Looking at your 5-camera ultra-slim 5G smartphone today, it’s hard to imagine how many product innovations in mobile phone technology have taken place since just over two decades ago.
Here, we’ll be taking you on a trip down mobile phone memory lane and recalling some of the most remarkable firsts in the history of smartphones.
1. Color display
It’s ironic that when the first few mobile phones made their appearance, they were so expensive that very few could actually afford to buy them, even when all they had were monochrome screens with a soothing Irish green backlight. But hey, they were the best models of the time.
But by 1998, a small but celebrated development came during the debut of the Siemens S10. Unlike other mobile phones at the time, it could reproduce four colors, namely red, green, blue, and white. Not much of a change, really, but it did lead to further developments in terms of mobile phone color display.
2. Integrated camera
The Kyocera VP-210 VisualPhone was the first mobile phone to feature a built-in camera. Not a lot of people have heard about it as it was only sold in Japan for the PHS network, retailing at 40,000 yen or about $325 back in May 1999.
That was more than a year before the launch of the Sharp J-SH04, which is usually identified as the first commercially available mobile phone with an integrated camera. The Sharp J-SH04 became available only in November 2000 – also in Japan.
The VP-210 featured a single front-facing 110,000-pixel camera and a two-inch color TFT display supporting 65,000 colors. The Sharp J-SH04, on the other hand, had a rear 110,000-pixel camera and a 256-color display.
The Nokia 7650 – Europe’s first mobile phone with a built-in camera – was launched in June 2002. It was also the first phone that ran on the Symbian mobile OS. America’s first mobile phone unit with an integrated camera entered the picture in November 2002 in the form of the Sanyo SPC-5300.
3. Dual lenses
In March 2011, the HTC EVO 3D was launched and it’s considered the first dual-camera smartphone. It featured a 4.3-inch qHD display and a dual core 1.2GHz processor. What made it special was the dual 5-megapixel camera on the back. This feature gave the HTC EVO 3D the capability to take standard photos with a 5MP resolution and 3D photos with a 2MP resolution. Back then, 3D was a big deal, but it was a short-lived fad.
However, the first mobile phone with a dual camera was the Samsung Anycall flip phone created only for the Korean market. It was launched just two months before the first iPhone was announced in 2007.
4. Water resistance
Back in 2000, Siemens launched its M35i, followed by the ME45 in 2001 – both phones were marketed toward outdoor enthusiasts and sportspersons for being shock-proof and splash-resistant. The waterproof mobile phone Ericsson R310 was also launched in 2000.
Then in 2005, LG launched their CanU 502S, which was the international version of the Japan-only Casio G’zOne TYPE-R waterproof cellphone. The CanU 502S clamshell featured rubber-sealed seams, with all jacks capable of being sealed. It initially retailed for $500 and included a 1.3MP camera and a 2.2-inch LCD.
However, the credit for the first-ever waterproof smartphone goes to the Nokia 5500 Sport (launched in 2006), which ran on Symbian 9.1 and had a micro SD slot.
5. Internet access
Launched in Finland back in 1996, the Nokia 9000 Communicator was the first mobile phone that had Internet connectivity. But, of course, during that time, the viability of accessing the Internet was sorely limited because of the restrictive prices set by operators. It had all the features of a minicomputer, with email, web browsing, FAX, word processing and spreadsheet functions rolled into a single mobile device – long before BlackBerry became a thing.
6. Most units sold
When it comes to the best-selling mobile phones, Nokia 1100 (2003) and Nokia 1110 (2005) top the list, with each model having sold over 250 million units. In fact, Nokia’s one billionth phone was sold in 2005 and it was an 1100 model, purchased in Nigeria.
For touchscreen phones, Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (2014) lead the pack, with over 220 million units sold. The bestselling cell phone is the sleek and powerful Motorola RAZR V3 (2004), which sold over 130 million units.
Today, clever digital marketing has made a clear difference in the way new smartphone models are being launched, with teasers being released months before the actual phone units are available for purchase.
For example, Apple iPhone preorders are commonplace, with the recently launched Apple iPhone 12. Apple was said to have sold between 1.7 million and 2 million iPhone 12 units within the phone’s first day of preorders in October 2020.
Celebrate the smartphones of today
After reading about these many firsts in the history of smartphones, we realize just how far we’ve come. And we can count ourselves lucky to have such powerful handsets that enable us to work, study, organize our lives and stay entertained today.
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Oli Kang is a working mum who has a passion for teaching and all things educational. With a background in marketing, Oli manages the digital channels and content at Courses AU.