From the 17th Century, To Now
How would you describe your phone?
The best thing you ever bought?
The thing that’s been missing from your hand?
Your entire life on a sim card?
However you describe it, the outcome is the same.
The phone is one of the best inventions ever created.
You can connect to anyone in the world from your own bedroom.
You can watch TV, download music, google anything you want.
And yet, the invention of the phone is still a relatively modern phenomenon.
While the idea of a phone was discussed as early as the 1600s, the first official invention of one was only roughly 150 years ago.
I know, not long ago at all.
But you’re here because you want to know everything about your favourite device.
Who, what, when, why and how.
Well don’t worry, I’m going to tell you everything about the history of the telephone.
I’ve actually spent the past 3 and a half days researching the subject just because I find it so interesting!
So sit back, relax and let’s charge into this story.
Communication Before The Phone
Do you remember all of the games you used to play as a kid?
My favourite was always the one where you’d attach string to two cups.
Then you’d see if you could speak to your friend across the road when they were grounded.
But did you know that that was really one of the earliest forms of telephones?
It was actually credited as being invented as far back as 1667 by the British Physicist, Robert Hooke.
They worked by transporting the mechanical vibrations from your voice down the string.
Then converting the vibrations into sound energy when it reached the other end.
It’s obvious that this method of communication is still popular, considering kids still use it now.
But, in the late 1800s, it was actually marketed as a competitor to the electrical telephone.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t much competition.
Imagine if acoustic phones were still on the market now.
Would you really choose to speak into a paper cup rather than an iPhone?
Speaking tubes are still common in houses and on ships, though.
Yep, they’re those creepy things that seem to be used in every single Victorian ghost film.
However, commercially, we’ve gotten rid of acoustic phones in favour of smart ones.
The idea to create the telephone wasn’t pulled from thin air.
It was actually inspired by the invention of the Electric Telegraphs in the early 1800s.
While plenty of inventors worked on developing the telegraph...
It was Samuel Morse (I bet you can guess what he invented) that created the most revolutionary one.
In 1837, Morse invented and patented his own electrical telegraph.
His assistant was actually the one who created the Morse Code alphabet.
A year later, Morse used this alphabet to send America’s first ever telegram.
As great as this system was, it had its downfalls.
For example, it could only send and receive one message at a time.
Imagine how long it would take to communicate with people in the 21st century, considering just how many notifications we receive at once!
It also had a reliance on physical lines.
So much so, that one tiny snag would disable the entire system.
Which really isn’t ideal.
Although people at the time didn’t realise it, they desperately needed a phone.
The 19th Century
Though there are a variety of disputes over who exactly invented the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell was the one to receive the patent for it.
After misinterpreting German physicist, Hermann von Helmholtz's, diagrams - Bell believed that Helmholtz had converted speech into electricity.
But look how well it worked out.
Bell now believed that he could do the same thing.
Shortly after this, he started to experiment with the conversion of music to electrical signals.
After enlisting the help of Thomas Watson, he cracked it.
And, in 1876, both Bell and Watson conducted the first ever telephone conversation.
But, like I said earlier, Bell wasn’t the only one working on the creation and development of the telephone.
Here’s a list of everyone who should be credited for the revolutionary invention.
|Who?||When||What Did They Do?|
Constructed a telephone-like device (which he forgot to patent).
Johann Phillip Reis
Began constructing telephones but gave up just before they would’ve began working.
Alexander Graham Bell
Was the first person to receive a patent for the creation of the telephone.
Used a water microphone to create a telephone at the same time as Bell - leading to their infamous legal battle.
Invented the telephone switchboard exchange.
Invented the carbon microphone. This produced a strong telephone signal.
Read More: The Biography Of Alexander Graham Bell
Just what is a ‘photo-phone’? I hear you ask.
Well, I guess the easiest way to explain it would be…
It’s the 19th century’s answer to a wireless phone.
It was created by Alexander Graham Bell (yes, him again) in February, 1880 and worked by transmitting speech on a beam of light.
Surprisingly, it didn’t need much development time.
In June of that same year (only 4 months later), Bell’s assistant managed to call him wirelessly from over 200 metres away!
The photo-phone led the way for the development of the fibre-optics communication systems we still use today.
The 20th Century
In January 1915, Alexander Graham Bell (I know, you’re sick of hearing about him) conducted the first ever transcontinental phone call.
He rung Thomas Watson, the recipient of the first ever telephone call and jokingly replicated his famous line;
“Mr Watson - I want to see you - come here.”
