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The first cell phone call was made 45 years ago – on April 3rd, 1973 by Martin Cooper, a Motorola engineer. He jubilantly called Joseph Engel, his rival at Bell Labs. Mobile telephone service had been introduced in 1946 by AT&T; their MTS system linked VHS radio signals to the local telephone system, requiring eighty pounds of hardware mounted in an automobile.
The DynaTAC, Motorola’s first commercial handheld cellular phone, which weighed in at a svelte 28 ounces, was launched ten years later, marking 1983 as the start of the cellular age. Despite a $3995 price tag, weighing in at nearly 2 pounds and a battery that needed to be recharged for 10 hours after 60 minutes of talk time, it was much envied and regularly featured in the news media as a symbol of wealth and futurism. The MicroTAC, introduced in 1989, was the first flip phone. Priced at just $2995, it fit easily into a jacket pocket, making it the first truly portable phone.
The first digital cell phones arrived in 1991, launching the second generation (G2) of cellular technology. Since digital signals can be readily compressed and manipulated, up to 10 digital transmissions can easily share the same bandwidth required for a single analog message. The IBM Simon Personal Communicator, introduced in 1994, combined the functions of a phone and a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). It was the first to feature a touchscreen and software “apps” and is now retrospectively recognized as the first smartphone – a term first introduced in 1995. The first mobile phone with Internet connectivity was the Nokia 9000 Communicator, launched in Finland in 1996.
In the late 1990’s, countries in North America and Western Europe were the first areas to begin rapid adoption of mobile phones. A mere 6% of US residents owned cell phones in 1993. This grew to 55% by 2003 and to 96% in 2013. Smartphones are clearly dominant today, owned by 77% of US residents. There are 123 mobile phone subscriptions for every 100 people in the US. Today, there are seven billion people in the world—and six billion cell phone subscriptions.
Has the mobile phone market already peaked? Android and Apple phones shared 99.9% of the smartphone market last year, with Android phones accounting for 86% of the 1.5 billion handsets sold. Shipments for 2017 showed a 5.6% fall in smartphone unit sales during the fourth quarter, the first decline in 20 years. Competing products have become more alike as the years pass, differing only in minute details. It’s not difficult to find a good phone and it’s no longer necessary to buy a phone every year. Manufacturers are beginning to reduce prices to maintain their market share.
Will newer developments stimulate growth again? We may soon find out, as G5 phones are due to arrive by 2020 with the promise of even faster service over wider areas. The World Economic Forum predicts that the first implantable phones will become commercially available by 2024.