The Evolution of Cellphones in 7 Retro Commercials

Few devices have been as disruptive to modern culture as the cellphone. Forget just talking to people from anywhere, with no wires involved. Today, these amazing devices enable all sorts of good and bad behavior, including Facebook rants, Twitter fights, selfies and Instagram photos of delicious delicacies and drunken text messages to those better deleted from our contacts list. It’s nearly impossible — and, frankly, terrifying — to imagine a world without smartphones. Thanks to YouTube, we can take a look back at how mobile phones evolved, through our most sacred medium: commercials.

Motorola DynaTAC (1984)


In 1984, this brick became the first commercially available cellphone in the U.S. market, which explains why we’re getting the World’s Fair style explanation about what a cellphone is: “This revolution in communications could make it possible for more and more people to have a phone in their car, or even one that travels with you.”

If this level of sorcery seems too good to be true, you’ll go nuts when you hear the portable weighs just 30 ounces. (Yes, that’s nearly 2 pounds.) For perspective: Phones today average around 5 to 6 ounces. This was the ’80s, though — until then it was a simpler, pre-“Ghostbusters” time in America. We didn’t know what amazing technologies lied ahead.

MORE: 12 Most Infuriating Tech Behaviors

RadioShack Cell Phone (1990)


Enter the ’90s — a time when “finding a phone in a car isn’t that unusual anymore,” this RadioShack Cell Phone commercial states. Good thing they had all those people talking on the phone while driving.

RadioShack’s bold claim seems to be that, in 1990, it was common for the phone to leave the car, allowing talkers to be rude and antisocial on the golf course, on a boat or at a restaurant. Really, you can take it anywhere that you can bring the clunky suitcase attached to the phone, because the thing isn’t even wireless.

You’ll have to remember, however, that this was when RadioShack was known more for its sense of humor rather than overpriced cables and accessories. The commercial ends with a young boy, dressed like a “Revenge of the Nerds” extra, getting a phone call to the surprise of his dad. The kid throws out a few business terms, talks about buying shares, and the audience dies of hysterics. Bonus points for that laptop he’s rocking.

Motorola Flip Phone and U.S. Cellular (1996)


We dare you to try and forget flip phones. For their era, these mobile gadgets looked cool. Cellphones became a more reasonable thing for anyone to have. Not only that, but it was only $20 to buy this puppy.

The perks just kept getting better, though. “Yeah, I got all my guys working on it right now,” says a ’90s version of a cool guy, clearly lying because he’s on a boat, not working on anything. There’s a long list of all the things you can do with a cellphone, which all boil down to calling people from different locations. This, of course, opens up the opportunity to make the phone feel sexy by showing women on the beach.

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Nextel Direct Connect (1996)


Strap yourself in for this high-speed action movie of a commercial for Nextel. Remember Nextel, that service Sprint acquired with what should go down in the record books as the most annoying feature ever? Beep!

Nextel gave you access to Direct Connect, a two-way radio that let people be obnoxious anywhere you were seeking peace and quiet: on the bus, the coffee shop — you name it. At least you could have a conversation without wasting minutes. Nextel phones were very popular for a while and continue to be used on construction sites and the like, but the mainstream trend ended more abruptly than this 28-second commercial.

Nokia (2000)


It’s a new millennium, and because a Y2K apocalypse never happened, teenagers started celebrating by buying cellphones that reflected their personality. Nokia introduced a line of customizable covers that everyone’s older sister just had to have.

It wasn’t a huge advancement, but around this time, there was a boom in the number of cellphone users: The number of mobile phones in the United States went from 86 million in 1999 to almost 110 million in 2000, according to InfoPlease. Maybe colored cases were just what people needed.

MORE: 15 Best Android Apps You’re Not Using

Motorola Razr (2004)


As technology advanced, cellphones got smaller and smaller. Just before smartphones took over and made big phones cool again, models like Motorola’s Razr were everywhere. Why wouldn’t you want a phone like this after seeing that it can manipulate matter like some kind of overpowered “X-Men” character in this commercial?

iPhone (2007)


And we’ve arrived at the modern smartphone and the year that Time magazine named the iPhone the invention of the year. As much as Android fanboys hate hearing it, the iPhone is what started the smartphone revolution. It wasn’t the first, but Apple’s take on the pocket computer/phone hybrid changed the way people thought about mobile tech.

The ad teases it perfectly: A voiceover boasts features that you’ve never seen in an iPod before, and it’s all very impressive stuff for 2006 — BUT THERE’S A TWIST. Spoiler alert: It’s not an iPod; it’s the iPhone. And humanity bowed before the device, for it was pretty freaking cool.

From there, we were introduced to phones with similar designs, and new takes on mobile operating systems that we have today. Regardless of which OS you prefer, the great minds behind the iPhone deserve a ton of credit for laying the foundation for every major phone on the market today.


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