Mapping the Mobile Journey: The Fortieth Anniversary of the First Cell Phone Call

by Jeff Wiener on April 4, 2013

There’s no question that forty years ago Motorola’s Martin Cooper changed the world forever, placing the first cellular phone call to the head of research at rival Bell Labs, just to let him know he’d been beaten them to the punch as both companies worked furiously to create the first cell phone. As CNET’s Roger Cheng insightfully notes, “Cooper’s call did more than untether people from their fixed phone lines; it opened the door to true mobility and continues to affect virtually every aspect of our lives.”

But things look very different now, and it would an understatement for the ages to say that the mobile market has come along way since that fateful day, the two-pound brick that made many question its classification as ‘mobile’ communication evolving into a market that now finds itself on the cusp of leaving the traditional phone behind forever.

In fact, the history of mobile communication has left us with so many culturally significant moments that it makes me wonder what the next forty years of mobile development has in store, curious how it will continue to change the very fabric of our existence.

Long put to pasture are the chunky cell phone bricks of old, antiquated beauties like Motorola’s DynaTAC made famous on the famous teenage sitcom ‘Saved by the Bell’ in the late eighties, replaced by sleek and sophisticated pieces of advanced technology that now serve only as a voice platform in their spare time, their full time duties taken up with the computing jobs once left to far larger and more expensive machines. Considering such, its amazing to see how much the market has developed.

In fact, I would say that mobile technology has come so far that we’re now seeing the changing of an epoch, as while Cooper’s original cell phone conversation untethered us from our fixed phone line, soon voice communication will be a thing of the past, as already text and video have surpassed voice chat in terms of preferred mediums of communication.

So as we sit on the cusp of technology like Google’s Glass eyewear project, one has to acknowledge that the forty year era of the cellular phone as we know it is coming to an end, for while there’s no questioning the differences between today’s modern smartphones and Motorola’s initial offering four decades ago, the form factor of these devices has generally remained the same: providing the same spot for listening and the same spot for talking.

Now standing at the edge of this shifting epoch, I find myself wondering if in forty years we’ll remember the day the first call was made from Google’s Glass eyewear, or perhaps we’ll just remember the first multi-car pile up caused by those distracted by their flashy new heads-up display.

Further, I have to wonder, where will technology be forty years from now? Will holographic 3D imaging be a reality, will cybernetics have been introduced to the masses, will mobile advertising have reached the individual consumer focus its pushing for now? All these things stand as science fiction today, but I’m sure powerful handheld computing platforms or interactive mobile eyewear occupied the exact same realm forty years ago.

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