The evolution of the mobile phone

It’s shocking but true that the invention of the mobile phone is nearly fifty years old. A prototype mobile handset developed by Motorola was used to make the world’s first mobile phone call in 1973 – they called one of their competitors to let them know the good news.

However, while mobile phones existed way back in the 70s, it was a long time before they were accessible. For starters, Australia’s first mobile network wasn’t built until 1981, with just three 500MHz base stations operating out of Melbourne. 2G mobile networks didn’t roll out in capital cities until 1993.

It’s fair to say that mobiles have gotten pretty popular in the decades that followed, with 75.8% of Aussies owning a smartphone as of 2017. Today, most of us can’t imagine life without our mobiles handy – especially those running a small business.

Let’s look at how our handsets got to be the way they are today.

1983: The not-so-mobile mobile

You couldn’t fit this one in your pocket! The Motorola DynaTAC 8000X was roughly the size of a brick and weighed in at a hearty 784 grams. That said, at the time, this handset was considered revolutionary because its predecessors were more ‘suitcase’ than ‘phone’ and could weigh up to 10 kilos. Taking about 10 hours to charge up for just 30 minutes of talk time, the DynaTAC’s 1980s price tag had the buying power of about $10,000USD in today’s money – so it was enjoyed by only the fanciest of corporate bigwigs. The latest iPhone is looking a bit less expensive now, huh?

1992: Ready, set, GSM!

Fast forward to the rollout of the GSM 2G mobile network, and mobile handsets had already gotten considerably smaller. The Nokia 101 was a much more convenient 280 grams, allowing it to be marketed as “the world’s most portable phone”. With spaced-out buttons and a backlit monochrome display that you could see in the dark, they were simple devices that were designed to be easy to use.

1996: The first smartphone

Bet you didn’t expect to see a smartphone this early in the timeline! It’s very different to the smartphones we enjoy today but by definition, a smartphone is a device that combines the functions of a mobile telephone and a computer. The Nokia 9000 Communicator ticked these boxes, featuring fax, email, a calculator, and even a web browser. Since these were the days before touchscreens, the handset flipped open to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard.

1998: An iconic accessory

By the late 1990s, mobiles were starting to gain status not only as an important tool, but also as personal accessories. The Nokia 5110 was one of the first phones to feature snap-on plastic covers, allowing users to customise the handset’s appearance according to their own tastes. Combine that with excellent durability and great battery life, and you can see why this was a very popular model in its day.

2005: The age of itty-bitty 3G machines

As the 3G mobile market began to roll out in the early 2000s, more mobile devices were able to do two new things: take pictures and connect to the internet. However, there still wasn’t much to do on that new-fangled mobile internet beyond basic browsing, particularly within the constraints of early mobile web browsers which were much clunkier than the ones we enjoy today (arrow keys, anyone?). The trend was still very much focused on making 3G handsets smaller and lighter – often in weird and wonderful ways, such as the tiny Nokia 7600 that weighed just 123 grams!

2008: A new way to get in touch

Did you know the original Apple iPhone never released in Australia? The very first iPhone released down under was the iPhone 3G, one year later. The handset featured just one button beneath a feature that would become integral to just about every smartphone to follow: a touch screen that took up most of the phone. Said touch screen made it easy-peasy for Aussies to use Apple’s new mobile OS, which included GPS-assisted Google Maps, iTunes, and the App Store. Mobile web browsing was now becoming a convenience, not a chore.   

2009: Android enters the ring

Hot on the heels of the iPhone release was the HTC Dream, the first handset on the Australian market to be powered by Google’s Android OS. This model featured a touch screen interface and a trackball amongst its modest strip of buttons. While the trackball never really caught on, Android OS would soon become one of the major competitors in the market.

2012: More screen, please!

With the 4G mobile network starting to gain momentum across Australia, smartphones are becoming more and more powerful in terms of computer processors, memory, picture quality and mobile data speed. The way we used smartphones became increasingly visual. This brought about a shift in consumer demand for the largest screens possible. The iPhone 5 released with a 4-inch display. However, bigger screens drain batteries a lot faster, so battery life became a serious concern.

2017: Goodbye button

In the quest for ever-larger mobile screens, there was pretty much only one feature left to get rid of: the humble home button. Samsung was first to give theirs the flick with the launch of the Galaxy S8. The physical button was replaced by – you guessed it – a digital button on the touch screen, which measured in at a glorious 5.8 inches (or 6.2 inches if you sprung for the Galaxy S8+). The Galaxy S8 also featured a trio of security options to unlock the screen: a fingerprint scanner, an iris scanner, and rudimentary facial recognition. The latter was convenient but ultimately not the most secure – in some cases a photo could be used instead of the owner’s actual face.

2018: The ‘dumbphone’ niche market

While conventional smartphones have a lot of features, they’re not for everyone. There’s plenty of customers who prioritise affordability, durability and battery life over having a somewhat-delicate supercomputer in their back pocket. ‘Dumbphones’ are mobiles that go back to the basics with non-touch screens and a full physical keypad. The CAT B35 handset from Caterpillar Inc. (a company that also manufactures heavy machinery) has a standby battery life of 30 days.

2020: Slicker security features

As they become more integrated with our daily lives, smartphones have become a valuable source of personal information. With access to private correspondence, social media and even mobile payment features linked directly to bank accounts or credit cards, security is more important than ever. Fingerprint scanners and Multi-Factor Authentication are fast becoming default features on most smartphones, but some models are designed with security as a priority. The Sirin Labs Finney U1 offers robust protection from cyber security threats, which is particularly important for users of another one of its features – a built-in cold storage wallet for cryptocurrency.


2021 and beyond: What we can expect to see next

While it’s true that physical mobile handset design hasn’t been very diverse since the advent of the touch screen, there are still interesting things to look forward to! As technology innovates and becomes easier to produce, some of the elite features exclusive to top-end handsets may trickle down to more affordable models. We’re talking about built-in wireless charging capability, 4K (or even 8K) video capture, and vertical-folding touchscreens to allow larger displays than ever before.

Looking for a business mobile SIM plan?

Our value-packed Mobile SIM plans are a great pick for any savvy small business owner. You bring handset and we’ll bring the mobile SIM so you can enjoy these awesome features:

  • Unlimited Talk & Text to Standard AU Numbers
  • $0 SIM and delivery
  • No lock-in contract
  • Keep your mobile number
  • 50% off your mobile plan fees for the first 6 months for new business mobile customers

Best of all – if you bundle our 40GB SIM plan with any active iiNet internet service, you’ll score a bonus 80GB of mobile data every month for as long as you stay bundled – that’s a total of 120GB of monthly mobile data!

Visit our website or call us on 13 86 89 to find out more.

Bundle offer: Min charge $84.99 incl. $69.99 NBN50 plan fees for one month. Modem and delivery charges may apply. 6-month offer for new iiNet business mobile customers only. If you cancel or move your internet service to another provider in the future or the service becomes inactive for any other reason, your mobile data will automatically return to 40GB per month at the beginning of your next billing period.

Image credits