45 Years After the First Mobile Call, Phone Calls Make a Comeback

min read
45 Years After the First Mobile Call, Phone Calls Make a Comeback

On April 3, 1973, Motorola engineer Martin Cooper made history and executed the sickest corporate burn ever. He was walking down the street in New York City with a functional prototype of Motorola’s groundbreaking Motorola DynaTAC 8000x portable phone and decides to test it. Who is the first person he calls? His mom? The president? Nope.

He rings up his rivals at Bell Labs in New Jersey to let them know that Motorola beat them to the punch. He asked something like “how’s it sound on your end, buddy?” Cooper used the first portable mobile phone call ever made to gleefully gloat to his competitors. He is obviously a genius with a wicked sense of humor, and I applaud him for that.

It would be another decade before the DynaTac, now commonly known as the “dinosaur”, would end up in the hands of New York’s over-stimulated 1980s jetset. It would have been tough for Cooper to predict that 40 years later, the mobile phone would hardly be seen as a phone at all.

The Mobile Phone Becomes a Commodity

The first few generations of mobile phones were seen as a sign of success for good reason. They were huge, so they were impossible to miss, and they were bloody expensive. Early cell phones retailed for $8,000 or more, and let’s not even talk about how expensive airtime was. The mobile phone immediately became a cliche and would be seen glued to the ear of every pink-shirted, country-clubbing, sweater-tied-around-the-waist 80s movie bad rich kid for years.

As the mobile phone got smaller over the years, it also got less expensive. Supply and demand, Moore’s law, and the desire of phone manufacturers and carriers to get a handset into every hand conspired to bring mobile phones and call plans out of the stratosphere. Nokia would eventually put a “candybar” phone into seemingly every pocket and purse. Phone carriers would soon give away phones in exchange for multi-year contracts, and now last year’s premium smartphone can be had for nearly free along with unlimited talk, text, and a couple gigs of data for the cost of a tank of gas. What a world!

Phones Become the New Laptop

As mobile phones became ubiquitous, they also began to be used more like computers than phones. A generation that grew up sending messages on Yahoo! Messenger and AIM wanted to tap out messages on their fancy new phones, and soon that dream would come true.

The introduction of text messaging would change the way we think about and use mobile devices, and the way that phones looked. The first text message was sent in 1992 by Neil Papworth, a former developer at Sema Group Telecoms. Mobile phones didn't have keyboards at the time, so he had to type the message on a PC. His "Merry Christmas" message was successfully sent to Richard Jarvis at Vodafone. Not as rude as Cooper’s message to Bell, but I guess I’ll take it.

Nokia was the first handset manufacturer whose total GSM phone line in 1993 supported user-sending of SMS text messages. Though you could send a text message from a cell phone in the mid 90s, it was a pain to do with the numeric keypad. When T9 predictive texting rolled out in the late 90s, text messaging went full-on mainstream. Soon to follow were texting phones with full keyboards like the Nokia Sidekick and the BlackBerry. Next thing you know, people were expecting to do way more with phones than making calls.

iPhone Sets off a Revolution

While BlackBerry, LG, and others technically beat Apple to market with smartphones, Apple was arguably the first to do it right. The iPhone was introduced just 11 years ago, and it instantly changed everything about how we use our phones. After the initial data-suck nearly tanked AT&T's network in major cities — it was so bad in San Francisco in 2008 that you could hardly complete a call — the smartphone became more of a pocket-sized computer than a thing you talk to people with. Soon consumers were paying for data instead of minutes and doing everything on their phones but talking. Shopping, watching movies, bingeing video on YouTube, texting, Facebook, Twitter. The phone would never be the same. Or would it?

Talking Makes a Comeback

As good as smartphone keyboards and autocorrect have become, it’s still easier to talk than it is to type. Even on a full-size keyboard, most people can only hack out about 33 words per minute (wpm) while they can talk at 90-100 wpm. As online transactions have become more complex, so have the forms it takes complete them.

Filling out a form for an insurance policy or a loan will make you want to drop-kick your beloved phone. When it comes to considered purchases and more complex transactions like these, the more level-headed among us now tend make a call instead of filling out a form. According to our research, 70 percent of mobile searchers have clicked to call a business based on search results. One Invoca financial services customer found that 75 percent of its prospects that landed on its website preferred a phone call to submitting a web form.

Voice recognition technology is also helping phone calls make a comeback in a big way. Voice recognition technology advanced quickly in the last few years, and it’s now available on most smartphones. Smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are also now in as many as 1 in 6 American households. Talking to smart devices has also made us more likely to talk to businesses — after getting a smart assistant, 24 percent of people make more phone calls to businesses and 40 percent talk more in general.

Businesses Recognize the Importance of the Call

Hiding your phone number deep within your website is no longer avant-garde like it was during the early e-comm boom. In fact, doing so these days is sure to bother your customers enough to make them go somewhere else. For any business that expects to get calls, click-to-call in search, social, and on web pages has become the new standard customer experience.

Now that it has become commonplace to drive phone calls from digital search and advertising, it’s critical that companies can connect the call to the digital journey, too. Without the ability to attribute conversions that happen on the phone to a customer’s actions online, money spent on digital campaigns might be wasted, misallocated, or blown on retargeting customers who already converted. Not to mention that it’s super annoying to get ads for discounts on something that you already bought!

Old call tracking and keyword spotting belong in the dust heap with the pile of dinosaur phones and BlackBerries. To properly attribute what happens on phone calls and take the right actions in real time requires AI-powered call intelligence. As phone calls make a comeback, it’s more important than ever to make sure they are an integral piece of your digital marketing efforts.

Watch this video to see how Allstate uses Invoca to improve its mobile experience and achieve 3x conversion rate on the phone vs web forms.

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