Panache Blog | India's Top Technology Guide

Mobiles That Left Their Mark

by on May.24, 2009, under Featured

The mobile phone is possibly one of the greatest inventions of our time, maybe not greater than ‘Electricity’ but definitely one of the top five on the list. It’s literally brought people closer than ever before. Surely Mr. Alexander G Bell made it all possible, but the technology has certainly come a long way since then. The basic technology may remain the same, but the forms they come in with the kind of features provided in that form is a whole other story. The mobile handset has been toned down, built up, reduced considerably in size and built to be an office and a playground. I don’t want to give you a history lesson, but this is just a reminiscence of the good old days of the mobile handset and as cheesy as it may sound, the ones we left behind. So here are some of those mobile handsets that really turned things around for the industry.

First Mobile Handset

The world’s first cellular call was made from this handset. Even waaay back in the 1970’s, even though the technology was brand new and exciting and the Vietnam War was reaching its conclusion, Motorola was inventing the first portable cellular phone – the Motorola DynaTAC. This behemoth of a handset was not something that could be stuck into a pocket like the modern mobile, unless you wanted a crony person you meet asking you – Is that your phone or are you just happy to see me?

DynaTAC First Mobile Handset

The DynaTAC handset got the ball rolling. It was large, no doubt but must have been extremely small for the generation that first saw its pointy antenna. This was the first truly portable form for mobile networks although they existed long before its arrival. They became famous even in the movies as Gang bosses and rich executive playboys etc. would use one of these large handsets to conduct their business. It was the very first change from a heavy portable and almost backpack-like system to a much lighter weight slimmer design. It even had LED lights to show you the number you were dialing.

While the very first cellular mobile call was made in 1973 in the US, the very first mobile phone call was made more than 20 years later in 1995 in India on a handset that was worth (back then) about Rs. 40,000.

Color Screens

These days it seems like the tiniest possible percent of mobile users are using handsets that don’t have a color display. The resolution seems insignificant as long as it‘s colored. Most of us have started off with handsets like the once very popular Sony Ericsson T68i that also came with a camera accessory. Too bad we didn’t see that around here too much. But the resolution of the handset was just 101 x 80 pixels and 256 colors but hey, it was the biggest thing ever.

Sony Ericsson T68i

Color screen handsets have been around for almost a decade now, but it’s not very clear which was the very first handset to incorporate the technology. Almost all manufacturers seem to be claiming that their first colored screen handset was the world's first. The time line is a bit lost… in time.

The first camera phones

Sharp J-SH04

One of the best things about a mobile handset is the ability to take pictures anytime anywhere. Of course most are not absolutely quick enough to capture those ‘Kodak moments’ but they are nevertheless faster than running back home to get your digicam. But this technology too has come a long way. The very first camera phones were developed by a Japanese company and marketed by J-Phone in Japan. These didn’t use CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) sensors like the modern day camera phones. The first camera phone used a CCD (charge coupled device) sensors. The very first wireless picture phone was called ‘Intellect’. It was a prototype. The ‘handset’ was a large square device that looked more like an iPod Classic with an antenna than a phone of any kind.

Nokia 7650

The very first marketed handset, the J-SH04 that was released by Japan’s J-Phone and was manufactured by Sharp. It was equipped with an integrated 110,000-pixel CMOS image sensor, and a 256-color display. One of the most memorable camera phones that hit the Indian market was Nokia’s 7650 slider that featured a color screen and a VGA camera. It was also Nokia’s Claim to Fame as one of the first color screen mobile handsets to sport a digital camera. For us it’ll just be one of the first handsets we bought after the more popular and still used today, 3310 or 3210 handsets which were absolutely brilliant at the time.

First Touchscreens

IBM’s Simon

The PDA – Personal Digital Assistant was one of the first attempts made with touchscreen technology during the early 1980’s after the first PDA (that was more of a calculator) was designed. One of the first attempts at a Smartphone with what can also be construed as a first for touchscreen technology with a necessary stylus was IBM’s Simon. The handset was developed in Concept stage in 1992 and launched a year later in the US. The tech has far exceeded that company's expectations since then and taken on a whole new person, in a matter of speaking. With the stylus being slowly phased out, finger control in handsets like the iPhone and LG Arena with their accelerometer and multi touch capabilities are the present and wave of the future. Touchscreen technology has also gone a step further with RIM's BlackBerry Storm and its SurePress Technology.

