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While the first mobile phone prototype was the Motorola DynaTAC, on which Martin Cooper made the first publicized mobile phone call on 3 April 1973, cell phones largely remained a voice and text message affair for another 20+ years. The first mobile phone with Internet access did not arrive until the mid-1990s.
The first commercial mobile phone with internet capabilities – web browsing and email – was Nokia’s first “Communicator”, the 9000. Communicators were laptop-style phones that opened up to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard and large display. The first generation of Communicators were the forerunners of the modern smartphone. It was was released in 1996 and ran the GEOS 3.0 operating system. The 9000 also had fax. Remember fax?
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Which company made the first Internet-enabled mobile phone?
Who made the first phone with Internet? No; it wasn’t BlackBerry or Apple. The first phone with Internet was around for over a decade before Apple made the first iPhone. Finnish mobile phone manufacturer, Nokia, made the first Internet capable mobile phone.
What year was the first phone with Internet made?
Internet access first arrived mobile phones in the year 1996. The first mobile phones with Internet access arrived that year and included both an unproduced prototype by PocketNet and the first production phone by Nokia.
What was the first mobile phone with Internet access?
Nokia 9000 Communicator was the first production phone and the first smartphone with Internet access.
The first Web-enabled mobile phone in the world
While Nokia 9000 was the first production phone with Internet access, another device – a prototype that never made it to production – had Internet access before Nokia’s first Communicator. It was known as the AT&T PocketNet Phone, a product of a collaboration betweeen AT&T and Unwired Planet.
What is AT&T Pocketnet?
AT&T Pocketnet was a revolutionary new service in 1996 that was designed to “display data on a mobile phone’s small three-line, liquid-crystal display screen for sending and receiving E-mail and other information” (source). The AT&T PocketNet Phone was to be the first cell phone to run the new service. So while it was the first mobile phone with Internet access in a pre-production environment, it did not proceed beyond functional prototype stage.
The PocketNet had a tiny screen and an alphanumeric keypad like today’s feature phones. For Internet access, it used Circuit Switched Data (CSD). In other words, dial-up Internet. To get your email or browse the Web, you had to dial into the mobile network. I still used CSD in the early 2000s and remember that it was an expensive affair.
So, the first mobile phone with Internet access connected via dial-up. Packet data like GPRS and EDGE followed years after and delivered much faster Internet access. And then came 3G, 4G, and 5G Internet.
Early Web Browsing On Mobile Phones
Note that the early web on mobile phones was more of lines of text. Early mobile web technology was based on a now-obsolete markup language called WML (Wireless Markup Language) and was popularly called WAP (Wireless Application Protocol). I learned WML in my early years of web design and hand-coded my first mobile-friendly blo pages in WML.
While the PocketNet Phone never made it to the factory, Nokia’s 9000 Communicator did. And with a much larger display and laptop-style design, it was better suited to the task. And it also one-upped the PocketNet phone by being the first mobile phone with a graphical web browser. Its web browser was more advanced than what was on the AT&T phone.
The Nokia 9000 was not only the first mobile phone with Internet access, it also towered head-and-shoulder above everything else in the market at the time. Nokia followed it up with other Internet capable phones like the Nokia 7110 in 1999. The 7110 was the first normal mobile phone with a WAP browser.
Future editions of the Communicator range of phones later ran EPOC OS and then Symbian OS. The 9000 was followed by the 9110/9110i, 9210/9210i, 9500, 9300/9300i, E90, and E7. The Nokia Communicator series were the T-Rex of their day, alpha devices that were ahead of others in most ways.
Whether it is the non-production AT&T PocketNet or the production Nokia 9000 that sold globaly, the first smartphone with Internet access was a clunky brick. Neither of them were basic devices.