The world’s first commercially available mobile phone was the Dynatac, launched commercially by Motorola in 1984, 10 years after the phone’s inventor, Martin Cooper, made the first mobile phone call on a prototype Dynatac in April 1973. Fifty years on from that first call, mobile phones have moved from a device that can make and receive a voice call to a powerful pocket-sized computer. The recent acquisitions to MOTAT’s collection chart this incredible development, made possible by the varying technologies that enabled it.
Motorola Dynatac [2021.8.11] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
Motorola manufactured the Dynatac (abbreviated from “Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage”) series of phones from 1983 until 1994, and the example in MOTAT’s collection likely dates towards the end of that time period. Though it is now without its battery, which would have added additional depth to the phone, its size still conveys the bulkiness of early mobile phones.
The first Dynatac phones required 10 hours of charging and allowed only 30 minutes of talk time. With a high price tag, $3,995 in America when launched, a Dynatac doesn’t seem like a great deal in comparison to today’s mobiles, however they took mobile phones out of cars, where the engine was needed to power the phone, and so allowed a previously unheard-of portability for a phone. The technology that enabled this included not just the integrated circuits and microprocessors in the phone itself but also the cellular network that supported its call, the AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone System) analogue mobile phone system standard, introduced in America in October 1983, and which the Dynatac was built for. Telecom New Zealand launched its AMPS analogue cellular network in August 1987.
Sony CM H333 [2021.8.7] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
Where the Dynatac was often referred to as the brick phone, Sony’s 1992 CM H333 model, launched in 1992, was known as the “Mars Bar” as its size and weight were similar to a Mars chocolate bar. Calls were answered or ended by sliding the earpiece up or down. It was Sony’s first commercially available mobile phone and the company intended to challenge Motorola and Nokia’s strength in the market by trading on their already widely known name. Sony and the Swedish phone manufacturer Ericsson formed a joint venture in 2001 to manufacture mobile phones under the Sony Ericsson brand, with phones launched under this brand later drawing on Sony’s portable music player technology.
Nokia 100 [2021.8.5] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
Continuing with the treat-food theme, Nokia launched the 101, its first "candy bar" design phone, in 1992. The nickname referred to the phone’s slimline shape, more similar to a chocolate bar than the earlier "brick" mobile phones and Nokia promoted it as the world’s most portable phone, able to be easily slipped into a pocket. This model is considered a significant one for Nokia, starting its success in the mobile phone market. Designed to be easy to use with well-spaced keys, some coloured to indicate their function, its memory could store 50 phone numbers and associated names, and it featured single-key speed dialling. Variants were produced to work on the major analogue phone networks across the world, AMPS, NMT and ETACS, and there were three different battery options – a slimline version and two larger, higher capacity batteries. In 1993 Nokia introduced the 100 as a simplified version of the 101, aimed at the consumer rather than business market. Many of the early analogue mobiles were aimed at business users and the price point was too high for personal users. The instruction manual for MOTAT’s Nokia 100 highlights one of the scaled down features of the 100 as the memory, with only 15 numbers, including the phone’s own number, able to be stored. The key with the envelope icon is the Easy Dial key, which takes the user directly to a stored number and places a call to that number.
Nokia 232 [2021.8.6] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
The Nokia 232 was also developed as a consumer phone. Launched in 1994 it had a 98 number memory and 16 hours of standby battery time and in America it was available in a range of colours, allowing consumers to express personality through their phone for the first time. The 232 featured in the 1995 film “Clueless”, used by the lead character, Cher Horowitz, highlighting teenagers’ growing use of mobile phones in America, although generally still limited to making and receiving phone calls.
Nokia 1610 [2021.8.1] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
As black dominated the colour scheme of mobile phones, so Finnish giant Nokia dominated mobile phone sales in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The 1610 was launched by Nokia in 1996 as a budget digital mobile phone, and MOTAT’s recently acquired example features the yellow colour scheme that was one of Nokia’s iconic colours. 2G digital networks began to be introduced internationally from 1991, supplementing and eventually replacing analogue networks. Digital cellular networks enabled a new way of communicating as, depending on their phone’s capability, users were now able to send text (SMS) messages and, later, MMS (multimedia) messages. The first model Nokia 1610 didn’t have text message functionality as it wasn’t initially seen as an important feature for a consumer phone. Digital mobile arrived in New Zealand in July 1993, when US-owned Bell South New Zealand launched its GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) network. This was followed by Telecom New Zealand’s CDMA digital cellular network in 2001.
