Photos: 10 years of bananas, flips and candybars

Iconic mobiles since the late 90s...
By Natasha Lomas, Contributor on
1 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Iconic mobiles since the late 90s...

Like most of my contemporaries, my first mobile phone was a Nokia. A solid hunk of greeny black plastic, quiffed with an unapologetic aerial. The screen had an orange backlight - as did the translucent rubber buttons - and a reassuringly basic monochrome display. All told, it was something of a brick, certainly by today's slimline standards but it saw me through my uni years before inexplicably malfunctioning and being replaced, ignominiously, with a plasticy Philips which I exhausted within a year after being wooed by the promise of an FM radio.

The next decade or so would not only establish a mass market for mobiles across the developed world, with phones finding their way into pretty much everyone's pocket, but also bear witness to various evolutions of form and function - as fashion dictated, or manufacturer-cunning created.

What began life as a device for phoning people on the move is today an internet browser, a blogging tool, a media player, a video camera, a navigation device, an emailer - and plenty more besides. (We can only guess what another decade of mass market mobile will bring - though the smart money's on lashings of location-based services.)

Looking back over the last 10-plus years of mobile evolution, which handsets stand out as iconic, as something special in their day - perhaps breaking new ground or capturing the imagination of the masses, albeit for a while.

Here is silicon.com's round-up of the mobiles - chunky and svelte - that have mattered since 1996…

Photo credit: Chris Beaumont/CNET Networks

Which mobile hardware do you rate from the past decade? Let us know by posting a Reader Comment below...

2 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

1996 Nicknamed the banana phone because of its curved shape, the Nokia 8110 is also known as the Matrix phone - owing to a starring role in the eponymous 1999 film (albeit in Matrix green, rather than the lilac version pictured here).

Mobile product placement never looked back after the 8110 slipped from Keano Reeves' grasp, giving the camera an eyeful of Nokia goodness before tumbling towards the tarmac. Who wouldn't want one?

The Mighty Finn dominated the late 1990s with many more vanilla offerings than the 8110 so no wonder its launch press release claimed a 'first' for ergonomics: "It feels good in the hand and fits into any pocket. The revolutionary curved design fits the natural shape of your face... The mouthpiece, which has a microphone embedded within it, both protects the keypad and slides forward to fit the contour of your chin."

Touting mobile hardware in the mid-1990s meant shouting about its chin-hugging ergonomics rather than reeling off an acronym soup of tech specs. How times have changed.

Photo credit: Nokia

3 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

1998 The Nokia 5110 may look basic by today's standards but make no mistake - this phone was the standard of its day. Of course there wasn't much mobile choice back then, and a phone was still principally a telephone - a gadget for making voice calls.

But by merit of the phone's sheer ubiquity - and thus its role in popularising mobile technology - the 5110 is a founding brick in mobile's wall of fame.

Because it was so common (and - let's face it - unapologetically dull to look at), the 5110 also fuelled a fashion for removable faciąs, opening up a new mobile business strand that has flourished ever since. Pimp that mobile.

Photo credit: Chris Beaumont/CNET Networks

4 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

1999 While Neo was busy flashing his businessy banana all over the big screen, the majority of mobile users were heading in another direction: handsets without an aerial - what would later become known as the candybar form factor.

And a very popular and enduring form it proved, as today's myriad models testify.

Pictured here is the Nokia 3210 - a phone that looks like it's had its aerial entombed in plastic. The 3210 sold by the bucketload, with many a youth cutting their texting teeth on its keys.

Photo credit: Nokia

5 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

1999 But even in these early years the Mighty Finn decided against putting all its mobile eggs in one basket. 1999 was also the year the handset maker reworked the 8110 to capitalise on the Matrix effect, launching a similar slider called the 7110. This time the device sported a spring-loaded door and a front-facing thumb wheel for navigation - a fitting addition for the first phone to feature WAP.

While no one is going to get nostalgic about WAP - as a technology it was slow, frustrating, let's be honest, all-round awful - but the notion of getting internet access on a mobile? Now that sounds like an idea that's got legs…

Photo credit: Nokia

6 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

2000 While Nokia continued to mine a tasty candybar niche - releasing the likes of the Nokia 8260 in cherry red and electric blue - another Scandinavian mobile maker, Ericsson, was doing well across the pond with this stylish piece of hardware.

The T28, with its pop-out hinged door, seemed to anticipate the flip phone - a form factor that would be attracting the punters by the thousand in a few short years - while simultaneously tapping into the ongoing desire for ever smaller, ever thinner, more pocketable gadgetry.

But if the year 2000 marked Ericsson's high point in mobile, it was also its swan song and it went on to abandon life as a solo player in the mobile space. Still the Ericsson brand lives on: the following year a joint venture between Ericsson and Japanese electronics giant Sony gave birth to Sony Ericsson and the pair have been hawking phones ever since.

Photo credit: Chris Beaumont/CNET Networks

7 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

2001 The Sony Ericsson T68 was the world's first colour screen mobile - which in itself is enough to earn this handset iconic status.

As well as a glorious palette of 256 colours, the phone had a miniature joystick for thumb-based menu navigation. It was also the first to offer a camera attachment - literally an extra hunk of plastic, bought at extra cost, which clipped to the top of the phone. As we now know, cameraphones took off in a big way, although not in that way.

Nokia had the right idea with its 7650, which also launched in 2001: a slider phone with a camera inside.

