During a group conversation in my office the other day a colleague asked, “Have you decided on a topic for your first Monday Morning Mobile column?” As I paused for a moment to think, my gut reaction to the question overcame my thought process and I responded, “I am going to start at the beginning; my first cell phone”.
I can still remember the make and model to this day, the Motorola StarTAC. I didn’t get mine until 1998, but the iconic StarTAC was first released on January 3, 1996 as William Jefferson Clinton began the final year of his first term in office. Later that month (January 28th), The Dallas Cowboys would go on to become the first franchise in NFL history to win 3 Super Bowls in 4 years, while in entertainment world the Macarena, by Los Del Rios, topped The Billboard 100 chart. As the world’s smallest and lightest mobile phone, weighing in at 3.1 ounces, the StarTAC allowed you to make calls with a sense of class and style like never before (preferably during nights and weekends when minutes were free) so long as you had a signal. Yes a signal! These were the days before there was either an APP or a MAP for that. The Motorola StarTAC was the first instance of the mobile phone’s legendary transition from a functional utility to a brand recognized cultural phenomenon.
The StarTAC was just the tip of the iceberg. By 2000, even as the Dot Com Bubble was bursting, mobile phone subscribers had increased to 50% of the U.S. population. Furthermore, a feature rarely used on earlier model mobile phones was starting to gain popularity; text messaging. Text messaging or SMS (Short Message Service) was slow to catch on as carriers struggled to implement turnkey pricing, but by June 2000, U.S. subscribers were sending an average of 12.2 million messages per month. Nokia reported text messaging had addictive tendencies in their Global Messaging Survey in 2001, but no one could have predicted that only four years later, by June 2005, U.S. subscribers would be sending an average of 7.2 billion messages a month. Nor could they have predicted the exponential growth this phenomenon would see, increasing 1877% in volume in just four years to an average of 135.2 billion messages per month (June 2009).
Today, the text messaging epidemic continues to spread like wild fire, through the advent of unlimited voice and data plans offered by most carriers on a plethora of enhanced mobile devices. With the next generation of mobile phones upon us, devices such as Palm Pre, Droid, iPhone and Blackberry (commonly referred to as Crackberry) people turn to their cell phone for more information than ever before. By the 1st Quarter of 2008 the number of text messages sent surpassed the number of phone calls being made on a monthly basis by U.S. Subscribers. Total mobile phone subscribers reached 270 million in the U.S. alone during 2009 compared to only 232 million internet users. It wasn’t long ago that the mobile phone was thought to be the 3rd screen (1. Television 2. Computer 3. Mobile Phone); however, it has quickly become the 1st screen due to its intimate nature and constant availability. The culmination of this can be seen in a recent report by eMarket.com which predicts mobile ad spending will increase from $416 million in 2009 to over $115 billion in 2013. Terms such as “text me” have transitioned from pop culture staples and street corner rumbles to the boardrooms and corporate headquarters of major institutions around the world.
Mobile sure has come a long a long way since my Motorola StarTAC. The Mobile phone of today is more of a device than a phone; it’s our own personal 24/7 gateway to information, music, social networking, games, messaging and every once in a while we’ll use it to make a phone call. How do you use yours?