MicroTAC, by allowing users to fold the phone in half when they weren't talking on it. We now call this design "clamshell," for its resemblance to the way a clam opens and closes. The StarTAC's general design was widely imitated, and a large percentage of mobile phones still use it today.Notable qualities: First fully "clamshell" mobile phone design; smallest and lightest mobile phone at its releasePhoto: MotorolaMotorola StarTACYear: 1996

  • Though the Nokia 9000i wasn't the first-ever smartphone (many people give that honor to the IBM Simon), it marked the real beginning of our modern smartphone era. The 9000i truly was a pocket computer and a cell phone rolled into one, with an Intel 386-derivative CPU and 8MB of RAM. The phone's physical configuration was novel at the time: Users could open the 9000i in a horizontal clamshell fashion to reveal a wide LCD screen and a full QWERTY keyboard. When folded, it resembled an ordinary cell phone.The 9000i could send and receive faxes, text messages, and e-mail, and it also had (extremely) limited Web access through 160-character SMS messages. And like any self-respecting smartphone, it shipped with a full complement of PDA-like organizer capabilities.Notable qualities: First Nokia smartphone; first modern PDA/cell phone combo; mobile Internet connectivityPhoto: NokiaNokia 9000i CommunicatorYear: 1997

  • In the earlier years, all cellular phones shipped with external antennas that stuck out in aesthetically unpleasing ways. Nokia engineers found a way around that problem by designing a flat, plate-like antenna that could hide inside the body of a cell phone. The result was the Nokia 8810, the first true "candy bar" phone in the modern sense. This small, compact, non-clamshell design soon became standard for many Nokia handsets; you rarely see an external cell phone antenna these days.Notable qualities: First cell phone without an external whip or stub antenna; first "candy bar" phonePhoto: NokiaNokia 8810Year: 1998

  • Not too long ago, WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) was a huge deal. The mobile phone industry designed WAP to allow Web access on simple devices with limited processing power and displays, like cell phones circa 1999 to 2002. Instead of a rich graphical experience, users would see a stripped-down, typically text-only subset of the Web. Nokia was the first company to bring WAP browsing to a mobile phone with the 7110, released in 1999.In our present age of smartphones with full-featured browsers, large screens, and beefy CPUs, WAP has quickly become a relic of the past. Web browsing has most assuredly not.Notable qualities: World's first WAP-capable mobile phone; nifty sliding keypad coverPhoto: NokiaNokia 7110Year: 1999

  • Cell C is SA's third cellular network provider. After being awarded the third licence by ICASA in February 2001, when it employed only about 30 people, and launched in November 2001. In September 2004 the employee strength stood at 2500 and will grow to 5000 when it completes its rollout by 2008.3rd Cellular Network launched in South Africa: CELL CYear: 2001

  • The BlackBerry brand began in 1999 as a simple two-way pager, but it morphed into a line of full-fledged smartphones in 2002 with the BlackBerry 5810, the first of the series to include integrated cell phone support. Thanks to top-of-the-line mobile e-mail and text messaging (the QWERTY keyboard didn't hurt either), BlackBerry phones soon became indispensable tools for businesspeople and other professionals.Notable qualities: First BlackBerry with an integrated voice cell phone; push e-mail supportPhoto: Research in MotionRIM BlackBerry 5810Year: 2002

  • Who would want a camera in their cell phone? When news of such combination devices trickled over from Japan in the early part of the decade, the idea seemed silly and excessive to some people. In 2002, Sprint and Sanyo released the first American cell phone with a built-in camera, the SCP-5300--and the public went crazy for it.The camera phone became a bona fide cultural phenomenon, allowing the average Joe to quickly and personally share both mundane and earthshaking events with the rest of the world. Today, camera phones are so common that we don't call them "camera phones" anymore.Notable qualities: First mobile phone with an integrated camera & color screen, clamshell camera phone designPhoto: SanyoSanyo SCP-5300Year: 2002

  • At the time of its release in the United States, the T-Mobile Sidekick (also known as the Danger Hiptop) quickly became the text-messaging addict's dream machine. This innovative smartphone incorporated a novel design with a large LCD screen that