How the mobile phone market has evolved over 30 years

How the mobile phone market has evolved since 1993

The mobile phone landscape looks drastically different today than it did three decades ago.

In 1993, Motorola accounted for more than half of the mobile phone market. But by 2021, their market share had shrunk to just 2.2%. How did this happen and how has the mobile industry changed in the last 30 years?

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

The early days of mobile phones

Motorola is known for pioneering the mobile phone industry.

In 1983, the American company launched one of the first commercially available mobile phones in the world: the DynaTAC 8000X. The revolutionary analog phone cost almost $4,000 and offered users up to 30 minutes of talk time before needing a recharge.

Motorola went on to release a few more devices over the next few years, such as the MicroCT 9800X in 1989 and the International 3200 in 1992, and quickly became a dominant player in the nascent industry. In the early days of the market, the company’s only serious competitor was the Finnish multinational Nokia, which had acquired mobile network pioneer Mobira.

But by the mid-1990s, other competitors such as Sony and Siemens began to gain a foothold, undermining Motorola’s dominance. In September 1995, the company’s market share fell to 32.1%.

Mobile phone market share by company % participation (September 1995)
Motorola 32.1%
Nokia 22.0%
Sony 10.7%
national executive committee 9.2%
Siemens 2.1%
Samsung 0.4%
Other 23.5%

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

One of the reasons for Nokia’s growing popularity was the breakthrough the company was making in the digital phone space. In 1999, the company launched the Nokia 7110the first mobile phone to have a web browser.

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

From then on, Motorola’s market share fluctuated between 14% and 20%, until Apple’s iPhone It burst onto the scene in 2007 and turned the mobile phone industry upside down.

The appearance of the iPhone

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

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

A year later, Apple launched the App Store, which gave users the ability to download apps and games on their iPhones. This not only greatly improved the functionality of the iPhone, but also allowed consumers to personalize their mobile devices like never before.

This was the beginning of a new era of smartphones, one that Motorola couldn’t follow. Less than two years after the launch of the iPhone, Apple had captured 17.4% of the mobile phone market. By contrast, Motorola’s market share had shrunk to 4.9%.

At the end of 2021, Apple owned around 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 total revenue.

A failure to pivot

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

The appearance of the iPhone was the beginning of a new software-driven era. Motorola had dominated the hardware-driven era, but couldn’t keep up when the tides turned. And the animation above highlights other companies that 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 competitors like South Korea’s Samsung and China’s Huawei and Xiaomi prosper, with each company establishing strong footholds in the global mobile phone market.

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

This article was published as part of the Visual Capitalist Creators Program, featuring data-driven images from some of our favorite creators from around the world.

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