SPECIAL ISSUE ARTICLE
Mobile phones: Impacts, challenges, and predictions
Arlene Harris | Martin Cooper
DYNA, LLC, Del Mar, California
Martin Cooper, DYNA, LLC, 100 Via de la
Valle, Del mar, CA 92014.
The mobile phone is stimulating one of the most important technological revolutions in human
history. This article first presents impacts, challenges, and predictions of mobile phone use. It
first indicates that the impact of the mobile phone on society has been predominantly positive
while the mobile phone has certain negative attributes. It then discusses multiple ways to over-
come mobile technology challenges (e.g., new radio technologies and specialized devices opti-
mized for medical, educational, or “Internet of things”applications). The authors predict that, in
the two or three more generations, mobile phones use will have exciting advances to achieve
the full benefits, especially in the area of healthcare, education, industry, daily life, learning, and
collaborations, which will be more effective, productive, and creative.
mobile technology, multimedia, performance
The mobile phone is stimulating one of the most important technolog-
ical revolutions in human history. This statement is not hyperbole.
There are more mobile phones in use today than there are people, but
measuring quantity alone trivializes the importance of the mobile
phone to those who rely on it. Surveys have shown that people would
rather eat less than give up their mobile phone. People who forget
their phone at home will return to retrieve it but would elect to move
on without their wallet. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a
mobile phone is an integral part of a person, an extension of her or his
And yet, the mobile phone revolution is just beginning. Simple
“feature phones”have contributed to lifting over a billion people out
of severe poverty in Africa. Simple add-ons are bringing professional
medical treatment to remote villages in Mexico. In India, e-commerce
is raising the standard of living for millions. In developed countries, we
are only beginning to understand how much smartphones will improve
By far, the greatest contribution to society of the mobile phone is in
improved productivity. People act more efficiently when they are con-
nected, especially when they are connected whenever,wherever, and
to whomever they wish. Beyond that, the mobile phone is an invalu-
able tool that can entertain, educate, improve safety, and add conve-
nience to our lives.
As with every disruptive technology, mobile phones have nega-
tive attributes as well. Perhaps we first realized this in 1989 when
mobile phones first rang in movie theaters. While some may have
been annoyed or angered, we were dismayed. Our abiding belief in
the potential of the mobile phone blinded us to the ways in which it
could be antisocial. And, of course, ringing in a movie theater or con-
cert hall was not the only annoyance.
The first commercial portable mobile phones became available in
October 1983. Why did it take so long to discover their antisocial
aspects? Initially, most mobile phones were wired into automobiles.
The only handheld units—and we use the word “handheld”loosely—
were Motorola DynaTACs, which weighed over a kilogram and were,
for obvious reasons, called “the brick.”People were unlikely to carry
the DynaTAC into a concert hall. Since that cell phone sold for
$4,000, the equivalent of about $10,000 today, chances of even
encountering one were slim. In 1989, Motorola introduced the Micro-
TAC, a flip phone which by modern standards was large, but at
12.3 oz was small enough to fit into a coat pocket. The MicroTAC was
affordable enough to become popular.
In the early days, the cost of a call was high: 50 cents a minute.
In the U.S., customers paid for incoming calls, making them reluctant
Received: 15 November 2018 Accepted: 7 December 2018
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited.
© 2019 The Authors. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Hum Behav & Emerg Tech. 2019;e112. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/hbe2 1of3
to give out their cell phone number. As prices for service fell, espe-
cially after the assignment of more channels in the early 1990s,
incoming calls and their related annoying alerts became more promi-
nent. Consequently, smaller handheld units and the slow reduction of
usage charges started to change people's expectations—cellphones
were becoming even more useful than fixed phones. We started to
see—or rather, hear—phones in movie theaters and concert halls.
The mobile phone alone does not make people rude. Polite peo-
ple learned to turn their ringers off in the concert hall and to speak in
muted voices in crowded areas. In Japan, for example, using a mobile
phone in a railway car will earn a sharp rebuke from the conductor.
Society ultimately learns how to accommodate disruptive technology,
so we rarely hear phones ring at the movies today.
All in all, the impact of the mobile phone on society has been
predominantly positive. This impact has occurred mostly with the
two simplest mobile phone technologies: talk and text. These sim-
ple activities have profoundly changed the lives of billions. One
touching example is that of a poor woman in a village in India who
obtains microfinancing to buy a cell phone and service. She then
offers, at a nominal price, the use of her personal phone to farmers
in her village to call the neighboring villages to find the best mar-
kets for their produce. Everybody wins! The woman, the farmers,
and the customers who end up with fresher produce at better
We are especially sensitive to the gender issue that affects the
future of the mobile phone as it does everything else in our society.
We know that most mobile phone and application engineers are men.
This imbalance has neglected women's sensibilities and needs regard-
ing phone design. In some developing countries, women often do not
have access to the family phone. We fervently hope that a more edu-
cated populace will realize that addressing women's needs is not only
socially responsible but profitable. As you will see in our predictions
for the future mobile phones and applications, they will have a critical
role in solving gender-related problems.
