What was the first internet phone?

What was the first internet phone?

Incredible as it may seem today, mobile phones were fairly passive and largely offline devices as recently as the mid-Noughties.

There were no app stores, no 4G connectivity and no mobile versions of desktop web browsers. Internet Explorer still dominated the browser market, and Chrome didn’t exist.

However, there were mobile phones which provided internet connectivity.

The 3G network was well-established following its launch in 2003, and WAP browsers were standard features on many phones.

Looking further even back, there were plentiful indications of the connected future awaiting mobile phones.

So which device can claim to be the first internet phone?

Spinning a web

For many people, mobile internet officially arrived in 2007, when Apple released the iPhone and its accompanying app store.

Yet the roots of mobile connectivity predated iOS’s revolutionary touchscreen interface and its streamlined take on macOS.

Two years earlier, the bulbous HTC Universal was the first smartphone to feature a cut-down version of an already familiar operating system – in this case Windows Mobile.

Some people would argue 2003’s release of the BlackBerry Quark 6210 represented the first time when a mobile phone truly harnessed the power of the internet.

With its QWERTY keyboard and landscape screen (upgraded to colour in the 7210 released later that year), BlackBerry certainly brought mobile web access to the masses.

But brand owner Research in Motion wasn’t the first company to offer connectivity on a handheld device.

In 1999, Nokia released the 7110, which was the first mobile phone sold with an integrated WAP browser, enabling it to display rudimentary websites.

Its immediate successor, the 8110, would star in the year’s most significant film – The Matrix.

And it’s Nokia who gave us the very first internet phone, at a time when Tony Blair was still in opposition and football hadn’t come home yet.

A glimpse into the future

By common consensus, Nokia’s 9000 Communicator was the first phone that also provided internet connectivity.

Released in 1996, it’s notable today for having an external aerial, with a fairly conventional square monochrome screen above a compact numeric pad.

The top section flipped out to reveal a QWERTY keyboard and a monochrome 640×200 pixel LCD screen, suitable for displaying graphics and text.

This graphical user interface (GUI) was ahead of its time, while the 9000 could be synched with a PC providing the latter had a 3.5-inch floppy disc drive to install the relevant software.

Internet and fax data were distributed at 9.6Kbps, with Nokia’s proprietary web browser built in.

Data transfers were shockingly slow by modern standards, even considering how minimalist and text-driven webpages were in the mid-1990s.

Yet the 9000 Communicator remains a remarkably forward-thinking piece of technology, effectively demonstrating how a phone could also be a computer and a web browser.

As the first internet phone, it deserves its place in history.

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