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Looking back at the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X — the first mobile phone that was ever sold 40 years ago today

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The scale and prevalence of mobile phones in today’s age is extraordinary when you think that little more than 40 years ago, not one person was able to buy one commercially. That all changed on March 13 1984, when the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X became the first mobile phone to be sold in the US Midwest and East coast, more than a year after it was first revealed.

Now, millions of mobile phones – that we largely call smartphones – are sold every day. Smartphone sales reached an annual peak of more than 1,556 million units in 2018, before slumping ever so slightly over the COVID-19 years, and remaining at roughly 1,339 million units in 2023, according to Statista. Phones sold today, however, are a far cry from the cumbersome, oversized and blocky Motorola handset that was first sold 40 years ago.

This family of devices was called Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage – or DynaTAC – and the 8000X became the first approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 

An $11,800 phone that offered 30 minutes of speaking time

The 8000X offered 30 minutes of speaking time on a single charge (which took around ten hours to reach maximum battery capacity) and weiged 790 grams. It was also 25 cm (10 inches) long, meaning it wasn’t the most portable in the world – but a shade more portable than anything that had come before it. After all, before its release, the predominate communications system outside of the domestic landline were car phones, which Motorola also first introduced in 1946.

All this would set you back a staggering $3,995 – which is approximately $11,800 (£9,100) today.

The best business smartphones today, by contrast, boast battery lives in excess of 24 hours and enough processing power to run heavy-duty software applications. There’s also the growing trend of on-device AI to take into account – and all for under $2000 (£1,500). Motorola too has kicked on and produced some stunning and iconic handsets through the years, including its Razr flip phone and the foldable equivalents some years later.

But it’s also worth noting the cultural and technological significance of the first mobile phone when it was sold in 1984.

“Consumers were so impressed by the concept of being always accessible with a portable phone that waiting lists for the DynaTAC 8000X were in the thousands,” said Motorola design master Rudy Krolopp on the 20th anniversary of the device, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI). “In 1983, the notion of simply making wireless phone calls was revolutionary.”

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