The 7 Most Influential Phones of the Decade

October 3, 2011

1. T-Mobile Sidekick

First launched in 2002, the Danger Hiptop was the first mobile phone that had mass appeal to the youth market. This was due in part to its functionality — a fun, user-friendly interface and easy messaging thanks to the phone’s QWERTY keyboard and big screen — but also due to some celebrity endorsements. Jay-Z lent the phone instant street cred when he featured the handset in the video for “Excuse Me Miss.” A star-studded ad campaign for the T-Mobile version — the Sidekick — helped up the cool factor, as did various celebs photographed with the phone. What the Hiptop showed the mobile phone market was how the valuable youth market could be successfully targeted.

2. Motorola V3 RAZR

As the first designer phone available to the mass market, the RAZR featured in innumerable films and TV shows and became a “must-have” accessory — arguably one of the first in the world of consumer electronics. It is now considered a design classic. So much so that the updated “Here and Now” version of Monopoly has a RAZR V3 as one of its pieces.

3. Nokia N95

Released when Nokia was enjoying better fortunes, the Symbian Nokia N95 was a super-smartphone for the consumer masses. The N95 showed the general public it could demand more from handsets than just phone functionality. Although the first chrome version had some limitations, Nokia soon followed up with the black N95 8GB which enjoyed, among a few other tweaks, increased memory, a larger display and better battery life. With a decent 5-megapixel camera with video recording, GPS with navigation, a web browser, email, a basic office suite, good multimedia abilities and N-Gage gaming, the N95 demonstrated that the converged handset was not a pipe dream. Nokia marketed the phone with the slogan “It’s what computers have become,” which seems an accurate way to describe the feeling towards this can-do handset when it was first available back in 2007.

4. Blackberry Curve

The entry-level BlackBerry Curve saw RIM do what some considered the impossible — crossover from an enterprise marketplace to a consumer one. By adding a consumer essential — a camera — and adjusting the OS to a more user-friendly version, yet keeping the classic QWERTY BlackBerry looks and email functionality, RIM opened the appeal of its range to a wider audience. While it remains to be seen whether RIM will still be in the consumer electronics marketplace in 10 year’s time, it’s clear that the success of the Curve is what gave it the confidence to experiment in this arena.

5. Apple iPhone

In 2007 Apple changed the mobile phone market with the iPhone, and then in 2008 changed it even further with the launch of the App Store. However, the iPhone wasn’t the first Apple mobile. Two years earlier Apple had teamed up with Motorola to offer the ROKR, the first phone with support for iTunes. The ROKR wasn’t a great handset and the crippled iTunes element — limited to 100 songs — meant it never became a success. One could argue that ROKR spurred Apple on to create its very own phone with no hardware or software limitations (other than those it chose to implement.)

Back in 2007, the iPhone offered some revolutionary features. Although not the first touchscreen phone on the market — touchscreen PDAs had been around for years — Apple’s bold move to have only one physical button was almost shocking at the time. Other innovations included the icon-based interface, Visual Voicemail and easy multimedia options thanks to the iPod and YouTube apps. The full-featured Safari browser (when compared to mobile-optimized browsers of the time) was also highly impressive for a handset. The introduction of the App Store in 2008 sealed the deal for Apple as consumers bought into the affordable, bite-size software applications, which had existed before as “widgets” on other platforms, but saw mass market appeal under Apple’s know-how. Amid major hype, the original iPhone was an instant success and iOS remains one of the major platforms in the mobile phone market today.

6. T-Mobile G1/HTC Dream

The very first Android handset was a big deal. The Open Handset Alliance’s fresh OS gave consumers a strong alternative to the iPhone when other mobile platforms were faltering. Shunning the touch-only route with a full QWERTY keyboard, the much-rumored “gPhone” was Googled to the hilt with Gmail, Calendar, Maps, Talk and YouTube preloaded. While the G1 wasn’t an astounding phone, it did two important things. It gave HTC a head-start in the Android market and it revealed Google’s mobile ambitions. These ambitions were later to be realized when Google followed up the Android-based Nexus One and sold direct to consumers via the web.

7. Motorola Droid

Finally, we’re highlighting the Droid as our last influential handset. The Droid was the first big commercial success for the Android platform in the States. Its launch was high profile — at the time, Verizon marketed it as a direct iPhone competitor. While versions in other countries — where it was launched as the “Milestone” — did not do so well, the Droid put the open OS firmly on the map in terms of the American consumer. While it could be considered that earlier Android handsets appealed to the more geeky consumer, the glossy, well-specced Droid saw Android come of age. Although you may not automatically think of the Moto-made handset in the context of today’s mobile phone market, we’re fairly certain the recent figures suggesting Android handsets are outselling iPhone two to one wouldn’t be the case if it weren’t for this 2009 handset — and its great marketing campaign.

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