The call reached from New York to San Francisco.
The audience was astounded.
Oh, and guess just how much that very first transcontinental call cost.
In today’s money…$400.
$400 for a three minute conversation.
I’m never complaining about a £25.50 phone charge again!
And one last thing...
That very same evening, the transcontinental phone service was opened for commercial use.
At exactly 9:01pm, the very first public phone call was made by a man from San Francisco.
Who did he call, you ask?
Read More: The First Ever Telephone Conversation
Would you believe me if I told you that you could facetime your friends in the 1930s?
Well, you could.
In 1930, AT&T produced the Iconphone.
It was a two-way videophone that allowed users to see and hear each other in real time.
Strangely, the idea didn’t take off.
But it did create a stepping stone for future video technology...
In 1946, three men - John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Schockley - created a device known as a transistor.
It was a semi-conductive device they used to switch electronic signals and it was able to connect to an external circuit.
It allowed the integration between computers and electronics.
Exactly what a smartphone is!
Then, in 1959, Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng went on to invent a MOSFET device.
Let me put that into some context...
If smartphones were Lego, a MOSFET would be the essential base piece.
The bit that everything else connects to.
Without these early building blocks, we would never have reached the advancement in technology that we have today.
Okay… this is shocking.
Did you know that the first mobile phone call was made just under 50 years ago?
In 1973, Martin Cooper placed the first ever mobile phone call to one of his rivals whilst walking the streets of New York.
Yep, that’s right, he used his invention to brag.
I’m quite surprised that the phone was mobile anyway, considering it weighed 2 ½ lbs!
That’s heavier than a pineapple, people.
You couldn’t exactly slip that in your back pocket.
This wasn’t the only downfall of the first mobile though.
The maximum talk time was just 30 minutes and it took an entire year to recharge.
I know, that’s almost as bad as an iPhone’s battery’s life…
In early December 1992, Neil Papworth sent the first text message in the world (via computer) to Vodafone director, Richard Jarvis.
That was it.
The first ever text message.
Following this, what seemed like a million different ways to text were developed.
First came Multi-Tapping (you remember: 3 or 4 letters of the alphabet per each numerical key).
Are you having terrible flashbacks too?
I remember the pain of missing your letter and having to keep clicking through until you eventually got back to the one you needed.
I can’t picture anything more frustrating than that now.
Oh wait, I forgot about Swype texting.
Remember that one?
When you had to drag your finger across the screen, letter-by-letter, to form a word.
Kind of like a written dot-to-dot.
What a mess that was.
Finally, in the late 90s/early 00s, the QWERTY keyboard came along.
Immediately, everyone loved this.
Finally, we could text with our eyes closed!
Personally, I’d happily use this type of keypad forever.
Since then, the only real development was transforming from an actual keyboard to a touchscreen keypad!
Believe it or not, the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone!
I know, I didn’t want to believe it either.
Although the term wasn’t used until 1995, the first smartphone was actually created by IBM in 1992.
Priced at a hefty $1435 (in today’s prices), the Simon Personal Communicator was the first phone to integrate cell phone functions with PDA technology.
It even had a touchscreen and a stylus!
You could also send emails, schedule appointments and even install 3rd party apps!
These may only seem like small perks now, but that was a crazy amount of features for the 90s!
I know it seems prehistoric, doesn’t it?
But there was a time when our phones weren’t always on silent.
I vividly remember texting the numbers on the back of a magazine to receive a ringtone download.
Or getting bluetoothed them by my friends when I didn’t want to pay.
It was back in 1999 that downloadable ringtones began being sold to mobile phones.
And boy was that a hit.
In fact, tunes such as Crazy Frog (a.k.a. the most annoying song in the universe) became the top-selling downloads in the world.
The Crazy Frog ringtone’s sales were so extensive, it actually beat Coldplay to number one in the UK charts.
Now, that is crazy...
Do you remember a time before 4G?
Can you even recall your first mobile?
I know I can.
It was a clunky, ugly Nokia 3310.
It just about managed to let me call my mum after school and send a couple of texts.
It was nothing like the phones we have now.
It didn’t have an internet browser, or even a camera.
But, this was a long time before the world’s obsession with social media and selfies took over.
But enough about my old phone.
Let’s discuss the specs of each of the G’s over the years.
Time for a #Throwback.
In the 80s, 1G wireless technology was all that was available to the public.
You know what you could do on 1G?
