The golden age of the mobile phone preserved in a new museum

Ben Wood was working in Vodafone’s long-forgotten premium-rate telephone lines division in the mid-1990s when the mobile phone market suddenly took off.

In just over a decade, the handset has evolved from car battery-sized technology to “candy bar” style designs that propelled it into the mainstream.

Wood preserved every development, salvaging old handsets from Vodafone jumps. Almost 30 years later, he has amassed a collection of 3,255 models spanning the “golden age” of the mobile phone. “It’s a bit more than that with the ones I have at home and hidden from my wife,” he admitted.

Motorola DynaTAC8000x, which was the symbol of the Gordon Gekko era
The Motorola DynaTAC8000x, which was the symbol of Gordon Gekko’s ‘greed is good’ era © Theodore Liasi/Alamy

He has now teamed up with other collectors to launch the world’s first major mobile phone museum, funded by a five-year sponsorship deal with Vodafone which was struck this week.

The museum will launch as a vast online archive in November to tell the story of what is now the world’s most prolific consumer device, with 1.5 billion smartphones sold last year alone.

The Mobile Phone Museum, which will be structured as a charitable organization, will be transformed into a traveling exhibition presented in museums and schools of science and design over the next few years.

It will showcase popular handsets that predate the iPhone era. Phones like the Nokia 3310 “Beetle”, which shipped 126 million devices and brought the Snake game to the world; the fashionable pink Motorola Razr – the best-selling phone in Carphone Warehouse’s history – and full-keyboard BlackBerry models, will offer a nostalgic jab at a bygone era of personal communication, according to Wood.

Among the phones on display are the Nokia 3310, left, which has shipped 126 million devices, Motorola’s fashionable Razr and the Xelibri-4

The museum also features handsets that had a significant cultural impact, including Wall Street’s Motorola DynaTAC8000x, which was the symbol of the Gordon Gekko ‘greed is good’ era and the cult Nokia 8110 ‘banana’ phone. due to its use in the movie The Matrix. There’s also a collection of the ugliest forgotten phones – including the Nokia 3650 which had a circular rotating phone-style keypad that made texting impossible – and upgradable dead ends such as the Siemens Xelibri fashion range, some of which were based on extraterrestrials. designs.

Wood, 48, spent the lockdown scouring eBay for rare models after being “horrified” at the thought of people emptying their attics and throwing old handsets in the trash.

Keanu Reeves in The Matrix
Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, which gave the Nokia 8110 cult ‘banana’ phone status © Alamy

Now a telecommunications analyst with research firm CCS Insight, he said the glory days of the innovative mobile industry were over as a “sea of ​​similarity” – touchscreen rectangles – characterized the industry. . “As soon as Steve Jobs took an iPhone out of his pocket on stage on January 9, 2007, it was all over,” he said.

Nonetheless, he argued that the museum’s artifacts showed there was “no room for complacency” for companies like Apple and Samsung in a market where innovations like foldable displays are beginning to emerge.

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