Up until this point, most of the innovation focus was in reducing the overall size of cell phones while improving their battery life, but not much had been done by way of functionality. All of that was about to change as 1992 came to a close.
On December 3, 1992, Neil Papworth sent the world’s first text message. At the time, he was working as a programmer for Vodafone and sent the message to Richard Jarvis, a Vodafone executive. It’s unclear if Papworth or Jarvis understood the gravity of what they had achieved or how it would impact global communication in the coming decades, and there’s little in the message to indicate their feelings. It read simply, “Merry Christmas.”
Jarvis received the message on an Orbitel 901, a hulking phone weighing over 4.5 pounds. In truth, it could hardly be considered a mobile phone at all, but it was the first device to function on a GSM network. Sadly, the Orbitel was incapable of responding to the message and it went unanswered (via NPR).
Despite inauspicious beginnings, that first message turned out to be fitting as text messaging soon became a gift to us all, liberating us from needing to answer phone calls. Though it probably couldn’t have been predicted at the time, this marked the first important shift in phone functionality as it moved toward the devices we’re familiar with today.