Five iconic mobiles that changed the world
This year saw the relaunch of the new and improved Nokia 3310 – and to celebrate, our Agents have been looking back at the iconic (if occasionally infuriating) devices that changed the way we communicate forever.
When mobile phones first hit the scene in the mid 80s, they were huge, inconvenient and ridiculously expensive – but they still wowed all comers with their unprecedented technology.
Even so, nobody at the time could have guessed the incredible twists and turns the mobile phone would take over the years, nor how essential our pocket-sized communicators would become to our daily lives.
But as one of the world's most iconic mobiles comes back into fashion, we thought it'd be the perfect time to look back on some of the devices that changed the way we communicate – and, indeed, changed the world.
The new Nokia 3310 V2 is now available from the Carphone Warehouse!
Five iconic mobiles that changed the world
Motorola DynaTAC 8000X
This is the one that started it all: the very first commercially available, truly mobile telephone!
Motorola had long manufactured the carphones that allowed high-powered businesspeople and VIPs to stay in touch – but these devices were large, heavy and far too power-hungry to use without a car’s engine providing the juice.
The DynaTAC 8000X, on the other hand, was large, heavy and just power-hungry enough to be used on the go – if you didn’t mind paying $3,500 (close to $10,000 today) for the privilege of lugging around a device that weighed almost a kilo.
But while it’s easy to poke fun today, the DynaTAC was a truly revolutionary device. Of course it was never going to create iPhone-style ripples in popular culture – its market was far too niche for that – but now, more than 30 years later, mobiles are a ubiquitous part of our daily lives. The DynaTAC was there first.
In the decade or so following the release of the DynaTAC, mobile phone technology followed a pretty straightforward trajectory: devices got smaller, lighter and (somewhat) cheaper. But it took this 1996 device from German manufacturer Siemens to point the way to the future.
On the outside, the S10 isn’t too different to the other phones of the era: its chunky ‘candybar’ shape and utilitarian black colour are entirely typical of the pre-Nokia, business-focused mobile phone market. So why does it have a place on this list?
Simple: it was the first commercially available mobile to pack a colour screen. The S10 left its monochrome competitors in the shade by offering an incredible four colours: white, red, blue and green.
Sadly for Siemens, though, it seems the rest of the world just wasn’t quite ready. The main drawback was that there just wasn’t much you could do with that screen: camera phones and mobile web browsing were still years away, and the novelty of seeing your primitive, emoji-free text messages in four dazzling colours was clearly short-lived.
All the same, Siemens' mobile department held on for a little while longer – but they simply couldn't keep up in the smartphone era, and released their last handsets in 2005.
This is the big one! One of the most fondly remembered mobiles of all time, and the direct inspiration for this article, the Nokia 3310 is still a by-word for ruggedness, reliability and, by modern standards, frankly incredible battery life. The 3310 is still remembered for its durability to this day, which explains why Nokia chose to revive it 16 years after it war originally released!
Like its younger sibling the 3210, this phone epitomises what made Nokia phones so popular around the turn of the century. Ever-cheaper hardware and attractive pay-as-you-go deals gave mobiles a wider appeal than ever before – and so, gone were the business-focused utilitarian bricks of years gone by. Nokia’s charmingly designed devices were aimed squarely at people like you and me.
As such, the 3310 was one of the first phones to allow serious customisation with its range of ‘Xpress-on’ covers. It recognised that SMS was the communication method of choice for its new, younger market – and so, it introduced message-threading and allowed you to send up to three texts in one. Finally, it predicted the popularity of smartphone games by including, among others, the immensely popular Snake II.
It wasn’t Nokia’s first mass-market mobile, but with over 126 million units sold worldwide, it was certainly one of the most iconic – and to this day, the device remains popular on the second-hand market with those who, for whatever reason, prioritise reliability and battery life over modern smartphone features.
It’s hard to believe in our post-iPhone world, but once upon a time, the humble BlackBerry represented the best the smartphone had to offer – and the BlackBerry 5810 was the very first such device to integrate calls, emails and web browsing into one convenient handset.
Now, by modern standards, the ‘smart’ features are pretty dumb. The monochrome screen isn’t going to impress anybody in the age of the Retina Display, the web browsing is limited to the never-popular, mobile-only ‘WAP’ protocol and there’s no support for Wi-Fi – although to be fair, that technology was still in its infancy when the 5810 hit the streets.
But in spite of its limitations, the 5810 is still a milestone mobile. For the first time, your phone wasn’t just a way to receive calls and texts: it was something to fiddle with when you were bored. The device and its successors quickly became known as “crackberries” thanks to their highly addictive nature, and nothing did more to pave the way for the smartphone revolution that would come a few years later.
Of course, no list of iconic mobiles would be complete without the first ever iPhone. Apple’s game-changer is now almost ten years old – but as far as many tech fans are concerned, we’re yet to see anything quite so innovative.
And they may have a point. Even now, a decade later, the iPhone’s design remains basically the same – and of course, every other phone looks at least a bit like an iPhone too.
Indeed, younger users may not even remember quite how astounding its touch-based interface was when the device first launched. But in case you need reminding, check out the above clip from the first ever iPhone announcement. See how the audience gasp and clap at something so seemingly simple as scrolling through a list of music with your finger? At the time, it was like magic.
Subsequent versions have improved the device immeasurably – this first edition didn’t support 3G connection speeds, and even lacked a front-facing ‘selfie’ camera – but no phone since has caused quite such a seismic shift in what we expect from our devices.
Indeed, more recent innovations, from 3D headsets to curved screens, have so far failed to catch on. Could the iPhone really represent the unsurmountable peak of mobile phone evolution? In this Agent’s opinion, there's bound to be futher innovation – and we can't wait to see what the future holds.
What's your favourite mobile of yesteryear? Share it with our readers in the comments below! And for more great articles from our Agents straight to your inbox each month, get your name down below for the Geek Squad newsletter!