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When Alexander Graham Bell patented his improved version of Johann Philipp Reis’ early telephone design, few could have foreseen the impact it would have on how we communicate with each other. The telephones we use today are a far cry from the pioneering efforts of Bell and Reiss, and to celebrate the evolution of one of mankind’s greatest inventions we’ve put together a brief guide to the fascinating history of telephony.

History of telephony infographic

1664 – Tin Cans and String

Robert Hooke undertakes first serious experiments using cans and string. The “Tin Can Telephone” or “String Telephone” is the first, and most basic telephone that has ever existed. It was essentially an acoustic, non-electrical speech-transmitting device made of two twin cans. Sound was broadcasted over an extended wire by mechanical vibrations.

1861 – Johann Philipp Reis Invents First Working Telephone

Johann Philipp Reis invents the first working example of a telephone. Named “the Reis Telephone”, was a device that captured sound and converted it into electrical impulses, which were then transmitted via electrical wires to another device that transformed these pulses into recognizable sounds – similar to the originals acoustic source.

1876 – Alexander Graham Bell Improves on Reis’ Design

Alexander Graham Bell improves the Johann Philipp Reis design and patents it. Building on the prior developments made by others, Alexander Graham Bell invented the first device that produced and transmitted clearly distinguishable replication of the human voice. Bell patented his invention, which became “The Telephone”. This was the first ever device that allowed people to have direct verbal contact across large distance. The first words ever to be spoken through a telephone cable were “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” This was without doubt the biggest breakthrough in the history of the telephone.

1905 – First Dial Telephone Becomes Widely Available

The first dial telephone becomes widely available. The “Rotary dial” enabled people to make direct calls using a combination of digits laid out on a rotary finger wheel that was attached to the face of the telephone. Electrical impulses generated from the spring action dial were encoded into a specific digit – clever stuff.

1937 – First Ringing Telephone Released

The first telephone to have a ringer installed. We start to see things get a little more compact – The Model 302 telephone included the ringer and network circuitry in the same telephone housing. Previously it was in a separate box.

1956 – World’s First Mobile Telephone Invented

The world’s first mobile telephone is invented. The SRA/Ericsson MTA weighed around 88 pounds and was roughly the size of a suitcase. The sheer weight and size of the device, ironically, meant that is was virtually immobile. So it was an immobile, mobile telephone…

1963 – World’s First Push-Button Telephone is Released

The world’s first push button telephone is released. The push-button telephone meant that instead of dialling keys, buttons were used to make a direct call to another telephone device. These devices had dual-tone-multi-frequency signalling, which uses voice-frequency bands over telephone lines – this became know as ‘Touch-Tone” and consisted of a telephone keypad, upgrading on the rotary dial.

1973 – Martin Cooper Invents First Working Cell Phone

Martin Cooper invents the first fully working cell phone. Motorola produced the first handheld mobile phone – prior to this, mobile telephones were only installed in cars and other vehicles. The original prototype model weighed a total of 1.1kgs – that’s about the weight of 2 packs of ground beef. It was 23 cm long, 13cm deep and 4.45cm. After 30 minutes of use, the device had to be re-charged for around 10 hours. Six years later, the first commercial cell phone becomes available to the public. It cost $3,995.

1993 – World’s First Smartphone is Invented

The world’s first smartphone is invented. A smartphone is essentially a mobile phone with an advanced mobile operating system that combines features of personal computer operating system with other features useful for mobile or handheld use. This prototype consisted of a mobile phone, pager, fax machine and PDA.

1993 – Nokia Releases First Text Messaging Phone

Nokia debuts the first mobile phone with text messaging capability. Nokia was the first handset manufacturer whose total GSM phone line in 1993 supported user sending of SMS text messages. Four years later, in 1997, Nokia expanded on this by introducing the first mobile phone device with a full keyboard.

2000 – First Camera Phone is Released

The first camera phone is released. The Samsung SCH-V200 was capable of taking 20 photos at 350,000-pixel resolutions, which is the equivalent of 0.35 megapixels.

2007 – Apple Releases First Touchscreen Smartphone

Apple released the first touchscreen smartphone. The “iPhone” (also referred to as the iPhone 2G), was the breakthrough of touchscreen smartphone technology, which now dominates the global mobile telephone market. Steve Jobs perfected the idea of using a multi-touchscreen to interact with a computer without the need for a physical keyboard – the same as a tablet computer. The first 8GB model cost $599, but Apple later dropped the price to $399. Apple now take a 18.3% market share of the smartphone market; making them the leading smartphone vendor.

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