Over the past 20 years the mobile industry has grown and matured at a rate rivalled only by the world wide web. This week we take a look back at the key innovations that helped take mobile phones from large hefty bricks, to sleek and powerful smartphones.
mention: Nokia 7110
Iain Thomson: Now, I could lie and say that the 7110 is on the list because it was the first mobile phone with a WAP browser. While that's admirable in a way, the reason it's on the list is that for a lot of people it made mobile phones cool.
Mobiles weren't particularly stylish at the time. True, there had been some progress, but they were still being designed by engineers, albeit increasingly creative ones in some ways.
Nokia once proudly showed me a handset which, when set to vibrate and placed vertically on the table, would walk across the surface. It had taken them a week of hard work to get it to do that, the PR told me proudly. While the geek in me was deeply impressed, you're not pulling with that.
As 2000 approached there were numerous signs of insanity, ranging from religious cults, Y2K survivalists and, my personal favourite, Carlos Roa, the Argentinian goalkeeper who refused a contract because the world was ending. But one of the most pervasive and annoying were people who really, really liked The Matrix.
In the film Keanu Reaves uses a Nokia 8110 that had been modified with a spring-loaded slider. In cinemas and basements across the land, millions of people thought 'I want some of that.'
Never one to miss a trick, Nokia brought out the 7110 with just that feature, and they were everywhere for about six months. Millions of Neo wannabies were ostentatiously making calls while wondering around in long dark jackets. Then reality kicked in; most of them realised that it was just a film, the 7110's spring-loader broke after a few months hard posing, and there were better phones out there.
Shaun Nichols: One of the biggest keys to getting a technology to work in the larger market is to take the engineering features and balance them out with a sleek design and interface. It's a lesson Apple adheres to religiously, and it's been the reason for many 'breakout' technologies over the years.
Geeks love cool features and practical technologies, but most consumers want their cool features and practical technologies in a sleek and fashionable casing. Nokia found this out with the 7110 handset.
While the handset sported a number of very cool and innovative hardware and software features, the 'killer app' for many consumers was something as simple as a spring-loaded cover. It was the equivalent of a high-powered car not selling until the company put a stripe down the side.
mention: Airplane mode
Shaun Nichols: Fans of The West Wing will remember a great scene in the show's first episode in which White House staffer Toby is asked by a flight attendant to turn off his cell phone, to which he responds: " You mean to tell me I can take this plane down with something I bought at Radio Shack?"
While they may not have been able to crash a 747, the bothersome interference cell phones caused pilots did spur the airline industry to make a rule that handsets had to be turned off during flights. This wasn't a huge issue when all mobile phones did was send and receive calls, but once companies started putting games and music in there, travellers wanted a way to keep their handsets on while in flight.
It wasn't long before the concept of 'airplane mode' was adopted. The feature allows the mobile phone, 3G and Wi-Fi components to be disabled while the rest of the device remains on, meeting airline requirements while preserving the entertainment features on the handset. It's also a good way to preserve battery life and avoid data roaming charges while travelling abroad.
Iain Thomson: The irrationality of airplane rules knows no bounds, and mobile phones have been swept up in the frenzy to be safer while flying.
I flew out of New York a month after 11 September and one man became quite hysterical at another passenger who was using her mobile phone while we were taxiing onto the runway. You still have to switch the devices off during the initial and final stages of a flight, but the end result of all this panic is that not one plane crash has been linked to mobile phone use.
Talk to pilots about the situation and they can tell whether someone's left their mobile on in a plane. As one explained to me, the signal causes a faint ticking sound on some frequencies so they can always tell when one is on, and there's always at least one. "It's usually in my pocket," he said.
Still, there are panicky people out there so if airplane mode makes them feel better then I'm happy to use it for a bit of piece and quiet.
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