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Home /History / Cell Phone Upgrades

Cell Phone Upgrades

By Dillon Wallace

Imagine a world where you could pick up a phone and make a phone call to anyone across the world! 

Okay, so that doesn’t seem like anything more impressive than an escalator these days, but 40 years ago it was monumental.

Today, cell phones aren’t just phones anymore. They’re small computers that can speedily surf the web, play graphically stunning games, message groups of people, seamlessly navigate us anywhere, take high-definition pictures and so much more. The fact that they can make calls, well that’s just an added bonus now.


But how did phones get to where they are today? From making a basic phone call to connecting your entire world, let’s uncover the history of the cell phone.


1973 The first call

Most people associate the genesis of the cell phone to the 80s, but it was actually the 70s – the early 70s, in fact. On April 3, 1973, the first cell phone call was made by Motorola engineer Martin Cooper.


The phone itself was an early prototype of the DynaTAC so lovingly nicknamed the shoe (because it resembled a shoe), placed a call to rival, Joel Engel of Bell Laboratories at AT&T simply to state that Martin and his team had devised a functional portable phone before AT&T. Talk about trolling the competition. If that’s not the ultimate boss move, then what is? 


Although Motorola had won the cell race, it took a full decade before it became a commercial service in 1983. The original phone allowed for 35 minutes of talk time with a lengthy 10 hour charge time. The result of 10 years of development paved the way for a slimmer 16-ounce model that cost up to $4,000. And here we are thinking today’s latest iPhone is outrageously priced ...


1G network (1979) & the Motorola DynaTAC (1983)

Today’s networks rock a lightning-fast 5G LTE network. But it all had to start somewhere right? Well, it did with a 1G cellular network back in 1979 in Tokyo. By the early 80s, the whopping 1G network made its way to the Americas under the name, Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS). 


Although the unencrypted network was suuuuuper vulnerable with security issues (just a simple scanner could allow you to eavesdrop on conversations), it didn’t stop the world’s first cell phone, the Motorola DynaTAC, from launching on the network in 1983. With the DynaTAC, it was a race to see what was more astonishing – the incredible $3,995 price tag, the terrible 30-minute battery life or the fact that it was wildly successful with waiting lists in the thousands. Nobody seemed to care about security or price – they just wanted it because it was THE cool new technology.


IBM Simon (1993)

If you’re like most, you probably think the first smartphone was the iPhone, maybe even the Blackberry … but you’d be wrong. The first smartphone (by back then standards) was 1993’s, IBM Simon. It boasted a calendar, address book, clock, notepad, PDA, email, QWERTY keyboard AND a touchscreen with a stylus and predictive typing. That’s all pretty good tech for being a product of the early 90s.


So, just how much did this pioneering smartphone retail for? Try $899 on a two-year contract or $1099 without one. Got to love the days of being locked into contracts … but just think, it only took 10 years for the tech to advance and the price tag to lower as much as it did from the OG – the DynaTAC.


Nokia 6110 (1997)

Aptly nicknamed “The brick,” this Nokia phone could probably survive being driven over by a monster truck. Thrown from the roof of a tall building. Or even a nuclear explosion for all we know. It seemed virtually indestructible. But perhaps more memorable than its durability was that it came preloaded with the greatest phone game of all time – snake. Yep, for a lot of first-time mobile phone users, the Nokia 6110 phone was the real deal.


BlackBerry 850 (1999)

When BlackBerry hit the phone market prior to the millennium, it appeared to be a game-changer. Picture everything you could ever need to do in the palm of your hand – email, touchscreen, address book, QWERTY keyboard, you name it, BlackBerry had it. Just ten years after its release, RIM (the company that created BlackBerry) was on track to become the fastest-growing company on the planet. Well … we all know how that panned out, don’t we? If you’re looking to point fingers, start with the company whose logo is a popular fruit with a bite taken out of it.


Motorola Razr (2004)

Back in the toddler days of mobile phones, Motorola was a pioneer. Not only did they release the very first cell phone ( the DynaTAC), but they also pioneered the best flip phone, the Razr. See, BlackBerry and Nokia’s devices were just getting too bulky. People wanted a sleeker option with more style. So in 2004, the Razr became marketed as a fashion meets function phone. And once the price dropped the following year, people couldn’t get enough of the device, selling over 50 million units by July 2006. Of course, by 2007, a challenger would enter the market and change everything we thought we knew about cell phones.


iPhone (2007)

The Motorola DynaTAC may have pioneered the consumer cell phone game, but the iPhone changed the game forever. Up until the iPhone 3G’s release, phones had reached a stagnation. The screens were meh, the designs were bulky and the QWERTY keyboard (or T9 for those who remember it) was losing popularity. Then along came the iPhone and with it a sleeker design, larger than life touchscreen and all the apps that we could ever imagine. With the arrival of the iPhone, the cell phone had finally died and the smartphone was officially born.


Samsung Galaxy Nexus/Note (2011)

Every great brand needs a competitor. For every Nike, there is an Adidas. Coke, a Pepsi. For the mobile phone industry, the latest battle is Android versus Apple. And while there are several smartphone brands that use Android for their operating systems, such as LG and Google, the biggest competition to the iPhone is Samsung and its line of Galaxy and Note devices.


The Galaxy S3 (2012) was probably one of the most popular Android devices, featuring the first in the series to have an HD screen, and the Galaxy Note introduced users to the largest (at the time) 5.3” touchscreen.


But that all begs the question of what’s next? Just look at where we are now. Only a smidge over 10 years from the first iPhone and we’re already on the iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy 10+. And it’s only going to continue to skyrocket as technology advances at the rate it’s been traversing. Today, our smartphones are our lifelines. And you’ve probably already looked at your phone three times while reading this article. And if that doesn’t tell you something about how far we’ve come … then what will?  

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