Aug 03 2020 Melquisedec Martinez


What’s the earliest mobile phone you remember using? Whether it’s a Nokia or a Motorola, many people consider these to be different devices than the smartphones we know and love today. Unsurprisingly, many believe that it was Apple that invented the smartphone with their iPhone launch in 2007. Actually, BellSouth Cellular and IBM created “the phone of the future” fifteen years earlier in hopes of providing users with the combined convenience of a telephone, fax machine, computer and personal digital assistant in the palm of their hands.

The first smartphone was a prototype created by IBM in 1992. Known as the Simon Personal Communicator, its release marks when smartphones truly got their start. IBM’s Simon Personal Communicator was made available to the public in 1994 and changed the way users interacted with mobile phones. Merging the capabilities of a cellular phone and a PDA, the original smartphone — a term coined shortly after the Simon Personal Communicator’s arrival in 1995 — was surprisingly not so different from our smartphones today.

Its monochrome LCD touchscreen was way ahead of its time and even came with its own stylus for precise control. Though it was significantly larger than many of the smaller iPhones & Androids we have today, the Simon Personal Communicator’s measured only 8″ x 2.5″ x 1.5″ and weighed approximately one pound. Along with the touchscreen, this device featured a variety of built-in applications like an address book, calculator, calendar, mail, note pad and to-do list. You could even integrate third-party applications into the device.

With additional features like predictive text and the ability to send or receive everything from emails to faxes, the first touchscreen phone debuted at a time when other mobile phones were being invented. Although the first example of mobile phone usage can be traced back to 1973, the first portable phone did not go public until the next decade. That phone, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x, was released in 1989 and led to the smaller-sized Motorola International 3200 in 1992.

Similar to IBM’s Simon Personal Communicator, the Nokia 9000 Communicator was released in 1996 and considered advanced for its time. This device was among the first phones with internet to hit the market, with web browsing capabilities added to their other business functions. Hot on its heels was Ericsson’s GS88 a year later, which is officially known as the first “smartphone” by name. Similarly, BlackBerry’s 850 in 1999 was known as the first wireless handheld computer to hit the market.

Throughout the 1990s, mobile phones changed significantly. Text messaging, email and various applications became necessary resources for business professionals and average consumers alike. One early problem with mobile and smartphones was the limited internet access and high fees associated with mobile phone usage. Experts believe that the Vodafone Prepaid Pay As You Go contracts launched in the mid-90s opened up opportunities for more users to afford these devices. In the ten years since these non-contract phone plans debuted, household ownership of mobile phones increased by 65 percent.

Moving through the 2000s, mobile phone technology continued to expand its capabilities. The sturdiness of the Nokia 3310, the T-Mobile Sidekick’s QWERTY keyboard, the Motorola Razr’s slim profile and the BlackBerry Pearl’s trackball navigation were all impressive features that made these devices desirable. Although the smartphone was technically born in the 1990s, the rise of the smartphone in pop and consumer culture definitely occurred after the millennium.

BlackBerry was a significant name in both mobile phone and smartphone technology during the early 2000s. Their first device that supported email and web browsing launched in 1999. By 2004, their devices had expanded to feature colored displays and full web browsing. As newer models were created, BlackBerry became a market leader in smartphones in part by catering their technology and applications to business professionals. Unfortunately, BlackBerry would begin a downward trend shortly after the debut of one of Apple’s most groundbreaking inventions — the iPhone.

When the first iPhone was unveiled in early 2007, Steve Jobs called it “five years ahead of any other mobile phone.” This was a dynamic departure from the mobile phones users were accustomed to. The traditional QWERTY keyboard was removed to provide room for a full touchscreen interface that utilized a multi-touch sensor. The iPhone had all of the features of other devices, such as the BlackBerry models, but the exceptional Apple OS X operating software also allowed users to stream movies, listen to songs, store photos and more.

The original iPhone was available in 4GB and 8GB models in 2007. By 2008, a first-generation iPhone was available with 16GB while the iPhone 3G debuted within six months of its release. From 2007 through present day, Apple has released either a new version of an existing iPhone or a next-generation iPhone at least once every year. Apple’s advancements over the last decade aren’t isolated — the first iPhone release defined what would be the future of smartphones for years to come.