Mobile Phones

From wireless to portable and mobile technology

Mobile technology includes everything from the networks, devices and software used in mobile communication. Mobile technology has evolved greatly over the past couple of decades. This collection of sources shows the gradual developments and revolutionary inventions that changed mobile technology throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The sources do not only convey the evolution in technology, but also highlight the impact these changes had on communication and on society in general.

Acknowledgements: This source collection has been developed by Jaco Stoop with the support of Laura Steenbrink. The sources are provided by the National Library of France, Kulturarvsstyrelsen, Telemuseet, Museum-Digital, The Wellcome Library, Universität Osnabrück, Larvik Museum, Museon, CODA Apeldoorn and Tekniska museet.

Wireless, but not practical...

This picture shows a man making a phone call using a wireless telephone with three receiver tubes. Initially, wireless phones were not very practical, and of course also not widespread. Moreover, you can see that even though it was called wireless, this type of wireless phones contained several threads and even required two people to carry it. This phone is a predecessor of the mobile phone, and must have been one of the first portable devices. The first tests were made by the German railways for military use in 1918. (National Library of France 12148/btv1b9031874h, Public Domain Marked http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/)

Wireless, but not practical...

This picture shows a man making a phone call using a wireless telephone with three receiver tubes. Initially, wireless phones were not very practical, and of course also not widespread. Moreover, you can see that even though it was called wireless, this type of wireless phones contained several threads and even required two people to carry it. This phone is a predecessor of the mobile phone, and must have been one of the first portable devices. The first tests were made by the German railways for military use in 1918. (National Library of France 12148/btv1b9031874h, Public Domain Marked http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/)

Military purposes

An S-Phone, including antenna and suitcase. It was used to connect Copenhagen (Denmark) to Malmö (Sweden) in 1945. The army used these S-Phones for communication with pilots and between bases. Commercial usage of mobile radio phones by the public did not occur yet. (Kulturarvsstyrelsen 01690X29784, 5055725, CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

Military purposes

An S-Phone, including antenna and suitcase. It was used to connect Copenhagen (Denmark) to Malmö (Sweden) in 1945. The army used these S-Phones for communication with pilots and between bases. Commercial usage of mobile radio phones by the public did not occur yet. (Kulturarvsstyrelsen 01690X29784, 5055725, CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

Field army phone

It is clear that for especially for military purposes, it was convenient that the phones were as small and portable as possible. This was necessary to carry them fast from one place to the other when a fight was taking place or the unit had to move from one place to the other. In comparison to the previous phone, the S-phone from 1945, this model from two years later (1947) is already much smaller and more portable. This could imply that the technology advanced quickly around the end of the Second World War. (Tekniska Museet, CC BY-NC-ND http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/)

Field army phone

It is clear that for especially for military purposes, it was convenient that the phones were as small and portable as possible. This was necessary to carry them fast from one place to the other when a fight was taking place or the unit had to move from one place to the other. In comparison to the previous phone, the S-phone from 1945, this model from two years later (1947) is already much smaller and more portable. This could imply that the technology advanced quickly around the end of the Second World War. (Tekniska Museet, CC BY-NC-ND http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/)

Mobile radio

Over time, the mobile radio became much smaller and more practical. The radio pictured here, produced between 1966 and 1973, already functioned like a mobile telephone, because it was able to call and receive 24 pre-installed frequencies. It is possible that this device was used by the police, ambulance or the red cross. This means that the public still did not have access to them. Moreover, it could be charged in a car, which made it already a lot more practical than the predecessors or the mobile devices used for military purposes (1966). (Telemuseet TELE/TELE.Sg-215, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Mobile radio

Over time, the mobile radio became much smaller and more practical. The radio pictured here, produced between 1966 and 1973, already functioned like a mobile telephone, because it was able to call and receive 24 pre-installed frequencies. It is possible that this device was used by the police, ambulance or the red cross. This means that the public still did not have access to them. Moreover, it could be charged in a car, which made it already a lot more practical than the predecessors or the mobile devices used for military purposes (1966). (Telemuseet TELE/TELE.Sg-215, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Walkie-Talkie

The official name of the Walkie-Talkie is handheld transceiver. It was very important during the Second World War and may be seen as a predecessor to the mobile phone. Two people could talk to each other, but had to stay within a certain range of each other to not lose the signal. This is a model from 1970. They are still being produced and used today, but not much for commercial use. (Telemuseet TELE.TKU-4432, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Walkie-Talkie

The official name of the Walkie-Talkie is handheld transceiver. It was very important during the Second World War and may be seen as a predecessor to the mobile phone. Two people could talk to each other, but had to stay within a certain range of each other to not lose the signal. This is a model from 1970. They are still being produced and used today, but not much for commercial use. (Telemuseet TELE.TKU-4432, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Car phones