Motorola StarTAC [2021.8.2] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
In 1996 Motorola launched its StarTAC phone, claimed to be the world’s first "clamshell" mobile phone. Its design, with the earpiece folding open above the display, extended on Motorola’s MicroTAC, the first model of which had the mouthpiece and ringer in a section that folded over the keypad. It was also the first phone with the ability to vibrate, a feature derived from Motorola’s pagers. The StarTAC was the smallest and lightest phone on the market when it was launched, weighing approximately 88 grams. Advances in battery technology, for example, allowed this dramatic reduction in size and weight from the Dynatac, the 1973 prototype weighing in at just over a kilogram. You wouldn’t have wanted to wear that on your belt but the StarTAC often was, and MOTAT’s example is complete with a black plastic belt clip that the phone slipped into. First launched as an analogue phone, Motorola’s StarTAC was one of the first mobile phones to be widely adopted by consumers, selling approximately 60 million units worldwide.
Motorola. (4 October 1996) A Video Guide to Operation: Motorola StarTAC Cellular Telephone (4 October, 1996) In Stereo [Video]. YouTube.
Samsung SCH-M105 mobile phone [2021.8.8] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
Samsung is credited with launching the first mobile phone incorporating an MP3 player in 2000 in an effort to cement their place in the mobile phone market with a phone with a distinct point of difference – its ability to store and play music. This model, the SCH-M105, released in late 2000, is one of Samsung’s first MP3 phones. With 32MB of memory, the MP3 player was able to store eight songs and is reported to have had a music playback time of up to 11 hours. The phone works on a CDMA network and is also able to send SMS (text) messages.
Samsung SCH-N105 mobile phone [2021.8.3] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
Dating to around 2001, this Samsung SCH-N105 mobile phone points to a period when phone functions were expanding alongside options for consumers to express their individuality through choices of case colours and ringtones. This Samsung phone could work on either an analogue or a 2G digital mobile network, the latter of which allowed it to send and receive text (SMS) messages. The first text messages on mobile phones were messages generated and sent by the network, for example to advise of a missed call or a voice message that had been received. The first text message was sent in New Zealand in 1998 over Vodafone’s GSM network, which had been acquired from BellSouth in late 1998. In the few years following this, mobile phones surged in popularity in New Zealand, largely driven by text messaging and its popularity among younger New Zealanders.
Samsung SCH-N105 mobile phone, detail [2021.8.3] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
When text messaging was in its infancy, users needed to use a method referred to as "multi-tap" or "multi-press" to type out a message. Each number key is mapped to three or four letters, to an international standard introduced in the mid-1990s. The first tap or press of a key would bring up the first of the mapped letters, and so on. Numbers still dominate letters on the keypad of the Samsung SCH-N105, however, it also has a predictive text system (T9) installed, which guessed at the word the user was writing using a process called disambiguation, made possible by advances in microprocessor technology. Three lines of text could display on the phone’s monochrome display screen, in black text on grey. The phone’s screen is also capable of displaying graphic animations, with five pre-loaded in the phone. These display when the phone is turned on and off and the user had the ability to choose which were displayed. The flip section covers the keypad only, leaving the screen visible to display an incoming call or message. The screen’s green-tinged LCD backlight is activated when the flip cover is opened. Opening the flip cover would also answer or end a phone call.
Kyocera 7135 mobile phone [2021.8.9] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
Mobile phones were now rapidly moving from a cumbersome device used only to make and receive phone calls to ever smaller devices packed with a range of features. The Samsung SCH-N105 had limited internet connectivity with its “Mini-Browser”, which allowed it, when connected to a digital network and where the service was offered by the service provider, to send and receive emails and access limited content on websites.
Kyocera’s 7135 flip phone, released in 2002, is an early example of a smartphone. The phone’s operating system is Palm OS (4.1), which was developed by Palm Computing for its line of PDAs (Personal Device Assistant), intended initially as electronic organisers for business users. The design of the Kyocera 7135 is still firmly that of a phone with a numeric keypad, although it has some features aligned with Palm’s PDAs, most notably the screen above the keys that supports text entry by handwriting. The main screen is now significantly larger and is full colour with, when powered on, a display of app icons of the type we are now so used to on our smartphone screens. This screen was also a touch screen, although reviews suggest limited responsiveness. While without a camera, the phone supports video playback, has an MP3 player, GPS chip, slot for a memory card, and allows internet browsing and email.
Nokia 3315 mobile phone [2021.41.1] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
While smartphones were emerging and of particular interest to business consumers, mobile phones for personal consumers were becoming an increasingly common accessory. The Nokia 3315, a variant of the company’s hugely popular 3310 phone produced for the Asia-Pacific market, was a basic, sturdy phone. Nokia were the first mainstream mobile phone manufacturer to market a phone with an internal antenna, in the 3210 released in 1999. The chunky antenna protruding from the top of the Dynatac moved to the side of phones during the 1990s and became less pronounced, but it still needed to be extended to make or receive a call with good audio quality. Early analogue phones were effectively FM receivers and transmitters, and the antenna was needed to transmit and receive the radio signal. Moving the external antenna inside the phone increased the phone’s sturdiness and made it smaller. The antenna technology used in today’s smartphones has developed alongside that of cellular networks, enabling mobile phones to receive and transmit data on digital networks. External dipole, monopole and helical antennas have now been replaced by planar inverted-F antennas and microstrip antennas.
