Meet Simon: the world’s first ‘smartphone’ turns 20

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OK, so the term ‘smartphone’ wasn’t actually around when IBM released the Simon in August of 1994, but it was easily the smartest mobile phone of its day.

ibm-simon

The Simon Personal Communicator was was a handheld, touchscreen mobile phone, designed and engineered by IBM and the American cellular company Belself.

It was the first gadget to combine the functions of a mobile phone with a personal digital assistant (PDA), and had a screen about the same size as today’s iPhone 4.

The clunky device was powered by an x86-compatible 16-bit Vadem processor clocked at a mere 16MHz, had a battery life of just one hour, and weighed in at almost half a kilogram. It came with 1MB RAM, 1MB storage and ran the Zaurus OS.

Simon was also the first mobile phone to feature software apps and it was possible to link it up to a fax machine (remember those?).

The software allowed users to write notes, draw, use a calculator, update their calendar and contacts and, of course, make phone calls.

It was only available in the US, sold around 50,000 handsets and retailed for about $900.

The Simon will go on display at London’s Science Museum in October, as part of an exhibition dedicated to the history of communication and information technology.

 

Stuart O’Connor