Sony Ericsson’s P800

India’s first touchscreen handset to make the big time was Sony Ericsson’s P800. I have to say, back in the day, this was definitely one of THE most interesting handset designs ever. It was equipped with a large touch sensitive display and also had a flap at the bottom for those who preferred to use the keypad for typing. Of course you could just remove the keypad like a lot of the guys I knew and simply use the stylus for everything. It came with Bluetooth and GPRS for connectivity and even supported external memory, though microSD cards were not available back then, so you had to use a miniSD or MMC type. A VGA camera was also part of the handset's makeup.

Flip phones

If you’re a techie, at some time you were a Trekkie and we all remember those flip communicators that crew of the Star Ship Enterprise used. I even remember making matchbox versions of the same. But keeping that very show in mind, Motorola thrilled mobile users with their superb StarTAC clamshell mobile that was reported as the very first of its kind when it was launched in 1996. A new breed of mobile design based on a popular TV show? Sure why not.

StarTAC

The handset was also immensely popular with the Indian audiences. It was a light weight flip phone with a small LCD screen inside for texting. The antenna could be extended to provide for better reception, though I’m not sure if it actually helped. Somehow almost any cop TV series I watched during that time had the good guys using these handsets and now they seemed to be using the newer models. But the StarTAC was still quite a phenomenon in its hay day that paved the road for the clamshell form factor in the mobile phone industry. Also a first with this handset was the feature called VibraCall which meant a vibrating alert for incoming calls.

First Bluetooth-enabled Handsets

T36

Again there’s a bit of speculation as to who might have been the very first mobile manufacturer to have Bluetooth technology incorporated into their handset. Since its development in 1998, the essential core of what Bluetooth technology embodies hasn’t changed. The technology has been upgraded to include more than just simple data and voice transfer between devices. Ericsson has claimed that they were the very first to debut a mobile handset, the T36, that came equipped with this technology. It also came with infrared, WAP and a little flap to cover the keypad. As I remember the T36 was also available in a host of colors.

Nokia 6600

There were a ton of handsets that I’ve used that came with Bluetooth, but of all the handsets that come to mind one of the best I’ve used for everything from MMS videos to GPRS and its VGA camera was the Nokia 6600. It may have been a little bit of a plump handset, but I can’t ever remember having more fun with a handset. It immediately followed my 7650.

Age of the Communicator

Another handset that I believe this list would be incomplete without is the Nokia Communicator. The very first in the popular business class handset was the 9000 that was developed in 1996. Sure it was a brick back then too, but you can’t ignore the fact that even back then, the communicator was a well equipped handset for the business user.

Nokia Communicator

From the ability to send faxes and data connectivity; it also made typing a little simple with a larger and wider keypad instead of the standard alphanumeric options. The latest was the E90 that embodied everything that the original did including the size. Nevertheless the handset is still extremely popular.

Mobile Gaming

Another handset that bears a mention is the Original N-Gage. It had the best design when it came to a console control like gaming mobile. The mobile gaming industry was in its infancy but rapidly growing when the Nokia N-Gage was released. Its odd off beat shape and weird controls made it both an attractive and compelling device to have for the youth segment.

N-Gage

The only annoying thing about the handset was the fact that you had to hold it by the side to your ear to make calls. This was the only chink I could find in the handset’s armor, other than that it was and in my opinion still is one of the best gaming handsets ever. Maybe we can hope to see a remake, as the second time around, the N-Gage handset didn't fare too well. Though it looked better, it somehow just wasn't the same.

It’s quite often that I either meet a colleague or an old friend who I knew was around when the whole mobile phone craze broke. It was also a lot easier for most of us to afford them if our daddies weren’t rich enough to buy them for us, as the call center industry just happened to make its Indian debut and we were all young and flush with cash. I’m happy I was a part of the phenomenon and it was good reminiscing about a technology that has evolved so much so quickly. I’m not sure where it’s going but as long as we’re here for the ride, we may as well enjoy it.

If there are any handsets that you might remember other than these that bring back memories, why not let us know by sending in your emails or leaving your comments.

Viva la mobile!

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