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The Evolution of Mobile Phone Batteries

Mobile phone batteries have evolved through history to become more powerful and with the capability to hold power longer.


Cell Phones have changed the way we view and access the world – both figuratively and literally. With the swipe of your finger you can access oceans of information, order food, plan trips, do your finances, and kill some time with a game or two.

Now with tools like Google Lens and Apple’s own augmented reality, you can translate signs with a quick snapshot or find that outfit you saw in a shop window.

The only limitation we face in the new digital world is that little green icon in the corner of our screen that counts down from 100 to 0. More often than not, we wish we could make it last longer than it does (that’s why the mobile charging industry exists) but today’s cell phone batteries have come a long way from when they were first invented.

First Mobile Phones
We can’t talk about the first mobile phone battery without talking about the first cell phones, and like most of our technology today, it came from innovations made during World War II. Called an SCR-194 or 195, the first mobile phones functioned much like traditional walkie-talkies and worked within a five-mile range.

In the mid-1940s, the first mobile phones developed by Bell weighed around 80 pounds and cost $330 dollars a month. As you can imagine, these were not for the public but were operated by professions that required enhanced communications like first responders and utility workers.

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Say ‘Thank You’ to the DynaTAC
Fast-forward to 1973, when Motorola developed the first truly handheld phone called the DynaTAC, which inventor Martin Cooper used to place a special call. Who was on the other end of the receiver?

None other than Joel S. Engel, his rival at Bell.

Engel was doing his own research at Bell, however, and was working to develop what would be considered the first true cell phone battery. Unfortunately, as testing continued throughout the 70s, the batteries could only supply 30 minutes of power for a device that couldn’t fit in your pocket.

Motorola would continue to lead the charge in 1983 when the DynaTAC was launched to the public, costing a cool $9,000 in today’s currency. The design itself came in at roughly 2 pounds, which made it the first suitable mobile device.

dynaTAC-8000

Motorola Inc. Chairman and CEO Ed Zander jokingly introduces the 1980s-era Motorola DynaTAC 8000, the first commercially available hand-held mobile phone, during his keynote address at the Venetian during the 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show January 8, 2007.

Cellphone popularity was slow to climb due to issues with both the cost and charge time, not to mention the portable batteries themselves.

They were built out of nickel-cadmium, also known as NiCD, with the later component of cadmium being toxic and difficult to dispose of after use. One of the biggest issues with them was their capacity to maintain a charge after repeated charging, with the capacity falling with each charge.

This made them both difficult to carry and expensive to repeatedly buy.

Despite their setbacks, they paved the way for Nickel-Metal Hydrate batteries also known as NiMH, which were superior in every way. They charged faster, were more compact and came in various shapes and sizes to fit any device. Unfortunately, however, the price point was much higher.

Nokia and Blackberry Elevate the Race
The 1990s saw the development of the IBM Simon, StarTAC clamshell phone, and one of the most famous phones of all time – the Nokia 3210.

Indestructible-Nokia-3310

Indestructible Nokia 3310 is the nickname given to Nokia’s 3000 series mobile phones and customer review parodies poking fun at their durability and heavy weight. The joke typically manifests itself in image macros, in which the Nokia phone is shown to be an incredibly powerful or destructive force.

While car phones were still high in popularity, the Nokia 3210 sold over 160 million units and was one of the first phones to be marketed toward younger customers. Nokia continued to innovate with the 7110, which was one of the first phones that allowed users mobile access to the internet.

RIM’s Blackberry started to boom in the early 2000s, with their data-first devices that provided access to schedules, emails, documents and more. The only downfall?

They couldn’t make calls as they didn’t have a microphone or speaker, with Microsoft solving the issue by bringing out their own device that ran a small version of Windows XP and was able to make wireless calls.

The RAZR Craze & Lithium-Ion Shines
If there is one phone that nearly everyone in North America could recognize, it would be Motorola’s RAZR phone, which launched in 2004 and would go on to sell over 50 million units.

Motorola-RAZR

Motorola’s RAZR phone was an early noughties fashion icon – and the king of flip phones, with worldwide sales of 130 million units for the V3 alone.

The flip phone became a must-have accessory for adults and teenagers with a battery capacity of 680 mAh, with a life of up to 280 hours on standby or up to 7 hours of talk time.

Around the same time, the development and implementation of lithium-ion batteries were taking place – the batteries that we still use today.

Following the same trend as the previous batteries, these were more compact and mobile than the last. The batteries suffered much less from repeated charging and battery life with the malleability to be made into different sizes to fit different phones.

This opened up the door for even faster charging, but one element stayed true which was the increase in price to manufacture and use.

Today’s Phone Batteries
Starting to feel better about your nightly charging routine? At least your phone gets more than seven hours of talk time (and doesn’t weight 80 tonnes).

Today’s mobile phone and charging market is a far cry from the 2000s, 1990s and the 1940s with phones being able to reach even a half charge in 30 minutes.

The inception of fast charging and the type C charger, which many new phones have switched to, now allow higher currents and voltages to flow into the battery.

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