From the brick to slick – 40 years of the mobile phone

40 years of the mobile phoneForty years ago this week, Martin Cooper, who headed up Motorola’s communications systems division, made the first known mobile phone call to the amazement of the New Yorkers who were present to witness it.  Cooper had for a long time felt that the future would be one where people had the freedom to communicate by phone on the move, but surely even he could not have envisaged the full impact that mobile phones would have globally 40 years on. 

We now live in a world where convenience is taken for granted. There is a greater focus on how people feel in the moment and spontaneity is encouraged. Since Cooper’s first mobile phone call, the evolution of the device nicknamed ‘the brick’ in 1973 due to its size and weight to one inconspicuous enough today to be carried at all times has been fascinating.  The last 15 years has seen the evolution gather pace, with first SMS messaging introducing us to the idea of non-verbal mobile communication, enabling us to check in with friends and family more quickly and easily than was possible before.

The increased sophistication of mobile devices has coincided with the growth of the online, digital world, so it is now common for people to use their mobiles to get updates from friends and family without the need to even send a message, as sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have cemented their role as transmitters to users’ everyday lives. People are growing accustomed to being constantly up to date with news and their friends’ activities. From the unusual site of Cooper using a mobile phone in 1973, it is now more unusual to see someone without one during the daily commute. Today 93% of the British adult population own a mobile phone and 53% own a smartphone (Tech Tracker Q1 2013).

The fact that smartphones and social media are both all about spontaneity suggests that the relationship between the two is likely to flourish in the coming years. At the moment 27% of smartphone owners use it to access social media making it one of the most popular tasks (Tech Tracker Q1 2013). Social sites will be increasingly aware of the need to have an easy to use, intuitive mobile platform as users become used to immediate updates. As more people become exposed to 4G in the next year or two, online activity on mobiles will be much quicker too, making regular dips into the digital world even more convenient than they currently are and allowing for an even greater diversity of tasks.

So what does the next 40 years have in store for the development of mobile phones? They are becoming more and more important in people’s everyday lives, and surely as they develop in their sophistication and power, this is a trend that will continue. They will increasingly be synced to other devices and act as our technological hub, allowing us to pay, plan and play more conveniently and quickly than we currently do. The mobile is the key device for connecting to the digital world in developing markets such as India and Africa, and people in these markets are already used to using mobiles for regular payments.

The mobile has come a long way since Cooper’s first call 40 years ago, and though his idea was for us to be able to communicate on the move, the last 15 years in particular have seen the nature of our conversations change significantly.

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Tom Cross is Research Manager at Ipsos MediaCT (@tomcroxx)