Photo credit: Sony Ericsson

8 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

2002 The flip phone or clamshell was a form factor that had its day - peaking in popularity in 2005/06.

This form factor was pioneered by Motorola with its 1996 StarTAC. Six years later, flip phones were still chunky, snappy things - yet the form factor was suddenly in vogue: wherever you looked somebody was cracking into a Motorola clamshell, such as the V66i.

Such phones paved the way for another Motorola flip mobile that was so successful it almost did for its maker (but more of that anon).

One phone Motorola launched this year that gets cult classic status at least is the V70 (pictured) - by merit of its "never-before-seen rotating cover and circular display". Not quite a clamshell yet not a slider either, the company reckoned: "Rotating heads will become the norm for those who dare to embrace it". Full marks for originality - but not a great deal else.

Photo credit: Motorola

9 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

2003 Even as clamshells were flying off the shelves there was another movement afoot in mobile: businesses had had high end PDAs and mobiles for years, including the BlackBerry which launched in 1999.

But by 2003 momentum was building behind this device and it was soon to get out of the office and into the street. Blame celebrities such as Madonna for telling the world how much they loved sending email via their 'BlackBerry handheld device' but this very businessy hunk of hardware became a status symbol, even if it looked like a scientific calculator.

And the rest, as they say, is history. By 2004 The Guardian would be asking its readership 'Have you got a 'CrackBerry' habit?'. For many the answer was yes.

Pictured here is the BlackBerry 6210 - a typical 2003 offering from RIM which would cause its fair share of thumbwheel sores.

Photo credit: RIM

10 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

2004 While BlackBerry was attracting its share of phone-lust, a buying frenzy engulfing the Razr. A Motorola Razr V3, that is - the flip phone to end all flip phones. To this day, it remains the best selling phone in the US.

Over the next few years the Razr would be so successful - more than 50 million of them shipped in 2006 alone - that Motorola is still scratching its head and trying to work out how best to follow this class act.

The world and its dog coveted and consumed this razor-thin slice of sexiness - the thinnest phone around in its launch year. It went on to win all manner of best gadget awards and has been released in various special editions from 'hot pink' to gold, courtesy of designers D&G.

Mobiles don't come more iconic than this.

Photo credit: Chris Beaumont/CNET Networks

11 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

2005 The Sony Ericsson W800 was the first Walkman-branded phone - and thus arguably the gadget that ensured the Apple's standalone iPod days were numbered.

The threat to Apple's iPod MP3-player posed by music-playing mobiles like the W800 certainly inspired Steve Jobs' public flirtation with the mobile world this year - his my-heart's-not-in-it Rokr collaboration with Motorola. So, ultimately, Sony Ericsson's music drive - and the success of its Walkman range of phones - set Jobs on the road to the iPhone.

Photo credit: Sony Ericsson

12 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

2006 The BlackBerry's transformation from enterprise tool to consumer contender was complete with the launch of the BlackBerry Pearl. This phone gets iconic kudos for helping to popularise mobile email.

The Pearl arrived with much fanfare in autumn 2006 and boasted a built-in camera and media player (hello world!). It was also goodbye thumbwheel and hello nipple, aka front-mounted navigation 'pearl'.

Compared to a traditional BlackBerry, the size and shape had been tweaked to be more slimline - almost candybar-esque. These consumer-friendly dimensions were achieved by squeezing RIM's trademark full Qwerty to have two letters per key, a compromise that has garnered plenty of fans while not being to everyone's taste.

The Pearl's design has endured to this day basically unchanged - with the addition of various colours, from slate blue to pink.

Photo credit: RIM

13 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

2007 If you thought Nokia had given up in the face of all this competition, think again. 2007 was the year the Finnish empire struck back with the N95 - a smart phone that seemed to have everything going for it: 3G, GPS, wi-fi, a 5 megapixel camera, high end multimedia media playback, web browsing… Heck it even had an accelerometer. Cupertino start your photocopiers...

So even though this was the year Apple launched its undoubtedly iconic iPhone - and got the lion's share of the media's attention - Nokia gets our vote for its N95 which showed it was possible to cram all that functionality into one kick-ass handset.

Those Mighty Finns were back on form alright.

Photo credit: Nokia

14 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

2008 But alright already. No feature on iconic mobiles would be complete without a nod to the iPhone. The 3G iPhone, which launched in 2008, will surely be considered the iPhone proper - the handset as it should always have been, with built in 3G (and GPS).

Apple's mobile play sent shockwaves through the industry and threatened to unseat its dusty business models. First off the use of touchscreen technology was a masterstroke that cemented the reinvention of the smart phone - here now was a fully fledged consumer gadget. Web browsing on the move? No longer frustrating and cramped. What about the UI? Icon-based and a pleasure to use. And then there's the App Store - a model for distributing third-party apps that has been copied, like the iPhone hardware itself, by myriad mobile players.

Relying on developers to create excitement around mobile hardware has never been more important - see Google's Android platform push, BlackBerry shouting about its developer focus, Symbian going open source

At least in part, the mobile industry has the iPhone to thank for shaking things up - in a good way. Sure the iPhone doesn't have cut and paste - but is history going to care? We think not.

Photo credit: Apple

15 of 15 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

2009 So what next for the mobile world? What will 2009 bring? Speculating wildly, there is of course Google's Android to consider. The first handset to run this platform - the G1, pictured above, and made by HTC - is likely to get several brothers and sisters next year but the excitement here is largely around the software.

Another trend is at play too which the G1 seems to anticipate: the rise of netbooks. Push up the touchscreen and the G1 has a full Qwerty keyboard underneath. And as mini laptop makers flirt with embedding 3G into their hardware some kind of mobile/laptop convergence could well be on the cards.

Photo credit: CNET.co.uk

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