eWEEK at 30: Glory Days of Nokia, Motoroa, BlackBerry Ended With iPhone

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2014-01-25 Print this article Print

The 9800X had a mouthpiece flap that folded over its keypad when the phone wasn't in use and a prominent antenna that the user pulled out before making a call.

For the next nine years, Motorola put out increasingly smaller and more affordable MicroTAC, and later StarTAC, phones. In late-'90s films, Hollywood leading men Nicolas Cage and Michael Douglas (perhaps hoping for a subconscious link to Gekko?) each used StarTAC phones in films.

Motorola units were the most popular phones of the early 1990s. In 1994, Motorola had a 60 percent share of the U.S. mobile phone market and worldwide it sold 12 million phones to Nokia's 9 million. But as the decade moved on, Nokia pushed ahead.

While Motorola worked on its clamshells, Nokia refined its candy bar phones (which were more Snickers than Hershey bars) with the 1011—the first mass-produced GSM phone—and, in 1994, the smaller, thinner 2100 series, which came in a number of colors and was the first mobile handset for many, many people.

Nokia has said its target was to sell 400,000 units of the 2100 series; instead, it sold 20 million.

"They recognized early on the value of combining voice and SMS … and they were right at ground zero of the GSM revolution," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told eWEEK. "That provided them the market position but also the technical position to dominate."

Nokia was "the Apple of its day," added Gold. "They came out with small, reasonably priced devices that performed well … and it didn't hurt that they were in Europe, where things took off before they did in the States."

In 1996, Nokia wowed the world with the 9000 Communicator, a candy bar-style phone with a small exterior display and a hinge that opened the phone lengthwise to reveal a display as long as the phone and, opposite it, a giant QWERTY keyboard.

"The Communicator fit into a jacket pocket and it felt like a lump of future pulsating against your heart," Finnish writer Tero Kuittinen fittingly wrote in a 2013 BGR article about bringing a Communicator into a New York bar, in 1996, when "literally everyone else … had analog Motorola StarTAC phones that did not even offer SMS support."

Kuittinen added, "Like all Finns that year, I was drunk on an unearned sense of superiority—and three glasses of Absolut on the rocks I drank right after the taxi pulled in from JFK."

In 1998, Nokia sold 39 million phones to Motorola's 34 million, and in 1999 it nearly doubled its lead, selling 77 million phones to Motorola's 48 million.

Between 1999 and 2002, Nokia launched its first phone capable of accessing the Web, its first with a built-in camera, its first with video capture, its first 3G-capable phone and (with the Communicator 9210, in 2000) its first to run the Symbian mobile operating system, making it Nokia's first smartphone.


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