25 years of the first smartphone | DW | 15.08.2021

The Nokia 9000 Communicator marked the clunky beginning of the smartphone era long before the Blackberry or Apple’s iPhone with a foldable terminal with a full keyboard.

25 years ago, Nokia promised “the office in your pocket” by launching a mobile phone that can be considered the precursor of today’s smartphones. It better be a bulky pocket of the vest: the Nokia 9000 Communicator model was almost four centimeters thick and weighed just under 400 grams. But, like a mini laptop, it could be opened to display a keyboard and a 4.5-inch black-and-white screen (a diagonal of 11.5 cm).

The Nokia 9000 Communicator was presented at the CeBIT 1996 computer fair in Hannover, Germany, and was launched on August 15 of that year. The device marked the idea of how a smartphone should be for a decade: with buttons. Lots of buttons. They were small computers for people who moved around a lot.

The Nokia Communicator 9000.Blackberry phones based on the same idea

After Communicator, Blackberry phones with their keyboards took the idea to perfection, until Apple’s iPhone, with its multi-touch screen, torpedoed this concept in 2007 and laid the foundations of today’s smartphones. Which, by the way, can function as offices in the pocket of the vest, as was seen especially in the Corona pandemic. However, it was also Nokia who brought out the first touchscreen phone: the Nokia 7710.

It did not have the expected success. The Finnish manufacturer must have thought the public didn’t want touchscreen phones. Even the Nokia 7700, a previous model announced at the Mobile World Congress in 2003, which was then in Cannes and not in Barcelona, did not go on sale.

The Nokia 7710 in a Copenhagen store: it cost more than four thousand crowns in 2007, about 550 euros.

In the 1990s, one could only dream of the capabilities of today’s smartphones, such as Microsoft’s visionary 1994 short film “Information at your fingertips,” which featured pocket-sized devices with large screens connected to the internet.

In the video that Bill Gates presented in a speech at the now defunct Comdex computer fair in smartphones Las Vegas, the ‘smartphone’ was also used to pay for a coffee without contact and without cash.

At the same time, it was a time of emergence in which many tried to make reality, with the available technology, at least some innovations in mobile technology. The bolder the visionaries, the more resounding some of the failures were.

The PDA (‘personal digital assistant’) of Blackberry at a presentation at the IFA trade fair in Berlin in 2005.Failures not only at Apple

The Apple company, adrift without its founder Steve Jobs, had a failure with its Newton. The peculiarity of the device was that it had to recognize handwriting with a stylus and a large screen, but the software failed precisely in that.

The start-up General Magic tried for years to launch a touchscreen device that conceptually anticipated many of the functions of later smartphones, but in the end it was too ambitious for the technical possibilities of the moment. Small office to take away

The strength of Nokia’s approach to the Communicator was its simplicity. The device didn’t promise any revolutionary innovations, but it did offer the ability to perform some office tasks on the go. It was possible to send and receive faxes and emails. The device also offered access to an address book and an address book. The price was 2,700 marks without a SIM card (that is, about 1,380 euros -taking into account inflation, it would be much more now-).

Folded, the 9000 Communicator had the look of a conventional and simple mobile phone, with dial keys and a small screen, but a little bulkier. The interior screen had a resolution of 640 by 200 pixels. This seems like a joke by today’s standards, but back then, 640 by 480 pixels was the standard even for large computer monitors.

The Nokia Communicator with its car adapter. Today, collector’s items

The first Communicator had no GPS positioning, no camera, no headphone jack, that is, many of the things that today make up a ‘smartphone’. However, the device was successful enough for Nokia to release other models over the years, which were technically updated. A last-ditch attempt to bring the concept into the era of modern smartphones was made by the Finns in 2011 with the Nokia E7, in which the screen could slide up to show the keyboard underneath.

Those who still have a lost Nokia Communicator 9000 in drawers should not throw it away for hazardous waste recycling at the next cleanup. On eBay and other platforms, the first smartphones are still in demand and reach sale prices above 500 euros.

The meteoric success of smartphones Impressive dinosaur

This is what the world’s first smartphone looked like. The “Nokia 9000 Communicator” had the characteristics of a desktop computer: office software, Internet and fax. Sales began on August 15, 1996. Its price: 800 dollars in the US (715 euros).

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    Author: Hardy Graupner