Ten Years Ago, the Inventor of the mobile phone said they have become ‘too complicated’

Martin Cooper, 1973

Ten years ago, in the year 2009, Rachel Cooper of The Telegraph (UK) wrote:

Mobile phones with cameras and music players are too complicated, according to the inventor of the device.

 Martin Cooper, who was the lead engineer of the Motorola team that developed the mobile phone, told a privacy conference in Madrid this week that today’s phones try to do many things for too many people.

“Whenever you create a universal device that does all things for all people, it does not do any things well,” said the 80 year-old, who made the first wireless call from a busy Manhattan street corner on April 3 1973.

“Our future I think is a number of specialist devices that focus on one thing that will improve our lives,” said Mr Cooper, who has previously criticised the iPhone for being overly complicated and hard to use.

“The first cell phone model weighed over one kilo and you could only talk for 20 minutes before the battery ran out, which is just as well because you would not be able to hold it up for much longer,” added the Chicago-born scientist.

However sales figures suggest that consumers are increasingly seeking phones with a range of features.

In 2007, Nokia’s 1100, a straightforward handset nicknamed “Penny”, surpassed the 200-million unit mark, making it the world’s top-selling gadget. But over the past year sales of smartphones – which have some of the same functions as computers, such as internet access and music players – have risen sharply.

Across England, France, Italy, Germany and Spain, figures compiled by GfK, a market research organisation, suggest that sales of mobile phone handsets decreased by 10 per cent over the last year, but sales of smartphones have increased by 140 per cent from 3,810,097 to 9,129, 868.

Aaron Rattue, business group director at GfK, said that these days smartphones account for close to one in ten phones bought. “The market has more than doubled in size in 12 months,” he said.

Dr Jon Agar, senior lecturer in science and technology studies at University College London, who wrote Constant Touch: A Global History of the Mobile Phone, added that there was little evidence that people were eschewing complicated technology.

“Martin Cooper’s assertion flies in the face of current trends, and I see no particular evidence to suggest that the trend towards more ‘universal’ mobile phones is going to change direction,” said Dr Agar.

“Mobiles are far more than mere phones – they have the capabilities and flexibilities of a computer. Designers have made use of these capacities, and will continue to do so. The future of technologies is ultimately in the hands of users – and the vast majority of users have historically been loath to add to the very small number of technologies that we carry around with us.”

But Ben Wood, director of research at CCS Insight, which provides market analysis for the communications industry, suggested that the bid to maximise the number of features available on a phone was easing.

He said there had been an “arms race” amongst mobile phone manufacturers, who were competing to add features to their phones such as increased memory and better cameras. But “that technology arms race is starting to slow down now.

“For example, 12 megapixel cameras are only available at the very high end of the market.”

“Mobile phone shops are starting to sell experiences rather than features,” he continued. “They’ll advertise the top five phones with satnav or the top five camera phones.”

Mr Wood also added that there would always be a market for the simpler “talk and text phones”.

“Those products will always exist,” he said.

I wonder what he thinks today!

Martin Cooper

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