That was it.
The battery life sucked, the phone speed was slow and the call quality - well, it was horrific.
It sounds like a nightmare now.
But back then - revolutionary.
It’s 1991 and people can text!
And they can even send picture messages!
But remember, picture messaging used to cost.
Do your older relatives still refuse to send picture messages because they don’t want to be charged for them?
They don’t realise 2G is a thing of the past!
The internet barely existed in the 90s, developers weren’t to know just how reliant we’d become on MMS.
The 10p per picture was worth it back then because 2G was just so new and exciting!
In 1998, the ever-popular 3G was introduced.
Now, we have data and mobile internet.
Oh, and we can even video call!
3G is still widely used today as only some mobile phone providers offer 4G.
But the most important communication revolution?
How did we even end texts before emojis existed?
Everything seems so blunt without them, right?
Well, the earliest emoji usage actually dates back to 1997.
It was released as part of the Japanese produced J-phone, which provided a selection of 90 emojis (including everyone’s favourite poop emoji).
However, the phone wasn’t very popular at the time due to how expensive it was.
Then, in 1999, Shigetaka Kurita created the first universal set of emojis.
As you already know, emojis have been extensively developed (and diversified!) ever since.
The 21st Century
What’s the most indestructible construction in the world?
Nope, it’s the Nokia 3310.
You could do anything to this phone and it would survive.
Put it in the washing machine? Fine.
Drop it down the stairs? Not a problem.
Hell, I even dropped mine under a moving car once - not a scratch!
This phone was tougher than Mr T!
Plus the battery never died.
I’m pretty sure I could dig my old one out of the attic right now and it would still have a full battery - I haven’t used it since 2006!
Famed for its indestructibility, this phone was incredibly popular worldwide.
If they could incorporate smartphone technology into the body of this phone, it would definitely make a comeback.
I’d drop my entire paycheck on it right now!
I’m in shock right now.
I just can’t believe that the first iPhone was released in 2007.
Talk of the iPhone was around for years before it was actually produced, though.
The iPod had actually existed long before this and the rumours were that Steve Jobs was going to create an iPod that could also function as a phone.
He believed he could completely reinvent the phone - and he did.
In the 3 months since it was first released, Apple had sold a million iPhone's.
That’s a lot for such a short space of time!
But what set the iPhone apart from other phones so drastically?
Innovative Touch Screen
QWERTY Keyboard On A Soft Touchscreen
Full Screen Device
The following year, the first Android phone was released.
Yep, Apple’s consistent rival.
The HTC Dream was created in order to directly compete with the iPhone.
However, it lacked functionality in comparison to other brands (not just Apple).
It did have access to various apps such as Google Maps and YouTube, though.
But it still paled in comparison to the iPhone.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you would’ve heard of Pokémon GO.
But did you know that the worldwide phenomenon actually started as an April Fool’s Joke?
But it’s true.
The creators [Satoru Iwata and Tsunekazu Ishihara] actually collaborated with Google to jokingly create Google Maps: Pokemon Challenge in 2014.
But fans were desperate for it, and the first augmented reality mobile game was released in 2016.
Pokemon fans could run around real-life locations, “collecting” Pokemon they saw through their camera.
The velocity in which it went viral was insane.
I recall heading to the park one night to hunt down Pikachu, and seeing 150+ other people doing exactly the same thing.
Despite technical faults and terrible news stories, the game was ultimately a success.
Perhaps one of the most advanced developments of the 21st century mobile is facial recognition.
With the recent release of the iPhone X, Apple decided to introduce Face ID.
Users were now able to unlock their phones with their face!
After scanning your face (in the same way it scans your thumbprint) an infrared pattern is sent to a secure part of the phones CPU.
The craziest thing about it though, is that you can cover yourself in makeup, a hat and glasses - and it would still recognise you!
Face ID technology is so advanced that it automatically detects if you’ve made a minor change to your appearance!
Yet we still have to submit passport pictures that look like mugshots...
Though the fourth generation network was released in 2008, it’s still not available on every phone.
Whether you have 3G or 4G relies entirely on the phone provider you choose.
If you do have 4G, your phone would have access to;
And so much more!
It’s also the fastest network yet - we can only dream of what the upcoming 5G network would be able to do!
The Future Of Communication
Phone companies have always found a way of making the impossible, possible.
They’ve spent years developing their products, with better technology appearing every day.
Though some of these future predictions may seem crazy at first…
Think about how crazy the idea of carrying around a mobile phone at all was when the telephone was first invented.