Before mobile phones became popular and affordable, the technology was first applied in cars. The problems regarding its size and power source were less pending in cars, and therefore the mobile phone was easily incorporated in certain luxury cars (1981). (Telemuseet TELE/TELE.TKU-5785, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Car phones

Before mobile phones became popular and affordable, the technology was first applied in cars. The problems regarding its size and power source were less pending in cars, and therefore the mobile phone was easily incorporated in certain luxury cars (1981). (Telemuseet TELE/TELE.TKU-5785, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

A 1 kilogram handheld phone

In 1983, Motorola introduced the first commercial mobile phone. It was developed by Dr. Martin Cooper, who was also the first to place a phone call using a mobile phone, distinct from the car phone, in 1973. He is considered by many as the “Fater of the cellphone”. The type of phone portrayed here costed thousands of dollars, so not many people were able to afford them. (Museum-Digital DE-MUS-496713/1924, CC BY-NC-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/)

A 1 kilogram handheld phone

In 1983, Motorola introduced the first commercial mobile phone. It was developed by Dr. Martin Cooper, who was also the first to place a phone call using a mobile phone, distinct from the car phone, in 1973. He is considered by many as the “Fater of the cellphone”. The type of phone portrayed here costed thousands of dollars, so not many people were able to afford them. (Museum-Digital DE-MUS-496713/1924, CC BY-NC-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/)

Mobile technology for some, telephone boxes for many

Although by now, mobile phones existed, for many they were still off limits. The picture shows a group of teenage boys and girls making prank phone calls from a telephone box. (The Wellcome Library AS0000128F01, CC BY-NC-ND http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/)

Mobile technology for some, telephone boxes for many

Although by now, mobile phones existed, for many they were still off limits. The picture shows a group of teenage boys and girls making prank phone calls from a telephone box. (The Wellcome Library AS0000128F01, CC BY-NC-ND http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/)

“Merry Christmas”

That was the text of the first text message or SMS ever sent to another mobile phone, on 3 December 1992. The 160-character messages became extremely popular. Later, however, competition from other types of messaging (using data connections) have challenged the popularity of SMS. Text-messaging also caused telecommunications to become much cheaper and available to a wider public. (Universität Osnabrück | Historische Bildpostkarten 10642 CC BY-NC-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/)

“Merry Christmas”

That was the text of the first text message or SMS ever sent to another mobile phone, on 3 December 1992. The 160-character messages became extremely popular. Later, however, competition from other types of messaging (using data connections) have challenged the popularity of SMS. Text-messaging also caused telecommunications to become much cheaper and available to a wider public. (Universität Osnabrück | Historische Bildpostkarten 10642 CC BY-NC-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/)

Satellite phone

Already from the end of the 1970s, satellite phones are being used for communication over longer distances. The signal goes via a satellite and radio to the receiver. This model, created in 1993 weight 35 kilos so it was not that portable. (Telemuseet TELE.TKU-6571, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Satellite phone

Already from the end of the 1970s, satellite phones are being used for communication over longer distances. The signal goes via a satellite and radio to the receiver. This model, created in 1993 weight 35 kilos so it was not that portable. (Telemuseet TELE.TKU-6571, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Phone without battery

This is a phone, produced by Motorola in 1994, that had no battery yet. This means that it was wireless, but not completely portable, because you would need the cable to actually use it. The cover illustrates that the phone was easy to use and probably did not break down easily. Perhaps it was even waterproof. (Larvik Museum HL.04863, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Phone without battery

This is a phone, produced by Motorola in 1994, that had no battery yet. This means that it was wireless, but not completely portable, because you would need the cable to actually use it. The cover illustrates that the phone was easy to use and probably did not break down easily. Perhaps it was even waterproof. (Larvik Museum HL.04863, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Smaller is better

In the 1990s and early 2000s, consumers generally held the opinion that smaller phones were better. The flip-phone was already introduced in 1989, but later the technology became more sophisticated, and phones became smaller and smaller. The form of the phone derived from the example of laptops, that already used the form from 1982 onwards. This Motorola was the first mobile phone of this type of flip-phone. (Telemuseet TELE/TELE.TKU-5847, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Smaller is better

In the 1990s and early 2000s, consumers generally held the opinion that smaller phones were better. The flip-phone was already introduced in 1989, but later the technology became more sophisticated, and phones became smaller and smaller. The form of the phone derived from the example of laptops, that already used the form from 1982 onwards. This Motorola was the first mobile phone of this type of flip-phone. (Telemuseet TELE/TELE.TKU-5847, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Nokia 3310: a device for all

