Telegraph to Finally Tap Out
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"Joel, this is Marty Cooper, I'd like you to know that I'm calling you from a cellular phone." Exactly 40 years ago, on April 3, 1973, Motorola engineer Martin Cooper placed this call -- the first ever on a cell phone -- to Joel Engel, his rival at AT&T’s Bell Labs.
Cooper, now 85, made history in downtown Manhattan using the bulky prototype he had developed.
Cooper's prototype arrived on the market a decade later at the staggering price of $3,995. Designed by Rudy Krolopp, it was known as the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, or simply "the brick.” Featuring 20 large buttons and a long rubber antenna, it measured about 11 inches high, weighed almost 2 pounds, provided one hour of battery life and could store 30 phone numbers.
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Released in 1984, Nokia’s Mobira Talkman was advertised as one of the first transportable phones. It was sold for use both in and out of a car -- if you could lift it.
Nokia's concept evolved in 1987 with the handheld mobile Mobira Cityman 900. Weighing 28 ounces, it was one of the lightest phones at that time and cost 24,000 Finnish marks ($5,178).
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Ahead of its time, the Motorola MicroTAC was the smallest available phone when it was released in 1989. Featuring the flip-phone form later adopted by the fashionable StarTAC, the first clamshell cellular phone, the MicroTAC was 9 inches long when open and weighed only 12.3 ounces.
Launched in 1992 -- also when the first text message arrived -- the Nokia 101 was the first commercially available GSM mobile phone.
Although it lacked the famous Nokia ringtone, introduced in 1994, it featured a monochrome display and memory for 99 phone numbers. Its design anticipated the successful "candy bar” phones.
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Released in 1993 as a joint creation of IBM and BellSouth, this was the first smartphone. A fax machine, a PDA, a pager and a mobile phone, the IBM Simon featured no physical keys, but used a touchscreen and optional stylus. Amazingly, it included applications such as games, email, a notepad, calculator, world clock, address book and a calendar. It only sold in the United States, for $899.
Launched in 1999, this was the first mobile phone with integrated GPS.
Featuring a large grayscale LCD screen, it offered a 12-channel GPS navigator and maps to trace position. It also sent coordinates via text messages to a list of emergency numbers and featured a "friend find” service to track other Benefon Esc users.
Launched in 2000, the Samsung SPH-M100 Uproar holds its place in history as the first mobile phone capable of storing and playing MP3 files.
Cell phone photography arrived in 2000, with Samsung's SCH-V200, a VGA-camera-equipped phone. Released in South Korea, it featured a digital camera with a 180-degree rotating lens and a maximum resolution of 352 x 288 -- a far cry from the 41-megapixel camera phone that Nokia will release in European markets in May.
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Motorola brought contemporary design to mobile phones with the Razr V3 in 2004. Thin, trendy and stylish, it featured a VGA camera, quad-band compatibility and Bluetooth support.
The phone became an icon. According to Motorola, more than 110 million units sold worldwide.
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The launch of Apple's iPhone in 2007 changed everything. With its unique design, easy-to-use operating system and a multitude of apps to download, the multi- touchscreen phone set the standard for all cell phones to come.
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Once an accessory for the privileged, Martin Cooper's vision is now a staple of life. Today the world has nearly as many mobile phone subscriptions as inhabitants.
Indeed, 6 billion people, out of the world's estimated 7 billion, have access to mobile phones.
When India sends out what is being called the world’s last telegram on July 15, the sound of those last few dots and dashes will mark the end of an era.
Before there were phones, e-mails, texts or instant messages, the telegraph was the tool that made it possible for people over long distances to communicate with each other within the shortest time technologically possible.
In 2006, Western Union, which had been transmitting telegrams since 1851, delivered its last message in Morse code. India, the largest country that still uses the telegraph regularly, will send out the last dots and dashes over the wire before it too shuts down its telegraph in what’s being described as the world’s last telegram.
Telegraph service is still available in some industrialized nations, but in such cases a telegram serves as more of a retro novelty than a practical means of communication. Given the speed with which new communications technologies emerge to quickly displace what came before, however, the telegraph has proven surprisingly resilient.
Before there was the telegraph, systems of communication using visual codes, such as smoke signals or beacons, existed for millennia. The electric telegraph, with its roots in the mid-18th century, was the mass communications tool of the industrial era.
The telegraph presented a means with which to communicate over great distances, but what was lacking in the earliest telegraph designs was a practical system with which messages would be transmitted and interpreted. In the mid-1830s, Samuel Morse, along with his assistant Alfred Vail, changed that by devising a system of dots and dashes that would correspond to each letter of the English alphabet — Morse Code. A decade later, Morse’s system would be commercialized and deployed throughout the United States, and become the international standard of telegraphic transmission.
Just as the telephone and fax eventually made the telegraph obsolete, so too did the telegraph displace another means of information transmission: the horse rider. Shortly after completing the first transcontinental telegraph line in the United States in 1861, Western Union put the Pony Express, then the fastest means of getting a message from east to west, out of business.
Five years after wires connected both coasts of the United States, a telegraph line was constructed that spanned the Atlantic Ocean, connecting the United States and Europe. By the end of the 19th century, every continent, except Antarctica, were interconnected by telegraph wire — the world’s first-ever global mass communications system.
The benefits of the telegraph were obvious and immediate: fast-moving (at least for the era) exchanges of information. Telegraphic communications were responsible for everything as mundane as striking a deal between parties exchanging goods or services to exceptional cases where a telegram saved lives or helped catch a killer. And as more miles of telegraph wire was lain down, the cheaper it became for the average person to send a telegram, making those benefits more broadly available.
Just as the 19th century would see the rise and eventual domination of telegraph communications, the 20th century would almost be a mirror image of that success, bringing about the telegraph’s decline. The popularization of the telephone in the first half of the 20th century, and later the Telex, the fax machine and e-mail in the second half would render the telegraph obsolete.
Photo: When India sends out what is being called the world’s last telegram, the sound of those last few dots and dashes will mark the end of an era. Credit: Corbis Images