From wireless pioneer, memories of a milestone cell phone call

Marty Cooper, who placed what is widely believed to have been the first public call from a mobile cellular phone, checks in on the 35th anniversary of that occasion.

Standing on the corner of New York's 56th and Lexington 35 years ago Thursday, Marty Cooper was nearly run over. And no wonder. Drivers were hardly used to seeing people gabbing on the telephone while walking down the street. Not to mention that the phone was impossible to miss.

"It was huge. It weighed 2-1/2 pounds. It was about 10 inches high by an inch and a half wide by perhaps 3 inches deep," Cooper recalled. "The battery lasted only 20 minutes, but that was no problem because you couldn't hold it up for more than 20 minutes."

Marty Cooper and Arlene Harris
Marty Cooper and Arlene Harris: wireless power couple. GreatCall

Cooper, a former Motorola executive, on April 3, 1973 placed what is widely believed to have been the first public call from a portable cell phone. Earlier this week, on the anniversary of that occasion, I chatted with him for the CNET News.com daily podcast.

Also on the line from Del Mar, Calif., was his wife Arlene Harris, an inductee into the Wireless Hall of Fame and founder, along with Cooper, of GreatCall. In 2006, the company launched the Jitterbug , a cell phone with features, such as a large backlit screen, geared toward seniors. This week, GreatCall announced that the Jitterbug won the "Best Small Business" award from the American Society on Aging.

As creator of the Jitterbug, Harris has given much thought to what consumers need and want in a cell phone. She says she imagines future phones incorporating more features that track health and wellness, such as the button on the Jitterbug that calls emergency services. "In our company in particular," she said, "we are very focused on what else we can do with cell phones that will actually improve the quality of life, and not just by delivering a new ringtone."

To hear the podcast segment with Cooper and Harris, click on the link below (and please forgive the occasional random clanking noises; sometimes, as well all know, technology just behaves badly).

AUDIO

LISTEN UP
Marty Cooper and Arlene Cooper talk cell phones past, present, and future.
Download mp3 (5.50MB)

About the author

Leslie Katz, Crave's senior editor, heads up a team that covers the most crushworthy (and wackiest) tech, science, and culture around. As a co-host of the now-retired CNET News Daily Podcast, she was sometimes known to channel Terry Gross and still uses her trained "podcast voice" to bully the speech recognition software on automated customer service lines. E-mail Leslie.

 

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