10 Groundbreaking Firsts in Mobile Phone History

Modern smartphones can do a ton of different tasks and functions. They do everything from taking photos to surfing the web for us. However, before these features became standard among phones, they had to be put to the test. Those first devices might not be the most famous ones, but they set the stage for the devices that came after.

Here is a list of 10 smartphone firsts that helped shaped the devices we use today.

1. The First Camera Phone

photo of a person taking a picture with their smartphone

Cameras are a standard part of any modern smartphone experience today, but over two decades ago, the story was different. Back in 1999, Japanese phone manufacturer Kyocera brought their Visual Phone VP-210 to the market. This silver block of a phone had the aesthetic of modern phones of the day but with one distinction.

On the front of the device, there was a large camera module. This camera could take pictures at a whopping 0.11 megapixels. The Kyocera Visual Phone VP-210 was able to take up to 20 pictures before running out of onboard storage.

2. The First Phone With Multiple Cameras

Today’s flagship and mid-range phones come with a handful of cameras to create a versatile photography experience. Moreover, some apps will even use your phone’s camera. While the HTC One M8 gets an honorary mention as the first modern smartphone to have multiple cameras, LG takes the cake in this regard.

The LG Optimus 3D launched in February of 2011 and brought a pair of cameras on the back. 3D was the main theme of this phone with its 3D screen and 3D centric UI. As for the cameras, instead of working as separate sensors, the cameras on the LG Optimus 3D would work in tandem, creating a three-dimensional image.

3. The First Phone With a Fingerprint Scanner

Fingerprint scanners on phones are nothing special by any means, even with the recent advent of under-display fingerprint scanners. Before they became standard among mobile phones, Pantech released the Gi100 in 2004. It was a pretty standard-looking flip phone of the day, and had decent specs.

The headlining feature was the fingerprint scanner that was placed right in the center of the D-pad for easy access. But it wasn’t only used to unlock the phone. One neat feature was the ability to assign up to 10 numbers to be quickly accessed by scanning one of your fingers. From that point, other companies like HTC and Toshiba implemented fingerprint scanners on their phones.

Related: How Have Fingerprint Scanners Developed Over the Years?

4. The First Phone With a HD Display

Smartphone App Screen with iOS apps

HD displays are nothing special these days. Back in the early 2010s, however, Samsung rocked the world by bringing the Galaxy SII HD LTE to the market. This phone brought an impressive (for the time) 720p display.

The 4.65-inch display (which was massive for the time) had 921,600 packed in it. That Super AMOLED panel had a pixel density of 316 pixels per inch.

5. The First Phone With a Touch Screen

We’re all used to interacting with our phones via touch screens, but it wasn’t always that way. Even though touch screen phones were coming into prominence in the mid-2000s, the first touch screen phone was introduced in the early 1990s.

IBM brought us the first phone that could be used via touch. It introduced the IBM Simon, a phone that looked nothing like a modern touchscreen phone. It had a tall and slender profile with the typical earpiece and bottom microphone. In the place of the dial pad, The IBM Simon had a large LCD touch screen.

The feature list makes this phone seem like the first smartphone. I was able to make calls, send emails, and send faxes. It also had an address book, clock, calendar, scheduler, and notepad application onboard. The IBM Simon retailed for $1,099 back when it launched.

6. The First Phone With Bluetooth

Photo of an iPhone with Bluetooth switched on

We’ve been streaming music and sending files via Bluetooth for years. The technology was unveiled in 1999, and it didn’t take long for it to spread to different devices. The first phone to utilize Bluetooth technology was the Ericsson T36. Ericsson showcased this phone during COMDEX 2000.

The Ericsson T36 never made it to store shelves, however, due to delays caused by a supply shortage at Ericsson. It was revised as the Ericsson T39 and sold in 2001. The Ericsson T36 was an average-looking clamshell phone that didn’t look like much to the average viewer.

7. The First Phone With Internet Access

Photo of a woman using her phone outside

Back in the mid-1990s, the internet was all the rage; thus planting the seeds for the internet on phones. The first mobile phone to access the world wide web was the Nokia 9000 Communicator. This phone had (aside from a cool name) a full QWERTY keyboard that could be accessed by flipping up the top of the phone.

On the inside of the top flap, there was an LCD display. With that display, it could pass for an ancestor to the modern smartphone— the feature set definitely helps also. The Nokia 9000 communicator could fax, send emails, do word processing, make spreadsheets, and above all, access the internet.

8. The First Phone With Near Field Communication (NFC)

Most people know NFC as the technology behind Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. It’s been pretty standard across smartphones for the past couple of years. Before it reached the mainstream, NFC was implemented into the Nokia 6131 NFC back in 2007. This phone was pretty standard-looking, being a run-of-the-mill clamshell device. The magic, however, was on the inside.

The NFC capabilities granted this phone the ability to share files wirelessly, store business cards, and even make payments. Nokia, being forward-thinking, saw the possibility of using your phone as an ID and wallet. Nowadays, there are a lot of things that you can do with NFC.

9. The First Water-Resistant Phone

Water and dust resistance is pretty standard among flagship smartphones nowadays. A decade ago, however, it was still something pretty profound. Back in 2010, Motorola was the first company to give a phone resistance against the elements.

The Motorola Defy launched with an IP67 water and dust resistance rating. Not to be confused with waterproof, this means that it was protected from all types of solid particles, and it could be submerged under three feet of freshwater for 30 minutes without any issues. The Motorola Defy was an all-around rugged device that could take a lot of mishandling.

10. First Android Phone

Photo of an Android phone

Android is a massive mobile platform, with billions of devices worldwide. There are a metric ton of phone manufacturers that use the Android software, but which phone was the first? That honor goes to the HTC Dream.

This phone was released in 2008 and ran Android version 1.0. It later ran Android 1.6 Donut. The 3.2-inch display would slide up to reveal a physical keyboard. The HTC Dream had a whopping 265MB of storage and 192MB of RAM. This phone was released to mixed reviews, but it paved the way for one of the most robust and colorful mobile operating systems to flourish.

These Smartphones Were Born Mundane, but Became Legends

The phones on this list brought features to the mobile phone space well before they were mainstream, but that’s the beauty of them. Some of the most memorable devices brought something new to the table before the public knew the value. It’s hard to think just how different our smartphones would be if these 10 devices didn’t exist, so we owe them a lot of appreciation.

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