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A 50-year history of the mobile phone in 5 minutes

TL;DR: It’s only been 50 years since the first cell phone call was made by Motorola's Dr. Marty Cooper in 1973. Even more incredible is the technological advancement in the mobile device space since that pivotal outgoing call. From the first cordless mobile phone (capable of only 30 minutes of talk time) to the now global industry surpassing over 7 billion users worldwide, mobile phones have transformed how we live, work, and interact in and with the world - and we’ve only just begun. 

In this article, we time-travel through the explosive journey of mobile phone technology, but to save you a scroll, here’s what we cover:

  • What role did hardware development play in the rise of mobile phones?
    Over the last 5 decades, mobile phones have changed dramatically in size, shape, and functionality. These advancements have been driven in large part innovation in wireless technology and hardware including screens, keyboards, cameras, GPS chips, biometric sensors, and other components that could not have been dreamt about 50 years ago.
  • How has software development shaped smartphones?
    Software development, especially mobile apps, have transformed mobile phones into life- and society-changing devices. More than just replacing earlier technology, such as the Walkman and camera, mobile device software has unleashed a whole new way of engaging with the world.

Interested in the historical journey of the mobile phone? Read on for some key moments.

From corded to supercomputer in 50 years

On a global level, mobile phones are ubiquitous in everyday life. These pocket-sized supercomputers have become an essential tool in helping us do almost anything – take photos, communicate, manage our finances, be entertained, navigate, and more.

While Finnish inventor Eric Tigerstedt may have imagined the future of mobile communications when he filed a patent in 1917 for a “pocket-size folding telephone with a very thin carbon microphone,” it wasn’t until 1973 that the rise of the modern cell phone began its astronomical ascent.

Now that we’ve arrived at the 50th anniversary of that first phone call, let’s take a trip down memory lane and explore how the history of mobile phones unfolded.

April 1973: The first mobile phone call is made

Following decades of foundational inventions and unprecedented technological advancements, the first mobile phone call is made by Dr. Marty Cooper, an engineer at Motorola, from a street corner outside his office in New York City. Fun fact: the call was made to a rival at Bell Laboratories, and Cooper "recalls there being silence on the end of the line" once he explained that the call was being made from a portable cell phone.

1984: Motorola motors in with the first commercial mobile phone

The first commercially available hand-portable mobile phone is introduced to the market: the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. While its specs might not have today’s technophiles lining up for launch day (30 minutes of talk time, 10 hours to fully charge, and weighing in at a hefty 790 grams), the DynaTAC’s release marked the beginning of the supersonic rise of the modern, commercial mobile phone industry.

1991: Nokia goes public with the GSM network

The first digital Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) network is publicly launched by Nokia in Finland. GSM was introduced to the world on July 1, 1991, when former Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri had a three-minute chat with Deputy Mayor of Tampere Kaarina Suonio over the 2G network.

1992: 'Simon' sets a smartphone precedent

The first smartphone is introduced: the IBM Simon Personal Communicator or Simon, for short. Equipped with a touchscreen and predictive text typing features, as well as 11 built-in programs including a calculator, calendar, and note-taking application, Simon was the first device to add the ‘smart’ to cell phones, although the term 'smartphone' wouldn’t be coined for another seven years.

1992: The first text message is sent

Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old software engineer, hits 'send' on the first text message to his colleague Richard Jarvis. Sent from his computer to Jarvis’ mobile phone, Papworth shared a festive “Merry Christmas” on December 3, 1992.

1997: Lights, camera, smartphone

The first camera phone photo is snapped by Philippe Kahn following the birth of his daughter, allowing him to share photos of the special family moment in real time. Five years later, in 2002, camera phones hit the commercial market in two device models: the Nokia 7650 and the Sanyo SPC-5300, revolutionizing the way we capture our daily lives, and likely inspiring a series of photo and video-based apps that form the foundation of the 'social media' landscape.

1999: BlackBerry enters the building

The first BlackBerry takes the mobile phone market by storm. Targeted at busy business people on-the-go, BlackBerry’s unparalleled email service made seamless “work from anywhere” a reality. Equally as important, emojis were also introduced to the mobile phone market in 1999 by Shigetaka Kurita in Japan, a notable upgrade from their all-text emoticon predecessors.

2007: Apple revolutionizes an entire industry with the iPhone

Former Apple president Steve Jobs shocks the mobile phone world when he famously unveils “an iPod, a phone and an internet communicator” on stage at MacWorld in January 2007 with the official launch of the first Apple iPhone. The large screen touch display and brand-new user interface was seemingly light-years ahead of its competitors.

2008: HTC unlocks the Android market

Hot on Apple’s heels, HTC launches the first-ever mobile device to feature an Android operating system, the HTC Dream, in 2008. A worthy competitor, the Dream featured a three-inch touchscreen which slid open to reveal a five-row QWERTY keyboard and apps like YouTube and Google Maps (with Street View!), and access to the Android market.

2010: The battle between Android and iOS heats up

At the turn of the 2010s, the rise of the smartphone, and some steep competition between Android and iOS, had taken hold. Android officially surpassed the iPhone in global market share, representing a significant shift in the smartphone landscape. The broad adoption of 4G network technology catapulted smartphone use to the masses via several new competitive smartphone devices, including the Samsung Galaxy S and HTC Evo.

2013: Apple goes biometric

Biometric authentication hits the mobile market with Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint scanner, a noteworthy milestone in both mobile security and the way we interact with our mobile devices. Touch ID introduced a new level of convenience for users and opened new possibilities for secure mobile payments, including Apple Pay, which would be introduced to the market the following year. 

2014: Median gets started with web-to-app conversion

Median is founded, providing the technology for app developers to create and publish native mobile apps for iOS and Android using existing web content and web development technologies like HTML and CSS. An enormous time- and resource-saving advancement, Median has been used to build over a million apps to date.

2019: The world gets wireless

5G technology is introduced, representing a significant leap forward in wireless technology. With its faster speeds and lower latency, 5G has the power and potential to drive innovation in industries such as healthcare, transportation, manufacturing, entertainment, and online gaming.

2023: No sign of stopping the mobile app industry

Smartphone mobile network subscriptions are expected to surpass 7.8 billion worldwide by 2028 (which is 98% of today's projected world population!), an astonishing testament to the rapid expansion of mobile technology over the last 50 years, and evidence of smartphone dominance in daily life across continents.

There’s no question: mobile phones have transformed how we communicate, access information, and interact with the world around us. If you’re ready to be a part of the next 50 years of smartphone history, and engage your customers on their beloved mobile device, Median can help.

Since 2014, we’ve helped our customers publish over 3,500 iOS and Android apps to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Our team manages end-to-end app publishing, ensuring compliance with app store guidelines and seeing that your app is approved and available for download as quickly as possible.

We’re proud to be a part of the history of mobile phone development, and even more excited for what's next.

*DISCLAIMER: This content is provided solely for informational purposes. It is not exhaustive and may not be relevant for your requirements. While we have obtained and compiled this information from sources we believe to be reliable, we cannot and do not guarantee its accuracy. This content is not to be considered professional advice and does not form a professional relationship of any kind between you and LLC or its affiliates. is the industry-leading end-to-end solution for developing, publishing, and maintaining native mobile apps for iOS and Android powered by web content. When considering any technology vendor we recommend that you conduct detailed research and “read the fine print” before using their services.*
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