You can probably remember the first smartphone you ever used, but what about the first smartphone that ever existed? Don’t worry if you can’t —  it went on sale on August 16th 1994 when mobile phones were still a bit of a novelty.

First shown at the COMDEX trade show (since replaced by CES) in Las Vegas in 1992. but it took over two years to come to the US market. The IBM Simon was billed as a ‘personal communicator’ — the term ‘smartphone’ didn’t come along until 1995.

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Despite its age, however, Simon is still immediately recognisable to modern eyes, although its size and weight would make it ill suited to modern pockets.

Surprisingly, Simon's specification doesn’t compare too unfavourably with a desktop PC of that time, but a modern smartphone is beyond compare. Here's how IBM's effort stacks up against the Samsung Galaxy S9.

 

IBM Simon

Samsung Galaxy S9

Processor

Vadem 16MHz (16-bit) single core

Octa-core Exynos 9810 2.8Ghz + 1.7Ghz

Storage

1 megabyte

64GB and up to 400GB (micro SD)

Screen

4.7 inches (4.5 x 1.4 inches)
60 x 293 pixels
Monochrome backlit
Touch-sensitive with stylus

5.8 inches
2960 x 1440 pixels
Super AMOLED
Touch-sensitive

Size

64 x 38mm

147.7 x 68.7 x 8.5mm

Weight

510g

163g

 

Even so, Simon still managed to cram in a modem for sending and receiving data and faxes. It also had a handful of built-in apps, including an address book and notepad with predictive text input, but there was no web browser. Not that this mattered much in 1994 —  the World Wide Web was little more than a few digital threads by then.

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Although highly innovative, Simon was hardly a resounding success: only 50,000 slipped off the shelves in the six months it was on sale. The high price is cited as the main factor for it flopping, but $899 (around £960 in today’s money) isn’t that much more expensive than a modern high-end smartphone — although of course they're capable of much, much more than Simon was.

Simon had a clear influence on the more impressive smartphones that followed, with everything from the Ericsson R380 (2000) and Handspring Treo 180 (2001) to later Windows Mobile devices mimicking its design.

And while we’re on the subject of smartphones from the (relatively) distant past, take a look at the one BT predicted we’d all be using by 2009 in this 1989 video.

Described as a gadget that will be “as commonplace as the wristwatch and every bit as indispensable”, it’s a remarkably accurate bit of futurology — although the language and ideas to describe what we use smartphones for today didn’t really exist back then.

Video credit: BT Archives

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