O'BRIEN: Cellphone has gone from 2-pound brick to multimedia marvel

Posted: Apr. 5, 2013 3:31 pm Updated: Jun. 28, 2013 9:15 pm

The cellphone turned 40 earlier this week. No, really. I couldn't believe it either.

"They've been around for that long?" I thought.

Back on April 4, 1973, Martin Cooper, a Motorola employee, made the first call from a mobile device while he was in New York City. The phone he used was called a DynaTAC and weighed just over 2 pounds. I doubt that he was able to carry it on his hip.

And there's no truth to the rumor that Cooper's first words were "Can you hear me now?" But it wasn't far from that. According to an article on, a leading technology news website, Cooper's first words were "I'm ringing you just to see if my call sounds good at your end."

Cooper told "60 Minutes" that he nearly got hit by a taxicab as he stepped on to the street while making that first call. It's a call that was just as important as when Alexander Graham Bell told Mr. Watson he needed him in the first telephone call in 1876.

Think about how far the cellphone has come. That first model Cooper used was a prototype for Motorola's first commercial mobile phone, which went on the market 10 years after his first call. They sold for $3,995. Today, you can get the phones for next to nothing and they only weigh a few ounces.

Not only can you talk on the phone, but you can take pictures and video with them, send text messages with them and cruise the Internet. If you ever get upset with your cellphone's battery not lasting long, consider that the one Cooper used for the first call had all of 20 minutes of battery life.

As a kid, there was probably nothing more that I wanted than what we called "car phones." Those car phones were a status symbol. I pictured everyone who cruised around in a limousine in the 1980s was chatting away on their phone while sipping wine in the back seat.

How cool would it be to talk on the phone and not get wrapped up by a cord? When we got our first wireless phone at home, I thought I could take the thing everywhere. Unfortunately, by the time I got a step or two outside the house, the signal died. So much for looking cool in the neighborhood.

Like many others, I was jealous of the fictional Zach Morris, the lead character from "Saved By The Bell." He toted around one of those huge brick cellphones during the show's run in the early 1990s. One of the last Seinfeld episodes centers around the cellphone. None of us today would even to think to debate if the "walk and talk" is appropriate or not.

Over the last 15 years or so, cellphones have become commonplace. A United Nations telecom agency said that at the end of 2011 there were 6 billion cellphone subscriptions worldwide. The cellphone has made things like phone booths obsolete.

I bought my first cellphone in 1998, not long after moving to Quincy. It was a Nokia 5110 and had a game called "Snake" that I could never figure out. Fast forward to 2013 and I'm carrying around an iPhone 4S and playing a game called "Candy Crush" that I can't seem to figure out. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What's in store for the next 40 years of wireless telephone technology? The possibilities seem endless.



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