“Okay, you guys… [ cell phone rings; he pulls out a tiny cell phone ] Hold on. Hello? Yes. Really. Splendid. [ hangs up ] We’re going to the Dolce & Gabbana show. How fast can you have your bags packed for Milan?”
As the boss at Jeffrey’s, Will Ferrell (making his third MoPR blog appearance) demonstrated for America the marriage of fashion and mobility technology. In February 2001, with his super-mini cell phone, Ferrell helped us understand that the glitterati wanted technology compact and gilded; a sort of functional jewelry.
By Fall of that year, the boss at Jeffrey’s was placing a call on a phone not unlike the 1973 model held up in this picture of Martin Cooper, the inventor of the cell phone. “Big is the new small,” Ferrell’s character informs us, after he hangs up from his call with Cami Diaz.
Mobile phones, (aka cell phones and portable phones), began to flourish in the 1980s. But research and development into mobile phones dates back to the 1920s.
Built long before the transistor, imagine the size of the wooden box filled with vacuum tubes used to house the first mobile “phone” (like the one shown in this 1924 picture). Likewise, imagine the size of the batteries used to power it. Walking around with such a phone was not only impractical, it was impossible. So the first mobile communications devices were built into vehicles, primarily for military and public safety use. They also worked on radio frequencies (VHF) and were never part of any phone system.
The technology concepts for true cellular networks were not conceived until the 1940s (see MoPR Mobility Minute: US Patent 2,292,387). With transistors replacing vacuum tubes and better networks becoming available, cellular car phones were introduced – once again battery size keeping true mobile communicators out of the pockets of the glitterati.
By the 1970s mobile phones were portable enough to be carried around like a briefcase. By the mid 1970s, at last a phone that can fit in the palm of one’s hand. Martin Cooper, a former general manager for Motorola, is widely considered to be inventor of the cell phone. Placing the first call over a portable phone — to his rival Joel Engel, head of research at Bell Laboratories, where he began his conversation by saying “Hello Joel, guess where I’m calling from?” — Cooper not only invented the mobile phone, but also the phrase most widely used by people with new mobile phones.
With the cost of cell phones and cell phone calls making adoption prohibitive for most people, many calls were made for only two reasons: first, the person being called had to guess where the caller was calling from; second, the caller had to inform the person being called that a second call would be placed once the caller got to a landline.
By the 1990s the cost of phones and calls were making mobile phones attractive to the general population. Today many cell phones, now able to fit easily into the palm of the hand, a small purse or even the pocket of tight-fitting jeans, come free with an annual service plan, and lower per minute rates and prepaid plans make it possible for a much wider swath of the world’s population to enjoy getting their friends to guess where they are calling from.
Now state legislatures are taking up anti-cell phone regulation to keep people from talking while driving and cell phone etiquette guides would become widely available, and widely ignored.
Text messaging allows people from all over the world to send short instant messages from phone to phone and helps people learn to type with their thumbs using only 10 keys. Amazing.
As adoption increases so do features. Sharp Electronics of Japan put a camera into phones in the early 2000s, and now camera phones are included on a very wide variety of cell phones, including those given for free with annual subscription plans. Suddenly people all over the earth were taking pictures of themselves with camera phones to send people visual clues to help guess where they were calling from.
Ringtones helped personalize phones by allowing a ring to sound like your favorite song or to have different rings for different people. For example, when my wife calls my phone plays “Don’t You Love Her Madly,” by the Doors. When I call, the “Darth Vader Theme” rings over hers.
By 2006, with low-cost phones and plans making it possible for Americas teenagers to have their own camera-equipped cell phones, text messaging became a disruptive nuisance in the classroom. Fortunately, the mosquito ringtone was invented, which produced an obnoxious sound like the buzz of mosquitos that adults cannot hear but are audible to obnoxious teenagers. Now these teenagers can text one another in class without disrupting the lecture with rings or buzzes from vibrating handsets.
Okay fine, you kids go and play with your phones and send text messages about how lame the grown-ups are. But in the end, we’ll have the last laugh. Grown-ups are taking over MySpace (subject of a future post).
By the way, our much-beloved Will Ferrell wasn’t the first comic genius to teach us about the marriage of fashion and mobility technology. 35 years before Jeffrey’s opened its SNL doors, Agent Maxwell Smart was placing calls from a shoe.
Reposted with permission © 2006 Mobility Public Relations