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The DynaTAC 8000X - The First Mobile Phone

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Motorola's DynaTAC 8000X

2018 will mark the 34th anniversary of the release of the DynaTAC 8000X, the first commercially available mobile phone. While being a grand innovation at the time, it is a far cry from our modern devices. Weighing in at 30 oz. and standing 13" tall(including the antenna), these things were monsters and really stretched the meaning of "mobile." You could forget about carrying your phone around in your pocket. For comparison, the iPhone X comes in at just over 6 oz. and stands at 5.8", only about a fifth of the weight and less than half the height(without an antenna) as the DynaTAC.

While we're comparing, can you get by with only a half-hour of talk time? Because that's all you would get out of the DynaTAC. You'll just text instead? Not a chance. Texting wasn't available until the '90s. However, in 1983, that 30 minutes of being able to talk to someone else while you're driving around town must have felt like magic. Seeing people talking on the phone in cars in movies as a kid just screamed coolness. Although, this promo video may not show that coolness, it is a fun look at how the technology was perceived.


The first demonstration of a mobile phone took place a decade earlier on April 3rd, 1973. It took place between Martin Cooper, an engineer and lead developer at Motorola, and his competitor, Joel Engal. Cooper used a prototype to call Engal's landline to tell him that he was calling him on a mobile phone. That's really the best way to show it off.


Designing the phone may actually have been the easy part. It took the rest of the '70s and an investment of $100 million to perfect the technology as well as build the base infrastructure. It wasn't until September 1983 that Motorola was granted permission by the FCC to begin selling the mobile units. These became available for consumers in 1984.

"Motorola introduces a complete line of cellular portable and mobile telephones. Introduction of DynaTAC 8000X portable cellular telephone to consumers ...including portable models (starting at US$3,995), car phones and transportable phones." 

What is also interesting is how they initially thought the tech would exist. According to a Motorola fact sheet from 1973, they supplied many questions and answers about the usefulness of mobile phones. This includes such gems as:

Will the portable telephone replace standard telephones?

Absolutely not. The portable phone is designed for use "on the go," when one is away from the office or home, where conventional telephones are not available.

I think everyone may agree that it is better that it evolved. Although, the best may be this one:

How much will it cost to use a portable phone?

Initially, the cost will be comparable to that of a car telephone service, which averages anywhere from $60 to $100 per month. As the market demand increases, the costs will go down. 

In case you're wondering, with inflation, $100 in 1973 is about $550 in 2017 . Also, that starting price of $3,995 comes out to just over $10,000 in 2017. I don't know anyone that would have mobile service now if that was the initial cost and the monthly service price. Thankfully, they were right about the price decreasing. 

The original DynaTAC prototype was nicknamed, "the boot," and is a bit hard to look at with today's aesthetic standards. Thankfully, modern mobile designs look less like, "a phone," and are more suited for uses beyond just making calls. I can only wonder what mobile phones (if they aren't replaced by something else) will even look like in 34 more years.  

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