IBM Simon: World’s first smartphone is now 20 years old

November 26, 2012
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IBM Simon

Today we live in a world filled with quad-core smartphones and handsets with 1080p screens, but it certainly didn’t start out that way. The first smartphone was announced at COMDEX on November 23rd of 1992, making last Friday the smartphone’s 20th birthday.

The IBM Simon Personal Communicator was a massive device with a battery guzzling design, and its processor was quite laughable by today’s standards at just 16MHz. Other specs included a 4.5-inch B&W 160×293 LCD display, stylus support for touch input, 1MB of RAM, 1 or 1.8MB memory card support, and a nickel-cadmium battery. Other capabilities included the ability to make phone calls, add contacts, task lists, check “mail” and use third party apps. When it came to installing new apps? You did that using special PCMCIA cards through the bottom of the device.

The IBM Simon Personal Communicator would finally arrive to the market in 1994 for BellSouth (Now AT&T) customers in their 15-state network and cost $899 with a two-year contract. By the time the phone was being phased out of the market, it had dropped to $599 and had managed to sell about 50,000 handsets after around six months on the market.

Looking back at this ancient smartphone, it’s hard not to laugh a little, though at the time it likely served its user quite well. In IBM’s defense, this was certainly an impressive device back in 1994 and in many ways it is still somewhat similar to the basic idea of what a smartphone is today: a touchscreen device that works with apps to help make our everyday lives easier.

Imagine how this thing will look when we stop to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the smartphone. Anyone want to attempt a guess at what the phones of 2032 might possibly look like?

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