Ten years ago we saw a significant shift in the mobile phone market. The “golden age” of traditional mobile phones was ending, where every phone had a different design and features and in its place the era of the modern smartphone was beginning, ushered in with the feature-rich Nokia N95 in 2006, the ground-breaking Apple iPhone touchscreen device in 2007 and finally the HTC Dream in 2008, mostly found under the name “T-Mobile G1”.
The G1 was the world’s first consumer Android handset, manufactured by smartphone pioneers HTC who had previously been a major partner in developing high-end Windows phones. T-Mobile and HTC had a long partnership with the MDA series of smart devices, and it was a natural extension of this to come up this.
Where the iPhone was sleek and with a minimum of control buttons, the G1 had a whole bunch of them, including a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. In addition to the 3.2” HVGA touchscreen there was a little trackball, plus buttons for call control, the home screen and the menu.
The QWERTY keyboard was completely necessary because originally Android did not support on-screen keyboards at all (a feature that was added more than half a year after the G1 was launched). Indeed the whole device was very much a “version 1.0” smartphone at launch, and although it featured full integration with Google’s suite of applications including Gmail and Google Maps a lot of the software features were clunky and not very feature-rich. Rivals Apple had already moved on to their second-generation iPhone and the G1 did not seem as accomplished.
On the back was a 3.2 megapixel camera (capable of taking videos, unlike the iPhone), the G1 supported HSPA 3.5G data, WiFi, GPS, microSD expandable memory and pretty much all the features you would expect from a modern smartphone with the notable omission of a front-facing camera.
The T-Mobile G1 wasn’t only the first Android phone to market, for a long time it was the ONLY Android phone on the market. A few months later Australian retail electronics giant Kogan announced the Agora smartphone which was subsequently cancelled. In early 2009 HTC came out with a keyboardless version of the Dream known as the HTC Magic, but it took until April 2009 for the launch of the original Samsung Galaxy which was the first true rival to HTC.
A little more than a year later, Motorola launched the world’s first Android 2.0 handset – the Motorola DROID (sold internationally as the Milestone). This offered a significantly better user experience, and sales of Android devices skyrocketed – at the expense of Nokia’s Symbian range. Today Android holds almost 80% of the share of the smartphone market, with Apple’s handsets accounting for almost everything else.
A modern Android phone bears only a passing resemblance to the G1 – apart from BlackBerry, nobody makes an Android with a physical keyboard. But it’s still an important device, and unusual enough to be collectable. Typical prices for an unlocked G1 or Dream seem to be in the region of £150 or so.
Image credits: T-Mobile and HTC