The history of the mobile phone: very large, to small, and now getting bigger?

Last updated: 11 April 2014

Is it just me, or are cell phones (after decades of shrinking) getting bigger and bigger?

The first mobiles (models from the ‘Improved Mobile Telephone Service’ of the 1960s) were laughably large by today’s standards, and probably didn’t even warrant the description of ‘mobile’. Fortunately, the innovative and brilliant Martin Cooper, working for Motorola at the time, helped us take a major leap forward in telecommunication technology when he made the world’s first truly mobile call (from a handset weighing nearly two and half pounds) in 1973. He also decided to use the opportunity to call a rival telecoms company to inform them of his mobile capability; we can only imagine how that call must have been received.

Motorola DynaTAC8000X












When the first consumer mobile model came out, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, it offered 30 minutes of talk time, six hours standby, and could only store 30 phone numbers. It also cost a whopping $3,995! However, this was still a reason to celebrate as this model was considerably smaller than any previous versions, and it signalled the start of the race to compact the mobile. From this point on telecoms companies rallied to make handsets more ‘handy’ while increasing battery life and signal reach at the same time. It wasn’t long until the game changing Motorola MicroTAC 9800X then arrived in 1989; this was another significant step as the weight was reduced to 12 ounces and the battery life was extended to 30 hours standby and over 180 minutes of talk time.

Motorola MicroTAC







The race went on and devices continued on to get smaller and smaller, until we witnessed the tiny and light Nokia 7600, released in 2003, and then the smallest phones ever, the key fob phones of the last few years, which proved popular with prison gangs due to their ease of concealment. The race for the smallest appeared to be over; we seemed to have perfected the art of tiny phones by the mid 2000s. So what could possibly change our thinking so drastically?

iPhone 1st Gen








The iPhone… Apple’s release in 2007 was ground-breaking, and serves as a perfect example of how they are continuing to innovate 30 years on from the launch of the original MAC. Completely replacing the QWERTY keyboard was a stroke of genius from Steve Jobs and co. The auto-rotate sensor and multi-touch sensor that allowed multiple inputs while ignoring minor touches to the screen proved to be a worldwide hit and gave Apple an immediately healthy market share. This phone also showed us how the future would feature larger screens and phones from all brands.


Samsung Phablet







The big screen frenzy across the telecoms industry picked up momentum very quickly as all smartphones began to feature touchscreen, multi-touch sensor technology. Before we knew it, screens were becoming ‘huge’ and almost un-wieldy. And, in addition to the increase in size, we’ve also seen a decrease to the average battery life as smartphones with big screens consume considerably more power than smaller phones such as the Nokia 105 which can remain on standby for up to 35 days!

However, the smaller, more battery-efficient ‘dumb phones’ fail to compare to today’s smartphones which are essentially mini computers capable of more than we ever thought possible before the 21st century. This is especially the case if you desire applications (known as ‘apps’), such as mobile banking apps for example.

So where are we now? The rise of the Internet of Things and the endless possibilities for M2M have opened up all sorts of new uses for mobile technology. We just need to hope that phones don’t get too big, otherwise our pockets might have to increase in size as well. Fortunately, we shouldn’t have to resort to this as Jeffrey Van Camp from Digital Trends reckons the race is over.

Do you think the race for bigger screens is over? Let us know @Gemalto, or come see us at Mobile World Congress in Hall 5, Stand 5A80.