The iPhone 6, which is not the lightest phone ever made, weighs almost 130g. The very first portable cell phone, devised by engineers at Motorola more than forty years ago, weighed as much as fifteen iPhones. It took another ten years to get from there to the first cell phone you could actually buy. How did we get from something that almost wrenched your arm out of its socket, to a tiny, lightweight device more powerful than the computers that guided man to the moon in 1969?
It’s a story of huge leaps, which seem to get bigger as time goes on. Today, most users take it for granted that they’ll be able not only to make and receive calls almost anywhere, but also that there’ll be an excellent camera, often with HD video, built in to their phone. We expect not just an electronic beep when we get a message – we want to be able to use any sound in the world, and we want to be able to record it ourselves. We also want our phones to entertain us. Very simple games were a relatively early feature, but today we want to be able to play, compete and gamble, using games with incredible graphics, against people from all over the world; from word games like Scrabble, through ports of console games like GTA, to secure, exciting Euro casino games like roulette and baccarat, at sites that we know we can trust. Today you’re as likely to see a grandmother playing video poker at an online casino on a smartphone, as you are to see a teenager playing Halo.
Fashion has played a part in the cell phone’s development. In the early 1990’s, users carrying huge, brick-like devices were often perceived as yuppies – irritating, suit-wearing business people, yelling into massive handsets. Things began to change during the 2G era, as digital technology allowed devices to get smaller. By the mid 1990’s, many people had friends or family members with cell phones, and they had become pocket-sized, attractive things to own. As user numbers increased, prices came down – and cell phone coverage increased. By 2014, there were seven billion cell phone connections worldwide – that’s one SIM card for literally everyone on the planet!
Features & Futures
But it’s the incredible, ever-increasing range of features that has driven the growth of cell phone use more than anything else. Cameras didn’t appear until 2000, and then only in Japan, but by 2010 they had displaced digital cameras sales-wise. Fifteen years ago, people would leave the house with a digital camera, a cell phone, a CD Walkman and perhaps a GameBoy. Today, a smartphone gives you all of those (or the equivalent) in one device, and a whole lot more besides. Nobody could have predicted this rapidity of development in the early 1990’s – except perhaps Arthur C. Clarke – so where will we be even ten years from now?