10th October 2013
2013 is Mobile Gazette's tenth anniversary, so it seemed like
a good opportunity to take a look back at what we think are the
ten most influential devices of the past decade (plus a bit more).
Some are obvious, but we hope that a few of our choices will surprise
Apple iPhone 3G (2008)
An obvious choice perhaps, but why would we choose
iPhone 3G over the original
2007 iPhone? The answer is that the original
iPhone was pretty dire - it didn't have 3G or GPS and
you couldn't download third-party applications, which
are all essentials in a modern smartphone, and it was
often very slow as well. The 3G also started to sell
in really significant numbers, quickly eclipsing the
first-generation device and it really started to eat
into the market share of its competitors.
Of course, the 2009 iPhone
3GS is even better, but the 3G was the first
time the iPhone didn't have to come up with a string
of excuses as to why vital features were missing.
In terms of influence.. well, it should be obvious.
Although touchscreen smartphones existed long before
the iPhone came out, Apple's offering popularised a
certain look-and-feel of both the hardware and software
which led to many copycats.. and many legal disputes
with rivals. In terms of mobile phone history there
is a very clean "before iPhone" and "after
iPhone" period when you look at the products on
Motorola RAZR V3 (2004)
RAZR V3 may be nearly a decade old, but it
was one of the first handsets to sell purely on design
rather than features. Following on what seemed to be
the incredibly tiny Motorola
StarTAC, the RAZR V3 was incredibly thin and carefully
engineered from aluminium. And when it was launched
it was very, very expensive.
The RAZR demonstrated that consumers wanted something
more that just a brick to make phone calls on, and the
handset was an enormous success. However, beneath the
pretty exterior was a pretty dreadful handset which
put a lot of consumers off.
In the end, the RAZR
nearly killed Motorola as the firm kept trying to
remix the same tired old formula instead of innovating,
as a result Motorola eventually lost its independence
and is now a subsidiary of Google.
Nokia N95 (2007)
N95 and it's successor, the N95
8GB competed directly against early iPhones, but
came with 3.5G data, GPS and a first-rate camera plus
access to a large library of third-party applications..
all the things that the original iPhone lacked.
The relatively large QVGA display wasn't a touchscreen,
but it was a lot better than most devices on the market.
This combination of features created a new class of
mobile phone that all other manufacturers had to beat,
and even six years on these old Nokias are still quite
The competitive advantage of the N95 and it successors
was quickly eroded when Apple added many of the missing
features to their range of smartphones, and it took
Nokia until 2009 to come out with a touchscreen device
to compete, with the Nokia
Nokia 6310i (2002)
Launched in 2002, the Nokia
6310i became the quintessential business phone.
It was easy to use, had a long battery life, Bluetooth,
a really loud ringtone and was robust enough to handle
to odd knock and bump.
You could even look at WAP pages on it (which nobody
did) and play Snake (which probably everybody
did). And one reason why it remained popular for years
and years was that many business users had car kits
designed just for this phone.
The 6310i understood its market completely. It didn't
have a colour screen, because it wouldn't add anything
of real value. It didn't have a camera because frankly
the cameras of the day were useless, and in some businesses
and organisations cameras are not permitted on site.
It was a perfectly tailored device for its target market,
and Nokia could never quite repeat the trick with any
of its successors.
Ericsson R380 (1999)
One of the last handsets to come out under the "Ericsson"
brand, the Ericsson
R380 was a touchscreen Symbian smartphone that came
out eight years before Apple really popularised the
The R380 was a monochrome device with a flip down
keypad, like the Sony Ericsson P800 and P900.
Although it was restricted in what it could do (you
couldn't install apps, for example) it demonstrated
what was possible, and for a long time Sony Ericsson
were the clear leaders in smartphone technology and
helped to set the benchmark for what a smartphone should
Back in the 20th century, the R380 looked like a
James Bond gadget.. indeed, a mock-up of a closely related
phone (called the JB988) appeared
in the movie Tomorrow Never Dies.
HTC Wallaby (2002)
Back at the turn of the century, standalone PDAs
were still popular with the two main platforms being
Palm's PalmOS and Microsoft Windows CE. Windows CE was
very popular, but unlike smartphones these devices couldn't
make phone calls or access the internet on the move.
Combining a PDA with a phone seems to us to be obvious,
but by 2002 there were very few examples. The HTC
Wallaby was one of the earliest recognisable
examples of what we would regard as a modern touchscreen
smartphone, and rapid improvements came afterwards which
eventually established HTC as one of the key players
in the smartphone market.
The Wallaby was never sold under its own name, instead
being marketed at the O2 XDA, T-Mobile MDA, Siemens
SX56 and Qtek 1100 plus many other names. And although
both Windows and HTC have had their ups-and-downs since
then, the Wallaby and the handsets that came afterwards
helped to shape the concept of the modern smartphone.
Samsung Galaxy S II (2011)
By the time the Samsung
Galaxy S II came to market, Android smartphones
had already been around for several years, but the S
II represented a significant upgrade to screen size
and processing power and put some clear blue water between
Samsung and Apple.. at least in technical terms.
But despite the Galaxy S II having all the design
charm of a cheap but reliable microwave oven, Apple
took objection to this rather dull slab of a smartphone
and tried to block it in the courts.
While the Samsung Galaxy S II is certainly no design
icon (indeed, has there ever been an iconic Samsung
phone?) it certainly represented an escalation in the
specifications arms race between major manufacturers.
BlackBerry 7230 / 7290 (2003 / 2004)
It's hard to say exactly what device is the definitive
BlackBerry, but we'd suggest that the BlackBerry
7230 is probably one of the best candidates.
The 7230 was tightly focussed on messaging with an efficient
compact keyboard, an unusual but very low power transflective
display, excellent integration with corporate mail systems,
some decent PIM tools with a fairly decent library of
downloadable applications.. and even some games.
The BlackBerry 7290 added Bluetooth, but other features
took a long time to come to the BlackBerry platform,
especially modern essentials such as 3G, WiFi, GPS and
even a camera. But the 7230 helped to popularise messaging
on the move, even if consumers eventually defected to
touchscreen rather than QWERTY devices.
Motorola FONE F3 (2007)
The elegant but very basic Motorola
FONE F3 may not be a top-of-the-range smartphone,
but it has a significant claim to fame as being the
first consumer device to feature an electronic ink display.
Off the top of our heads we can list exactly two
phones with an e-Ink display, the FONE and the as-yet-unreleased
although Samsung did experiment with an e-Ink
keyboard. Some manufacturers are experimenting
with e-Ink displays in smartphone and tablet cases,
but the biggest growth area has been electronic book
readers such as the Amazon Kindle range, where the simple
but low-power display is exactly what is needed.
To a large extent, the rather crude display
in the FONE demonstrated that it was certainly possible
to include this type of screen in a low-cost consumer
device, and in this respect it was a pioneering handset.
T-Mobile G1 / HTC Dream (2008)
G1 (also sold as the HTC
Dream) was the first rather clunky attempt at an
Android smartphone. Where the contemporary Apple
iPhone 3G was an elegant device, the G1 was
rather utilitarian and featured a slide-out QWERTY keyboard
and a little trackball, two features that are essentially
Although modern Android phones are quite different
from the G1, the market had been long awaiting a true
"iPhone killer" handset, and the G1 heralded
what was to become the best-selling class of smartphone
in the world.
But of course, the G1 and all the Android phones
that came after it did not actually kill off the iPhone
at all. But they did kill off Windows Mobile
and then Nokia's Symbian platform.
Well, that's our list. What phones would be on your
list? Send your favourites to firstname.lastname@example.org!