Break out the cake and party hats… the smartphone is 20 years old today.
“Twenty, you say? But I thought the advent of the smartphone began with Apple (AAPL) and the iPhone?”
On August 16, 1994, IBM (IBM) launched the Simon Personal Communicator – the world’s first smartphone.
I say “smartphone,” but compared to today’s all-encompassing devices, Simon’s powers were limited to basic functions that combined a phone with a computer.
On display at London’s Science Museum in October, Curator Charlotte Connelly tells the BBC, “The Simon wasn’t called a smartphone back then. But it had a lot of the features we see today. It had a calendar, it could take notes, and send emails and messages.”
But needless to say, this tech relic bears little resemblance to today’s thin, light, flashy devices.
Ah, who doesn’t love a good bit of retro technology? It conjures up memories of the infamously massive phone that Gordon Gekko uses in the 1987 movie, Wall Street.
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As you can see from the picture, the Simon smartphone didn’t really slip snugly into a user’s pocket. Not unless they wanted to walk with a limp – it weighed a hefty 1.1 pound and measured 8.0 inches long, 2.5 inches wide, and 1.8 inches thick. But remember… this was only just before some folks wore their phones on the outside of their pants. In holsters, no less!
(Sometimes, the past is best left in the past!)
But more than the shape and weight, Simon faced bigger barriers to market adoption. Not least of which was the fact that the mobile internet as we know it today didn’t really exist back then.
Kind of hard to be a “smartphone” without the web!
In addition, it cost a whopping $899 and the battery only lasted for one hour.
Still, as clunky and clumsy as the Simon smartphone seems today, it was a pioneer in its time. It boasted a green LCD screen and even had a stylus pen that comes with some of today’s smartphones, which worked with early touchscreen technology. It was the first device to combine a phone with primitive computing and a PDA. And the fact that it was portable, with computer functionality, and could be hooked up to a fax machine was unique.
In the end, IBM sold around 50,000 Simon phones. But it was only available in 15 states. And coupled with the significant cost and battery drawbacks, it meant Simon was only on the market for a couple of years.
Nevertheless, it speaks to the vital importance of bold innovation in establishing new trends – and there are fewer bigger trends right now than the global proliferation of smartphones.
The Simon smartphone was a trendsetter in this movement. It might not have been practical for everyday use, or boasted seamless technology, because it was arguably too far ahead of what technology could actually do at the time. But it was the idea that gave rise to today’s mobile phones.
And while big phones bit the dust along with big hair, your smartphone wouldn’t exist today without IBM’s Simon innovation.