Smartphones have now been around 20 years (technically)

19 Aug 2014

ITEM: This week marks the 20th anniversary of the smartphone.

Which may surprise those of you who thought the iPhone was the first smartphone. Or possibly the Amtek T700 (remember ultra-mobile PCs?). Or possibly one of Nokia’s N Series phones (or, as Nokia described them at the time, “mobile personal computers”).

No. As far as London's Science Museum is concerned, it’s the IBM Simon Personal Communicator.

The Simon first appeared as a prototype in 1992, but didn’t become commercially available until August 16, 1994. If few people here in Asia-Pac remember it, that’s because it was only available in the US to BellSouth customers, about 50,000 of which actually bought one. And it wasn’t actually all that smart. But it was the first commercially available mobile phone to feature a touchscreen and software apps.

From the BBC:

"The Simon wasn't called a smartphone back then," said curator Charlotte Connelly.

"But it had a lot of the features we see today. It had a calendar, it could take notes and send emails and messages and combined all of this with a cell phone." […]

"It looks like a grey block but it's not as big as you'd imagine," she said. "It had a stylus and a green LCD screen, which is similar in size to the iPhone 4. In fact, it's not a bad looking thing."

It may not look bad, but it’s pretty heavy at 500g, and it had a battery life of about an hour, although it also came with an RJ-11 cable so you could connect it to a local phone jack to make POTS calls and save your battery. You could also use the same jack to send and receive data at a blistering 9.6 kbps (mainly for email and faxes).

All that for $899 with a two-year service contract – which was about as long as the Simon lasted before BellSouth discontinued it.

Anyway, for those of you living in or planning to visit London, you can see the Simon for yourself in October when it goes on display in the Science Museum’s new Information Age exhibition – the “first permanent gallery in the UK dedicated to the history of communication and information technology” the BBC says.

Image courtesy of Michael Hicks under Creative Commons

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