We are still in the early days of mobile phone development. Only a
small fraction of the mobile phone's potential has been unlocked.
Services, especially Internet access, are too costly, as are the phones
themselves. Smartphones try to do all things for all people but do
none optimally. Mobile phones are designed as mass-market com-
modities without regard for the fact that people are unique and that
different people benefit from phones designed for their unique
Each of these deficiencies is being addressed in our society in the
•New radio technologies are increasing the capacity of existing
systems and reducing service costs.
•Specialized devices optimized for medical, educational, or “Inter-
net of things”applications are appearing each day.
•Applications are starting to appear that promise to revolutionize
medicine, education, and business.
•People are starting to collaborate in ways that were not even dreamt
about 10 years ago; the capacity of mobile-phone-enabled collabo-
ration to topple governments has already been demonstrated.
We predict a world in which the mobile phone makes the most
advanced medical technology available to all, as it helps solve the
dilemma of a healthcare system focused on curing diseases rather than
We predict a society in which mobile-phone-enhanced education
occurs 24 hr a day everywhere—not just in the classroom; in which
students are educated in stimulating ways; in which the knowledge of
the world is available to all.
We predict an industrial society in which hierarchical organiza-
tions give way to collaborative self-organized entities in continuous
communications with one another.
We predict a technological revolution in which the wireless tech-
nologies we espouse become either invisible, transparent, or intuitive,
with the sole function of serving us as they make our lives better, and
We predict a new education paradigm in which students wire-
lessly connected to the Internet learn in the real world, and where the
role of the teacher is elevated to counseling and customizing the edu-
cation of students.
Wireless technology, the mobile phone, and all its derivatives will
not be the sole catalyst for energizing these revolutionary advance-
ments. Nor will wireless technology solve the social, legal, and regula-
tory barriers that must be overcome. It is our fervent hope, however,
that the promise of a technological solution is so compelling that the
bureaucrats and bigots will fall by the wayside and lawyers will actu-
ally facilitate progress. We further point out that the first phase of
the wireless revolution took more than a human generation to
evolve. It will take two or three more generations to achieve the full
benefits we predict. But progress, as you will clearly observe in this
journal, is already happening; it will be continuous and relentless, and
there will be incremental benefits all along the way.
Some readers may find our predictions overly optimistic. I urge
those readers to dive into and contribute to this Journal. We want
you to become part of the revolution.
Finally, we cannot overemphasize the importance of the new
form of collaboration the mobile phone engenders. It is now pos-
sible for people to communicate with each other in numerous
ways, independent of location and time. Communications can be
instantaneous or delayed. People can talk, text, email, Tweet, post
on Facebook, Instagram, and video conference cheaply and conve-
niently. This is only the beginning. Most of these are crude, first-
generation tools that will evolve and integrate into powerful facili-
tators of efficiency and productivity. It is our expectation and
hope that this new journal of mobile-phone behavior will stimu-
late this revolution by enhancing the collaborative process. The
result will be a cascading explosion of creativity that revolution-
izes not only the mobile-phone industry but the way we do
2of3 HARRIS AND COOPER
Arlene Harris is a serial entrepreneur,
inventor, and wireless pioneer. She started
her career in the radio paging business,
where she ran and created the business
systems for the largest single city paging
company in the world. She started or co-
founded over a half dozen companies since
then, including GreatCall, Inc. which marketed her invention,
the Jitterbug cell phone, a device designed for those seeking
simplicity. GreatCall was purchased by BestBuy in 2018 and
has over a million subscribers. Among her accomplishments is
the creation and introduction of the concept of prepaid cellular
service, without which most cellular subscribers in the world
would be unable to use cell phones. She is the Founder and
Chair of Wrethink, Inc., a high-tech fixed broadband company
focused on consumer privacy and helping families use technol-
ogy to organize and manage personal information. Harris is a
member of the Consumer Industry Hall-of-Fame and of the
wireless History Hall-of-Fame.
Martin Cooper is a visionary, inventor, and
entrepreneur who conceived of the first por-
table cellular telephone handset in 1973 and
led the team that developed and introduced
it. He is known as the “father of the handheld
cellular phone.”Cooper is a member of the
U.S. National Academy of Engineering from
which he received the Charles Draper Award. He is a Marconi
Prize recipient, a Prince of Asturias Laureate, and a Life Member
and centennial medal awardee of the IEEE. He presently serves
on the FCC Technology Advisory Council. Cooper has been
widely published in the wireless field. He formulated the Law of
Spectral Efficiency (Cooper's Law) that supports his view that
there is no scarcity of radio spectrum. He is an alumnus and life
trustee of the Illinois Instituter of Technology.
How to cite this article: Harris A, Cooper M. Mobile phones:
Impacts, challenges, and predictions. Hum Behav & Emerg Tech.
HARRIS AND COOPER 3of3