Born in the 80s
Born in the 80s
The mobile phone (or cell phone) celebrated its 25th birthday this week.* Depending on your age and how early you were to adopt these now ubiquitous devices, you’ll either be amazed they’ve been around so long, or will be astonished people could actually exist without being constantly contactable until so recently.
Today we live in a world where a commitment of twenty quid a month or so can get you a sharp looking phone capable of making voice and data calls across multi-megabit high-speed digital networks as well as taking high-resolution photos, storing every CD you’ve ever owned, playing up to the minute games and films, and organising your entire business and social life.
Back on 13 October 1983, the very first commercial mobile phone call was made by Bob Barnett, president of Ameritech Mobile communications using a Motorola DynaTAC handset that weighed over a kilo. Affectionately known ever since as ‘The Brick’ this phone retailed direct from Motorola for $3,995, with customers then having to pay $50 per month rental and up to 40 cents a minute for calls made across embryonic 1G analogue radio networks
And as CNET pointed out recently, it’s not just the technology of mobile phones that has changed so dramatically over the last 25 years, but the customers. In the 80s mobiles were strictly the remit of the very rich. It didn’t matter whether you were a banker or a plasterer, as long as you had the money, a massive inside pocket, and the front to use such a preposterous device in public. Nowadays of course, even our children carry smartphones with enough computing power to manage a moon landing or two, as long as they are able to guarantee a well-paid Saturday job and no social life for a minimum 18-month contract. Consequently the 12,000 total subscriber market of the Motorola DynaTAC has now grown to over 260 million mobile customers in the US alone.
So what’s next for mobile phone operators, handset manufacturers and subscribers? One thing is for certain, there’s absolutely no point at all trying to predict how we will be making calls in 25 years time. Mind controlled messaging or precognitive perception – your guess is as good as mine – but the likelihood of us carrying around 100g plastic screens with novelty rings is probably zero, all things being well. More immediate challenges are easier to tick off – fourth generation broadband networks, desktop identical functionality, and more multifunction convergence in our pockets than we truly need or frankly, want.
Expect all of this in around 25 months though, rather than another 25 years. Scarily, that’s not a lot longer than your next iPhone contract.
* Well, kind of. People had been trying to get mobile phones off the ground (literally) since the first decades of the last century, and NTT in Japan was really the first to toy with the idea of commercial mobile phones back in the late seventies, but Motorola’s DynaTAC system was the first mobile phone that an average, if affluent and American, man on the street could practically buy and use.