This is one of the most popular mobile phones of its time, most famous for its indestructibility and the simple but famours game “Snake”. It was produced in 2000 and was one of the most successful mobile phones and, besides a game like Snake, new features: a stopwatch, calculator and a reminder function. (Telemuseet TELE/TELE.TKU-6062, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Nokia 3310: a device for all

This is one of the most popular mobile phones of its time, most famous for its indestructibility and the simple but famours game “Snake”. It was produced in 2000 and was one of the most successful mobile phones and, besides a game like Snake, new features: a stopwatch, calculator and a reminder function. (Telemuseet TELE/TELE.TKU-6062, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Small, smaller, smallest

When the mobile phone was affordable for many people and produced on a large scale, the demand for smaller and more easily portable phones raised. This is probably one of the smallest models of the time and very easy to use and carry on (2000). (Telemuseet TELE.TKU-6038, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Small, smaller, smallest

When the mobile phone was affordable for many people and produced on a large scale, the demand for smaller and more easily portable phones raised. This is probably one of the smallest models of the time and very easy to use and carry on (2000). (Telemuseet TELE.TKU-6038, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The great communicators

In the 2000s, so-called personal data assistants were introduced: mobile phones that were much more than just phones. Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and similar devices were able to run agenda and word-processing applications as well as games, and possessed complete keyboards, like personal computers and laptops. People started using phones not just for basic communication, but also for managing tasks and other purposes. This can already be seen as the first sign that the public was prepared to have a bigger device in exchange for a mobile phone that had more features. (Telemuseet TELE/TELE.TKU-7262, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The great communicators

In the 2000s, so-called personal data assistants were introduced: mobile phones that were much more than just phones. Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and similar devices were able to run agenda and word-processing applications as well as games, and possessed complete keyboards, like personal computers and laptops. People started using phones not just for basic communication, but also for managing tasks and other purposes. This can already be seen as the first sign that the public was prepared to have a bigger device in exchange for a mobile phone that had more features. (Telemuseet TELE/TELE.TKU-7262, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The digital revolution

Developments in micro-chip production opened up new opportunities for better and faster mobile devices. While phones and other mobile technologies become bigger again, the chips that run them are decreasing in size and increasing in capacity. The picture shows a so-called wafer, used as material to print micro-chips. (Museon 201330, CC BY http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)

The digital revolution

Developments in micro-chip production opened up new opportunities for better and faster mobile devices. While phones and other mobile technologies become bigger again, the chips that run them are decreasing in size and increasing in capacity. The picture shows a so-called wafer, used as material to print micro-chips. (Museon 201330, CC BY http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)

The age of data

With the introduction of mobile data on a large scale, internet access on mobile phones has increased rapidly, radically changing the way people communicate with each other. (CODA Apeldoorn GA-023522, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/nl/)

The age of data

With the introduction of mobile data on a large scale, internet access on mobile phones has increased rapidly, radically changing the way people communicate with each other. (CODA Apeldoorn GA-023522, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/nl/)

Tiny PDA: BlackBerry

After the development and mass production of the PDA, the next innovation was the creation of mobile internet on mobile devices. The BlackBerry is a good example of the early smartphones, that, besides calling, SMS and PDA features could function like a mini-computer. The BlackBerry was very popular but received a lot of critics because, in the ‘00s, rumours were spread that the US government was bugging BlackBerry’s that were used by governments and in the business world. In addition, the phone quickly got a nickname, “Crackberry”, for its addictive nature. This model was produced in 2006. (Telemuseet TELE.TKU-7596, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Tiny PDA: BlackBerry

After the development and mass production of the PDA, the next innovation was the creation of mobile internet on mobile devices. The BlackBerry is a good example of the early smartphones, that, besides calling, SMS and PDA features could function like a mini-computer. The BlackBerry was very popular but received a lot of critics because, in the ‘00s, rumours were spread that the US government was bugging BlackBerry’s that were used by governments and in the business world. In addition, the phone quickly got a nickname, “Crackberry”, for its addictive nature. This model was produced in 2006. (Telemuseet TELE.TKU-7596, CC BY-SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Touchscreens

The Apple iPhone, introduced in 2007, is only one of many smartphones that take the PDA-idea to a whole new level. Mobile technology is increasingly used not just to communicate but as a tool for organizing, documenting and sharing one’s life. (Tekniska museet 1294490, CC BY-NC-ND http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/)

Touchscreens

The Apple iPhone, introduced in 2007, is only one of many smartphones that take the PDA-idea to a whole new level. Mobile technology is increasingly used not just to communicate but as a tool for organizing, documenting and sharing one’s life. (Tekniska museet 1294490, CC BY-NC-ND http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/)