The first ever smartphone – IBM Simon

If “smartphones” are considered state-of-the art in cellphone technologies in 2010, the first ever device of this kind dates back 1994. Having the size and shape of a cellphone, the IBM Simon, distributed by BellSouth, replaces the usual telephone keyboard by a sensitive screen and integrates PIM applications and data communication features.
Let’s get back to 1994 – at that time, manufacturers are struggling to make the “communication devices” market take off. The most common approach was then to bring communication to what was then state of the art in portable technology – PDA devices.
Many products came out at that time : the EO Communicator, 2 Motorola products, the Marco and the Envoy, respectively running the Newton and the MagicCap OS; the Sony Magic Link. Most of those products were discontinued after no more than 2 years.
Most of those products featured large displays, and a notebook oriented usability : they were basically PDAs with integrated (radio-)modems. The Simon showcases a totally different idea of what a communicating device could be : instead of integrating a modem in a PDA, it would integrate a PDA and a modem in a cellphone.
The user interface is pretty clear and apparently pleasant to use. It is a charming exemple of a early 90’s graphic interface. I see it as mac OS 1.0 in a narrow screen : B&W icons, background patterns and round-angles boxes populate the . After some delays it was sold by BellSouth  in 1994 in 190 U.S. cities in 15 states  and was originally priced at $899.

Let’s face it : the Simon didn’t last any longer than it’s competitors. Maybe all of them were ahead of their time, but most likely they were all huge, heavy, and horribly expensive, both on the purchase price side and on the communication service subscription side.

Anyway, as the first actual “SmartPhone” in history, the Simon is a very interesting machine. As it is also quite rare, i’m very proud i own one in my collection.

Below in the page are a few pictures comparing the Simon’s size to later devices.


Processor : customOS : Zaurus OS???
RAM : 1 MBROM : 1 MB
Graphic display : 160 x 293Text display : variable fonts
Display : B&WInput : Stylus

Built-in Applications :
Complete telephone abilities, phone directory, mail (not internet compliant), calculator, calendar, fax, note pad, file manager, sketch pad, to do list…

Open to other applications : On PCMCIA cards (maybe also by installation in memory?)

Ports :
– power supply entry
– one PCMCIA type 2 port
– one IO connection port

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