Well, this one isn’t that crazy.
Probably because a number of foldable phones already exist.
[RIP the Motorola Razr]
I’m not really sure of the circumstances in which you would need to bend your phone in half..
Maybe you only have a teeny, tiny pocket?
They’re actually used to fold out an extra bit of screen.
But a stretchy phone is on a whole other level.
You’d be able to stretch out the screen until you reach your desired screen size.
I think you'll agree that this is a great idea for watching Netflix.
But just how big could the screen go?
An extra inch seems pointless…
Hopefully, we’ll find out soon!
Sit back, this one is wild.
What if, in the future, we could control our phones with our minds?
Imagine if we could write a text just by thinking about it.
Although, that could end badly if it reads every thought.
“I wish so-and-so would text me less, they’re so annoying.”
It’s not just texting though.
You’d also be able to control any app and edit pictures with a single thought!
It’s crazy, it’s far-fetched, it’s… already happening.
Yep, you heard me.
Facebook have already started working on this technology!
Siri is always listening to you.
If you say “hey Siri” right this second, she’ll respond.
But what if she started to feel?
Hear me out!
AI technology is already incredibly advanced, and this wouldn’t be the first machine to develop “feelings.”
I don’t think anyone would be truly shocked if Siri started taking on a life of her own.
A virtual friend would be extremely popular in the youth market, especially one as reactive and intuitive as an actual person.
Let’s just hope that Siri doesn’t get too emotional!
Things could get creepy.
Technically, we’re already experiencing this.
All those Snapchat filters you use are real-time photo/video manipulation.
But this technology is already advancing and will soon be readily available on mobile phones.
Did you know that there are websites out there that allow you to merge any face onto any body?
And it’s scary how realistic it looks.
It means someone could merge your face onto someone else’s and pretend it’s you that’s been pinching the office mugs.
And the quality of the merger would make the theft seem believable.
You can even download apps that copy your voice and replicate the sound waves.
You can then use these voice files to construct any sentence you like.
I’ve tried this app and it’s honestly terrifying hearing yourself say something you know you didn’t.
As cool as all of these tech upgrades sound, do we really want them?
I bet way back in 1876, when Alexander Graham Bell first invented the telephone, he could never have predicted just how advanced they would become.
It’s unbelievable just how much technology has changed in the past 150 years.
And how much modern-day smartphones have changed in just 12.
I’m definitely excited to see what the next thing to change telephone history is!
At the current development rate of these technologies, the next life-changing event will be in our lifetime.
Possibly in the next 10 years!
What do you think the next smartphone development will be?
Robert Hooke Creates The First Acoustic Telephone.
Antonio Meucci Constructed A Telephone Like Device.
The First Transatlantic Telegraph Line Is Implemented.
Alexander Graham Bell Invents The Telephone.
Alexander Graham Bell Invents The Photo-phone.
Alexander Graham Bell Conducts The First Coast To Coast Call.
The First Telephone Connection Between The US and UK Was Set Up.
AT&T Create The First Videophone.
The First Telephone Calls Between The US And Japan Are Made.
The First Carphone Was Used.
The Transistor Is Invented.
The MOSFET Is Invented.
The Communications Satellite Act Is Passed.
Charles Kao & George Hockham Discover That Fibre-Optic Is Possible.
Martin Cooper Places The First Cell Phone Call.
The FCC Launch The First Cellular Test Network.
The First Automated Commercial Cellular Network Is Launched In Japan.
Motorola Release ‘The Brick.’
Motorola Release The Lightest Phone On The Market, ‘The MicroTac.’
2G Is Distributed.
The World's First Text Message Is Sent.
The First Smartphones Were Sold
The Term ‘Smartphone’ Is First Used.
Iridium Create The First Hand-Held Satellite Phones.
3G Is Distributed.
Downloadable Ringtones Begin Being Sold.
The First Universal Set Of Emojis Are Created.
The Nokia 3310 Is Released.
The First Camera Phone Is Launched In Japan.
VOIP IS Introduced To The Public.
The First iPhone Was Released.
The iTunes Store And Android Market Are Created.
The First Android Phone Was Released.
4G Is Distributed.
WhatsApp Is Released.
Fingerprint Scanning Becomes Popularised.
First Augmented Reality Mobile Game Released.
iPhone X Is Released.
5G Is Starts To Be Distributed.
Wait And See...
Read More: Alexander Graham Bell's Notebook