Monday, August 18, 2014

Tech History: The World's First Smartphone: IBM Simon

One of my favorite things about teaching is wowing students with how old I really am... I love teaching computing and social technology history in my classes.  So, about once a week I will take some of that history and inject it here with a post about little known or just interesting tech history!

Did you know that IBM made and marketed what we today as the world's first smartphone?

Its true!

It was called SIMON.

In 1943 Thomas Watson, the then Chairman of IBM, said that no one will have a computer in their home, "there is a world market for maybe five computers," the company is often likened to a big, wooly, behemoth that could not get out of its own way fast enough to lead the true computing revolution.  IBM is known for having great ideas, and poor execution of them... from mainframes, to servers, to computers, to operating systems -- they had some really excellent products, but couldn't get consumers to buy into them.

Add to that list the SIMON PERSONAL COMMUNICATOR.  The 8 inch tall, 2.5 inch think, 18 ounce brick was first released on August 16th, 1994 and was available through Bell South Cellular.  The cellular phone sported a 16mhz 16-biyt Vadeem x86 compatible microprocessor with 1MB of storage and 1MB of RAM!  It came with a charging staition and 2 NiCad batteries. The display was a monochrome, backlit 4.5" x 1.4" display.  The SIMON sold a whopping 50,000 units in its lifetime and retailed for $599 with a two-year contract.

Although no one referred to it as a smartphone (that term didn't come into common use until around 1997), this device features a phone, address book, send/receive fax application, e-mail, cellular pager (pagers were still popular), calculator, stylus-sensitive notepad, ran a touchscreen interface (called Navigator) over the top of Datalight's ROM-DOS.  It had a 2400-baud Hayes Compatible modem for data, and 9600 fax modem built-in.

One of the most interesting features of the SIMON had was it's ability to plug an analog phone line into it to make phone calls in areas where cellular coverage did not exist at the time.

Was this a device that was simply ahead of its time?  Or was it really just not that great?  Either way, the IBM SIMON goes down in history as the world's first mass-marketed smartphone!
Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 18 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has been a classroom teacher for various subjects.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

No comments:

Post a Comment