What was the First Smartphone Ever?

Today, we are travelling back in time. It is the year 1994. The first smartphone in the world is released. There are no big welcome parties, glamorous presentations or press frenzies. Just a simple old school presentation and a press conference. The first smartphone ever was named Simon.

Let’s meet Simon. He is 8 inches high, 2,5 inches wide and 1,5 inches thick. His weights 518 g. Simon has a massive black body, with monochrome, backlit touch-screen on the front side.

Simon, first smartphone made by IBM

Simon, first smartphone made by IBM

Simon was the first commercially available cell phone with PDA (personal digital assistant). Devices that were used as PDAs were familiar and quite popular back in the mid 90’s. Cell phones just started to take over the world. Engineers from IBM (in cooperation with BellSouth) were the first ones that got the idea to combine two devices (PDAs and cell phones) and to pack them into the same case. The result was Simon – the first smartphone ever made.

What features Simon, the first smartphone, had?

Believe it or not, the feature set of the first smartphone was quite similar to the concept of modern smart devices. Even if functionalities of this gadget were spartan, they are the same as the ones that we are using today.

This is Simon’s feature list:

– Calendar – you could’ve checked your calendar and make new appointments;

World clock – quite a useful feature for a businessman travelling the world;

Alarm clock – still one of the best features that smartphones have;

– Notepad – application for taking different notes;

– Sketchpad – where you could doodle by using a stylus;

Simon had a stylus support

Simon had a stylus support

– Appointment scheduler – you could check your current schedule and make new arrangements, if necessary;

– Email – yes, it was possible to check email by using this phone. The email options setup was a bit tricky, but it was possible to send and receive emails via phone back in 1994;

– Fax – Fax was a big deal in a business world. It was awesome to send and to receive faxes via phone;

– Support for third party apps – there were no app stores, but there were memory cards (of 1MB) where you could record the feature and use it on your phone.

Take a look at the following video to see Simon in action:

Cell phone and the land phone jack

In 1994, the US mobile networks were still under construction. Inadequate coverage and quite expensive services forced people to use cell phones only when necessary. Those were reasons why IBM decided to add an attractive option to the new phone. Simon had a jack for a landline. In this way, people could use the landline to make much cheaper phone calls when they were not on the move.

Simon’s fast life

Just like some mid 90’s rock stars, Simon had a short, rapid and turbulent life. He ended up dying young. The product was discontinued only six months after the release, in February 1995.

Simon, the cell phone, had moderated success.  In the six months period, 50,000 units were sold. The price of the phone was $1,100  (or $900 if you signed a two-year contract with Bell South).

There were a few reasons for such a short life of the first smartphone:

1. it was crazy expensive, even today such a device would be quite pricey. You can imagine how the mid 90’s businessman looked on it.

2. battery lasted only for an hour unless you were a power-user. In that case, it lasted only 30 minutes.

3. internal affairs and the crisis in IBM affected the project. The Simon project got canceled before the company explored all the options and possibilities of the new type of a device.

What happened next?

After Simon, the world had to wait another five years to see the next smartphone in the line. It was Ericsson R380. Ericsson R380 was a Symbian-based device. It looked like a regular phone at the first sight, but it turned into a touchscreen phone when flipped open. Ericsson R380 was the first phone ever that was officially called a “smartphone”.

Ericsson 380

Ericsson 380

Smart devices stayed in the business area for next couple of years. They were high-end devices, oriented toward productivity.  Suddenly, Apple came into the game! After the release of iPhone, smartphones started getting an enormous popularity. They have become acceptable for the masses.

The other companies saw that they can join the party and here we are! Twenty-one years later, we have almost 2 billion of smartphone devices across the world. And it all started with Simon, the first smartphone ever.


Inspired by a story in Time magazine.

Image source: Geek.com, ExtremeTech.



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