The First Cell Phone Went for $4,000 30 Years Ago Today
March 13, 2014 Leave a comment
When I was 6 or 7 my dad got a cell phone for work. It was huge, clunky, and could only be used for work. Now, even kids have cell phones that are a lot nicer than that one was. Today, it is pretty much expected that any grown adult will have one, in lieu of a home phone.
Somewhere in either Chicago, Baltimore or Washington, someone shelled out $3,995 (about $9,000 in 2014 dollars) to buy the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, the first handheld cellphone, on March 13, 1984.
Measuring 13 x 1.75 x 3.5 inches and weighing 28 ounces, the 8000X was so big and heavy, even its creators had nicknamed it “The Brick.” Unlike today’s phones, the battery only lasted for 30 minutes. Considering at the time pay phones cost about 10 cents to use, cell phones weren’t really necessary.
“The first [phones] we made were a research product,” recalls Rudy Krolopp, Motorola’s legendary design master. “The DynaTAC wasn’t designed to be manufactured and mass produced. Plus, the FCC was giving us all kinds of problems, so to design something we could manufacture sucked up 10 years. We were very busy.”
In all, Motorola spent an estimated $100 million to develop the 8000X — with no idea if the public would ever even want one.
On March 6, 1983, the DynaTAC 8000X was unveild, but it was seven months before the FCC gave the phone its blessing. On October 12, 1983, Ameritech initiated the first commercial cellular service in the U.S. Service cost $50 a month plus 40 cents a minute from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 24 cents a minute off-peak. Two months later, Cellular One launched its Motorola-designed DynaTAC network in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.
“We thought sales [of the DynaTAC 8000X] would be modest,” admitted Paul Gudonis, Ameritech’s VP of marketing and sales and now CEO of medical device maker Myomo. “Our market research on price point indicated buyers would be a select group of entrepreneurs, doctors, real estate agents, construction company owners and large company executives.”
Ameritech sold 12,000 cell phones during the first year. The DynaTAC 8000X amounted to about 10% of these sales. While that is not a lot, it was more than expected.
“We didn’t design them for teenagers — well, unless it was a teenager with $4,000,” Krolopp chuckles. “But we couldn’t build them fast enough. Businesses started taking them on and it became something else, a part of business — not a convenience, but a necessity. We didn’t expect those kinds of volumes.”
Cell phones have come a long way today. It is crazy to think that a phone like that was on the market just 30 years ago.