Front and back cover for Nokia 3315 mobile phone [2021.41.3] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
Customisation was another feature of Nokia’s phones in the early 2000s that held great consumer appeal. Also introduced with 1999’s Nokia 3210 were Xpress-On covers. MOTAT’s Nokia 3315 was gifted to the donor by her parents, who had replaced the phone’s standard grey-blue casing with a light grey and teal casing to match her car. The donor also purchased additional covers, including this Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King example, which she had on the phone when she joined throngs of people on the streets of Wellington for the movie’s premiere on 1 December, 2003. The user could also compose their own ringtones. This phone features three ringtones installed by the user; theme tunes to the Harry Potter movies and the TV show Sex and the City, and a ring tone available as an "Easter egg" on the DVD of the movie Snatch.
Nokia 6101 mobile phone [2021.41.4] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
Cameras first appeared in mobile phones around 2000, with early models manufactured by Sharp, Samsung and Kyocera. By the time this Nokia 6101 flip phone was released in 2005, cameras had become a standard feature of mobile phones. Photos taken on this phone weren’t, however, easy to download or transfer to another device and were expensive to send to another phone at 50 cents per "pxt" or picture message. As the quality of mobile phone cameras and the images produced improved from the early low-resolution photos, they began to impact on the digital camera market.
BlackBerry Bold 9000 mobile phone [2022.27.1] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
Canadian firm Research in Motion, developers of the BlackBerry smartphone, were among the pioneers of email capability in mobile phones and its devices were particularly well known for their QWERTY keyboards. The first BlackBerry model was released in 2003, and the phones were very popular with business customers, governments, and celebrities in the 2000s. The keyboard and a secure email channel were key selling points for the BlackBerry, particularly for those using them for work purposes; an email could be tapped out much more quickly on the QWERTY keyboard than on a keypad on which numbers dominated letters.
BlackBerry lost market share to other smartphone manufacturers in the later years of the 2000s; the touchscreen iPhone, launched in January 2007, was a strong competitor, as were phones using the Android operating system launched in 2008, such as Samsung. This model, the BlackBerry Bold 9000, which uses the proprietary BlackBerry operating system, was launched in May 2008, around the time BlackBerry phones claimed their largest share of the smartphone market. By 2016, however, BlackBerry, which had re-branded the company name from Research in Motion, could no longer compete and stopped manufacturing phones. In January 2022 the operating software was decommissioned, meaning classic BlackBerry phones such as this no longer work.
BlackBerry Bold 9000 mobile phone [2022.27.1] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
The touchscreen wasn’t Apple’s innovation, however, the iPhone was the first commercially successful multitouch touchscreen smartphone, and dramatically changed the market. The phone’s screen is a capacitive touchscreen; it includes a grid of very fine electrical wires that detect the change in electrical charge when the user’s finger touches the screen. The phone’s operating system receives this and responds, for example by launching an app or zooming in on an image. Apple’s competitors soon launched their own versions of touchscreen-driven smartphones, with Korean manufacturer Samsung launching its first smartphone, using Google’s Android operating system, in 2009. Manufactured around a year later, this Samsung Galaxy 551 phone features a touch screen and an additional full keyboard that slides out from underneath the phone itself which, like BlackBerry’s keyboard, made composing written messages such as text messages much easier. Photos taken on this phone were more easily moved from the phone to another device than on earlier camera phones, with external storage available on an inserted SD card, or using the software provided on a CD that could be installed on a computer and allowed downloading from the phone to a computer.
Samsung Galaxy GT-19300 mobile phone [2021.41.6] The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
Samsung, with its Galaxy range of phones, became one of Apple’s largest rivals and lawsuits followed. In the mid-2010s Samsung jumped on the trend of including multiple cameras in its phones, distinguishing itself, for a time, from its competitors. This Samsung Galaxy GT-19300 mobile phone was bought by the donor in June 2014 to replace the Galaxy 551. It features a nearly full touchscreen, with just one "home key" button, however, it still has just the one rear camera lens.
As the varied technologies in mobile phones continue to develop and extend the capabilities of these devices, now more accurately described as a miniature computer than a telephone, MOTAT will continue to collect in this area, to ensure a solid representation of developing technology and to fill any gaps that might remain. One obvious gap is an example of Apple's significant contribution to the development of mobile phone technology; however, we are delighted to have been gifted, during the writing of this, an iPhone 3G, as featured in Jock Phillips' recent book A History of New Zealand in 100 Objects. Although the development of mobile phones is not a story of New Zealand innovation, the impact of the technology on our society and culture makes it a story that MOTAT's collections must continue to tell.
Written by Nicola Jennings, Senior Curator – Technology
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University of Salford (n.d.) Mobile Phones. http://www.cntr.salford.ac.uk/comms/mobile_phones.php.html
Objects in the MOTAT collection: