Today there are more cell phones on the planet than people. It all started half a century ago with a conversation.
The phone call that was supposed to start a revolution was actually rather despicable. “Hi, Joel,” said Motorola engineer Martin Cooper to his colleague.
“I’m calling you from a cell phone. But a real cell phone. A personal, portable cell phone,” Cooper recalls the first call ever from a cell phone. Colleague Joel was so amazed that there was silence on the other end of the line. This Monday (April 3rd) is exactly 50 years since the first call from a mobile phone.
On this day in 1973, Cooper was standing on 6th Avenue in the heart of New York. A few years ago, he said his team had announced a press conference for the presentation of the first mobile phone for that day. But then a journalist asked him about the device. Cooper spontaneously decided to give the journalist a “dazzling demonstration”.
50 years later, DynaTAC, the first functional mobile phone, looks like a monster compared to modern devices: Cooper’s prototype with a large antenna weighed almost a kilo and was 25 centimeters long. The infrastructure for mobile calls has existed in the US for a number of years – in the form of cellular cells for car phones.
Cooper and his team packed the technology into a portable device, and it wasn’t mass production until more than ten years later: In 1983, Motorola released the DynaTAC 8000X, which sold for $4,000 – which is well over $10,000 today. In return, the paying customer got a full 30 minutes of battery life. No wonder that sales were initially limited.
Digital mobile communications in Germany since 1992
Digital mobile communications were introduced in Germany in the summer of 1992. The legendary “bone” first prevailed on the market, the Motorola International 3200 – weighing more than 500 grams with a battery capacity for a maximum of 120 minutes of talk time and a price of around 3000 DM, as the technical director of Vodafone Germany, Tanja Richter, executed once. “For the time, that was a small fortune.” In April 1993, just under a year after the start, several hundred thousand subscribers were already using the Deutsche Telekom and Mannesmann D networks.
A new service then made mobile phones particularly attractive for young people: the “Short Message Service” (SMS) with its 160 characters. The first SMS with the message “Merry Christmas” went to Vodafone employee Richard Jarvis on December 3, 1992. It was introduced in Germany in 1994, and five years later Germans were already sending around 3.6 billion text messages. The dictionary included the word “Simsen” in its vocabulary.
It became increasingly clear: the future belonged to mobile phones, as well as messages and conversations while on the move. A leap followed in 2007 when Steve Jobs presented the iPhone to an astonished world public. With innovative functions and a new type of user interface, it helped smartphones achieve a breakthrough. With the first Samsung Galaxy, the duel between the iPhone and Google’s Android operating system finally began in 2009, which has shaped the smartphone world to this day.
There are now more cell phones than people in the world, and devices have spread to almost every corner of the world. Besides iPhone and Android smartphones, there are tons of simple feature phones in countries like India. In Germany there are currently almost two mobile phone connections for every person.
Text instead of on the phone
However, the telephone call, the personal conversation, has lost much of its importance. Texting – whether via Instagram, Whatsapp, iMessage or other platforms – has largely replaced speaking. Calling someone is sometimes considered pushy, especially among young people. Rather, some would send a voice message. What seems completely normal today would have been comparable a few years ago to people only talking to each other on the answering machine.
Communication via cellphones in general is now almost unimaginable for almost everyone, while landline connections are becoming less and less important. Martin Cooper wasn’t even sure if the mobile phone revolution would actually start before the trendsetting idea: “We were worried if the phone would work if we turned it on. Luckily it did.”