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How the mobile phone market has evolved since 1993

The mobile phone landscape is radically different today than it was three decades ago.

In 1993, Motorola accounted for more than half of the mobile phone market. But by 2021, its market share had fallen to just 2.2%. How did this happen and how has the mobile industry evolved over the past 30 years?

This video by James Eagle chronicles the evolution of the mobile phone market, showing the rise and fall of various mobile phone manufacturers. The data covers the period from December 1992 to December 2021.

The beginnings of cell phones

Motorola is known to be a pioneer in the mobile phone industry.

In 1983, the American company launched one of the world’s first commercially available mobile phones, the DynaTAC 8000X. The revolutionary analog phone cost nearly $4,000 and offered users up to 30 minutes of talk time before needing to be recharged.

Motorola then released a few more devices over the next few years, like the MicroTAC 9800X in 1989 and the International 3200 in 1992, and quickly became a dominant player in the fledgling industry. At the start of the market, the company’s only serious competitor was the Finnish multinational Nokia, which had acquired the mobile network pioneer Mobira.

But by the mid-1990s, other competitors like Sony and Siemens began to gain a solid footing, which eroded Motorola’s dominance. By September 1995, the company’s market share had fallen to 32.1%.

Mobile telephony market share by company Share in % (September 1995)
Motorola 32.1%
nokia 22.0%
sony 10.7%
NEC 9.2%
Siemens 2.1%
Samsung 0.4%
Other 23.5%

In January 1999, Nokia overtook Motorola as the top mobile phone manufacturer, accounting for 21.4% of the global market. That puts it slightly ahead of Motorola’s 20.8%.

One of the reasons for Nokia’s growing popularity was the company’s major advancements in digital telephony. In 1999, the company launched the Nokia 7110the first mobile phone with a web browser.

But it wasn’t just Nokia’s innovations that bothered Motorola. In 1999, Motorola fell on hard times after one of its spin-off projects called Iridium SSC filed for bankruptcy. This put enormous financial strain on the company, and it eventually laid off much of its workforce after the project failed.

From then on, Motorola’s market share fluctuated between 14% and 20%, until Apple’s iPhone came onto the scene in 2007 and shook up the mobile phone industry.

The emergence of the iPhone

Things really started to change with the launch of the iPhone in 2007.

In a keynote presentation at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco in 2007, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone as three products rolled into one device: a touchscreen iPod, a revolutionary cell phone, and an Internet communication device.

A year later, Apple launched the App Store, which allowed users to download apps and games to their iPhone. Not only has this greatly improved the functionality of the iPhone, but it has also allowed consumers to personalize their mobile devices like never before.

It was the start of a new era of smartphones, one that Motorola failed to follow. Less than two years after the launch of the iPhone, Apple had captured 17.4% of the mobile phone market. In contrast, Motorola’s market share had shrunk to 4.9%.

At the end of 2021, Apple held approximately 27.3% of the global mobile market. The iPhone is a key part of the tech giant’s growth, generating more than 50% of the company’s overall revenue.

A failure to pivot

While a number of factors contributed to Motorola’s downfall, many point to one central obstacle: the company’s inability to pivot.

The emergence of the iPhone was the start of a new era focused on software. Motorola had mastered the hardware age, but failed to keep up when the tides changed. And the animation above highlights other companies that have also failed to adapt or keep up, including BlackBerry (formerly RIM), Palm, Sony and LG.

But Apple is not alone. The popularity of Google’s Android mobile operating system has helped rivals like South Korea’s Samsung and China’s Huawei and Xiaomi prosper, with each company establishing a strong position in the global mobile phone market.

In today’s fast-paced world, the ability to pivot is essential if businesses are to stay competitive. Will today’s mobile giants like Apple and Samsung stay on top? Or will other companies like Huawei catch up in the next few years?


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