The evolution of cell phones

DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) - As we reported last week, it's been 30 years since Cellcom first launched cellular phone service in Northeast Wisconsin. And how the technology has changed over three decades!

When Rob Riordan helped launch Cellcom in 1987, cell phones on the market weren't like anything we use today. They were big and bulky, like carrying a lunchbox full of rocks with a phone receiver on top.

And they were expensive. "A briefcase, this and an extra battery was $4,000. Within a year of that, it was for a thousand bucks," Riordan said.

It wasn't until the early 1990's that phones started to get smaller -- from the size of World War II-era walkie-talkies to a handheld phone that shaped the future.

"Then we got the brick phone, which was the one you'd see on some of the old TV shows and stuff like that, but the StarTAC is the one that kind of took off because it was small enough you could carry it and move with that one," Riordan recalls.

By the early 2000's, small, flip-top phones were the rage. And thanks to new technology, we had a new way to communicate.

"The Blackberry was probably one of the biggest breakthrough phones," Riordan said. "You could text with it, you could write emails with it."

Phones were getting smarter, but not that smart -- until 10 years ago when Apple launched the first iPhone.

"What was interesting is we were pushing the industry -- the LGs of the world, the Samsungs of the world that were out there and the Motorolas -- saying we need a smarter phone. Some of the bigger operators of the world were coming back, no, no we don't need that, Apple came along and said we don't care what you need, this is what we're making. And the big guys said we don't want that, and Apple said tough, this is the phone. They made it, and all of a sudden it went like crazy."

That craze hasn't slowed. Smartphones passed so-called "feature phones" in U.S. usage in 2012, and an estimated 83% of mobile phone users in the U.S. own a smartphone today, according to Statistica.

Today, just about everyone has a cell phone, and Riordan has witnessed the advances every step of the way.

Asked if this makes him a hip grandpa, Riordan answered, "You know it's funny, my grandkids show me a little bit sometimes, too. I tried to stay ahead of it, but it's changing so quickly."

"Crazy, crazy stuff, and it's not stopping."