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Why Your iPhone Could Have Cost $32 Million in 1985

A customer looks at a Apple Inc. iPhone 6s at an Apple store in Palo Alto, California, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. A customer looks at a Apple Inc. iPhone 6s at an Apple store in Palo Alto, California, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015.
A customer looks at a Apple Inc. iPhone 6s at an Apple store in Palo Alto, California, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. Photograph by Bloomberg via Getty Images

If you adjusted prices to inflation and took all of the core hardware and software features in your smartphone into a device built in 1985, how much would it cost? That’s what one company decided to find out.

In a lengthy evaluation comparing smartphone costs now and then, Internet marketing company WebpageFX found that a smartphone with all the features one would expect today would have cost $32,136,910 in 1985. Admittedly, that might sound a bit ridiculous. But further evaluation of the company’s data reveals it might make some sense.

For instance, if you wanted to buy a mobile phone like the Motorola DynaTAC back in 1985, it would’ve cost you $9,000—a far cry from the few hundreds you’d pay now for an unlocked smartphone. Want to send some text and images to a friend? You probably would’ve needed a fax machine, which in 1985 cost $1,105. In the off chance you didn’t know where you were going and needed a GPS navigator, it would’ve cost you $6,630 in 1985. Now, it comes bundled as software inside your smartphone.

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But that’s just the beginning. WebpageFX found that while a portable music player like Apple Music comes with the iPhone at no charge, in 1985, you would’ve needed a $400 Sony D-50 Discman to walk around and listen to tunes. Just in case you wanted to capture that special moment with your family, you would’ve needed to purchase a $3,700 camcorder. Now, you can whip a smartphone out of your pocket and get to recording.

Still, that all amounts to a far cry from $32.1 million, so how did WebpageFX get there?

According to the company, it’s all about processing power. To get the same level of processing power customers would find in a high-end smartphone today, one would have needed to buy the Cray-2 supercomputer in 1985. Its price? $32 million.

“The Cray-2 supercomputer was the fastest computer in the world for a time,” the company wrote in its explanation on how it landed at $32.1 million for a smartphone cost. “Today, all of that power and speed is smaller than your hand (and a lot more convenient).”

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Yes, a 1985 smartphone might sound expensive, but if WebpageFX’s data is any indication, today’s devices might actually be a bargain. After all, according to the company, a 1985 smartphone would cost about as much as 957 new, 2,016 cars, and 109 new houses. A single smartphone with all the power and features of today’s devices would have set you back the cost of nearly 85,000 computers on shelves right now.