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Morphing a 1983 Motorola DynaTAC into an iPhone

If there's one thing that has changed as rapidly as the computer in the last 25 years, it's the cell phone. About the same time IBM introduced the first PC, Motorola introduced the first marketable handheld mobile device. Take a look at where handhelds got their start.

Apple got in trouble last fall by releasing an update that disabled many iPhones that were unlocked from ATT's network. The term, as you no doubt know, was referred to as "bricking." The term Brick Phone originated back when cell phones first became handheld devices.

This video shows the transformation of the handheld mobile phone since it was introduced back in 1985. The video is mislabeled as "The Evolution of Mobile Phones." It leaves out quite a bit of early mobile phone technology, but still does a nice job of showing some of the changes in handheld devices - from the original Motorola brick to the brick-able iPhone.

A child of the 50s

Radios had been used to communication since the dawn of the twentieth century. It wasn't until the 1950s that the freedom of radio was combined with the ubiquity of the telephone, allowing people to talk to each other without being tied down.

Initially, mobile phones were essentially nothing more than traveling base stations and would work only within the range of the transmitter/receiver it was tied to. In 1970, Bell Labs introduced the ability for phones to pass from cell area to cell area, automatically handing off communications with different towers as callers moved.

Cell phones didn't start off being handheld devices. Up until the introduction of the Motorola DynaTAC, shown in the video, mobile phones mostly consisted of large car-mounted devices or luggable bag phones that could weigh over 10 pounds. Some car companies would include cell phones in their automobiles as an added option, mounting the units in the trunk.

Thick as a brick

The video says that the Motorola DynaTAC started in 1985, but it had earlier roots. Versions of it had been demoed since the mid-1970s. When it received FCC approval in 1983, there was a huge rush to adopt it.

The original DynaTAC allowed a whopping 30 minutes of talk time on its battery pack and could go for 8 hours without recharging. Showing the limitations of early battery technology, it would take a total of 10 hours to fully charge.

Compared to today's cellphones that can be the size of a credit card and weigh next to nothing, the DynaTAC was a brick. Not counting the rubber antenna you had to put on top, the phone was 13" high, 1.75" wide, and 3.5" deep. It weighed in at a hefty 1.75 pounds.

As with computers, the prices of cell phones have dropped dramatically as well. Even though an Apple iPhone may cost as much as $499 today, that's a bargain compared to the DynaTAC. The DynaTAC cost $3,995 when it was introduced in 1983. Adjusted for inflation that's almost $8,500 in 2007 dollars.

Connectivity in 2028

The video concludes with some images of cell phones in the future. The trend in electronics has always been to make things smaller and cheaper. Certainly there's a limit to the usability and size of communications devices. At the same time, however, the iPhone in 2028 will probably look as laughable and quaint as the DynaTAC does today.

What's really changed and will continue to change in the future is the usability of the devices. In 1983, a cell phone was good for one thing - talking to another person. If you wanted to do something else, you needed another device. Something like the new-fangled IBM PC.

Mobile devices today have infinitely more power than the IBM PC. It's arguable that mobile phones such as the iPhone or Windows Mobile devices have more power than mini and mainframe computers from 1983.

As the PC and the phone continue to overlap each other's territories, you'll see both devices blend even more. In 20 years, there might not be such a thing as a PC or a cell phone, but rather some other device that may resemble both as we know them today.

2 comments
BALTHOR
BALTHOR

--in the country.The implication here is that somehow digital is married to an analog carrier and we have a cell phone capable of Interneting.I see the cell phone as DC signal transmission.Pulses of DC.

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