On March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell spoke into his device and said to his assistant, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” In doing so, Bell launched the telephone era with the first bi-directional electronic transmission of the spoken word. At least that is how the story typically goes. While Bell received the first patent for a telephone, the origin of the telephone is complicated and inconclusive Antonio Meucci of Italy, and Innocenzo Manzetti each claiming to be the phone’s true inventor.
Popular from the 1890s to the 1930s, the candlestick phone was separated into two pieces. The mouth piece formed the candlestick part, and the receiver was placed by your ear during the phone call. This style died out in the ’30s.
The rotary phone became popular. To dial, you would rotate the dial to the number you wanted, and then release. Based on my limited interaction with rotary dial phones, this must have been incredibly tedious.
In 1963, AT&T introduced Touch-Tone, which allowed phones to use a keypad to dial numbers and make phone calls. Each key would transmit a certain frequency, signaling to the telephone operator which number you wanted to call.
Portable, or cordless, phones were the phone equivalent of the TV remote. You were no longer physically attached to your phone’s base station. Beginning in the 1980s, portable phones were like a small-scale cell phone. You could talk on your phone anywhere in your house.
One of many classic Nokia candybar-style phones, the Nokia 5110 was rugged and had a long battery life. More importantly, you could play Snake on its 47 × 84 pixel screen.
The Motorola StarTAC was the first successful flip phone, and in many ways, the first successful consumer cell phone. Introduced in 1996, Motorola eventually sold 60 million StarTACs.
The Motorola RAZR represented the culmination of the flip phone. Unable or unwilling to experiment with new designs, mobile phone companies continued their push for smaller and smaller phones. With the RAZR, Motorola perfected the flip phone design.
Canadian-based Research in Motion, now BlackBerry, was by far the leading smartphone manufacturer in the 2000s. With their advanced email capabilities, BlackBerry Messenger, and physical keyboards, BlackBerry smartphones were the ultimate business phone.
When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, Apple brought the smartphone to the masses. With its intuitive touchscreen, intelligent sensors, and sleek design, the iPhone has been an incredible success. The iPhone quickly showed just how clunky previous smartphones and flip phones were.