Word on Wireless: Early Cellphones to Sci-Fi

Science-fiction suggested that by now we would travel via teleporting, time-travel, or at least jetpacks. Instead, we live in a sad world with no flying cars, no colonies on Mars, or homes on the moon. One thing we have is wireless telephony, which is, when one stops to think about it, a kind of magic. This was the future predicted in comic strips and movies, animation and sci-fi TV shows. See what they predicted, and what we got (the reality, in this case, was mostly an improvement).

Decades before the first tablet PC, one appeared in Stanley Kubrick's film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). premium
Decades before the first tablet PC, one appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).


Smartwatches have been around for less than a decade; The Apple Watch was released in 2015. But the idea of ​​a multifunctional watch can be traced back to a 1930s comic strip. Detective Dick Tracy’s famous watch communicator (top left), which first appeared on his wrist in 1946, had a two-way radio link with police headquarters. It was nuclear-powered and high-tech.

Comic creator Chester Gould consulted with Al Gross, a wireless technology pioneer, when creating the device. In 1964, the watch was upgraded to include video functionality and a wrist-sized display screen.

Almost 35 years later, in 1999, Samsung, launched SPH-WP10 Watch Communicator (top right), nicknamed Dick Tracy Clock. It had a digital directory, voice activated dialing, and could tell the time. It didn’t quite take off because it was difficult to use and so heavy that it looked like someone actually had the phone on their wrist.

face time


In The Jetsons (1962–1963 and 1985–1987), the animated TV series set in 2062, video calling devices were everywhere. Like much of the imagined tech in the show, each device had only one function. Videophones were TV-sized monitors controlled via a console. It wasn’t exactly clear how the call system worked, as George Jetson’s boss would periodically pop up on the screen, speaking and listening, at inopportune moments. Each family member seems to have their own device. the wife Jane Jetson had a sleek, possibly new, device (above). In her signature palette of white and purple.


The first “flip phone” appeared in fiction 30 years ago in the real world. Star Trek Captain Kirk used a handheld communicator to contact the starship in orbit. Appearing twice in Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-69), the device was created by and is said to have been inspired by prop designer Wah Chang. Motorola’s StarTAC (above). Released in 1996, it was the first phone in the real world to flip open and close, like Kirk’s Communicator.

Views from space

Responding to a lawsuit filed by Apple in 2011, Samsung argued that Steve Jobs’ company did not invent the design and functionality of the iPad, and cited scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, to support the claim.

As astronomer Heywood R Floyd travels through space, in the sci-fi classic, he flips newspaper items from Earth on a newspad. The text is updated automatically every hour, and sourcebook author Arthur C. Clark wrote, “Even if one reads only the English versions, one can do nothing but absorb the ever-changing flow of information throughout one’s life. News satellites.”

Incidentally, Apple wasn’t the first in the real world either. Microsoft released the Tablet PC in 2001, nearly a decade before the iPad arrived in 2010. The former came with a stylus, Windows interface, and fairly limited capabilities. It’s hard to compare devices that are generations apart, and really only distant cousins, but the Tablet PC outlasted its sleek, slim successor.



In the 2001 satirical film Zoolander, Ben Stiller flips The The smallest phone (above), the size of a matchbox. At a time when phones were shrinking rapidly in the real world, and the tiniest phones earned their owners the most prestige, it was a riff on how willing people could be to embrace the miniaturization trend. Of course, then the smartphone turned everything around, making large, handheld devices the stand-in for the laptop.

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