These days we often speculate about what we did before we had a mobile phone. Well, before 6 March, 1983, the thought of being able to communicate anytime, anyplace, anywhere hadn't even begun to surface in most people's minds when Motorola launched the DynaTAC1 8000X.
For years Motorola had been at the forefront of portable communications. In 1930 they had produced the first commercially successful car radio, which they developed into the two-way radios which became standard for the allies during the Second World War. After the war they then developed pagers, car radiotelephones and radio transponders. As a result it was Motorola technology that relayed Neil Armstrong's famous words from the Moon in 1969. However, in 1968 the next breakthrough had already been made. Based on 'cells' that would enable the same radio frequencies to be reused simultaneously in other areas, they started to look into the possibility of mobile cellular phones.
Birth of the Mobile
Over the next 15 years $100 million was invested in the research and development of cellular technology. The DynaTAC 8000X weighed 785g (28 ounces) and measured a colossal 300x44x89mm (13x1.75x3.5"). It only boasted one hour of talk time and eight hours of standby time, so that if you wanted it on 24 hours a day you would have to charge up three sets of batteries every day. However, it only had an LED display instead of an LCD, which was only just starting to be used in the digital watches of the time. There was a 150mm (6") aerial protruding from the top of it and you could also manage to save the princely total of 30 numbers in the memory of the phone.
The young rich kid who had everything, in 1983, could be seen with a mobile phone, that is if they were able to pay the $3995 for the privilege. One problem you might have encountered though was that there was very limited signal coverage to enable you to use it. So a lot of the time it was mainly used for posing2. The phone may have resembled a brick in size but by the end of 1984 there were 300,000 users worldwide. It may be a mere drop in the ocean compared to the 1.2 billion mobile phone users today but at that price it is an impressive number.
Since then of course mobiles have become cheaper, lighter and longer lasting. They have gained more features including phone books, calendars, games, internet access, cameras and now even video. They have become an essential everyday item in most developed nations. Before they came along we all carried our emergency coins to call from a payphone. Now the mobile's rise has led to the demise of the familiar payphone on many of our street corners. The DynaTAC 8000X is a dinosaur in today's eyes but a landmark on the road to today's highly connected world.
It may be seen as a great step in personal identity or maybe the last breach of personal privacy but the day of the mobile phone has come since that first 'brick' of a 'phone in 1983. Where next is up to the imaginations of those who want to give us even greater access.
The Impact on Culture
Here are just some phone-related film and television events that show the impact of the mobile phone:
1982 - A year before launch of the DynaTAX 800X, ET: The Extra Terrestrial has to use a normal landline to call home.
1984 - The film 16 Candles is the first to feature the DynaTAC 8000X. Samantha Baker's love interest Jake Ryan has a cellular phone in his dad's Rolls Royce. Still a rich kid's toy.
1987 - In the first Lethal Weapon film Sergeant Roger Murtagh uses one of the early, large portable phones from its shoulder mounted carry case to discuss with a psychologist that he suspects that Sargent Martin Riggs, his partner, is insane.
1990 - In Beverley Hills 90210 there is a division between the rich and poor kids at Beverley Hills High based on who has their own mobile and who doesn't.
1990 - Viv (played by Julia Roberts) in Pretty Woman is out shopping when she passes two guys in a car trying to hold on to their greater-than-fist-sized phones. And they think they are so cool, but not today.