Blimey, I must’ve been not paying attention, if I missed this. Seriously, given how much time I spend keeping up with the world of smartphones, I can’t believe I missed this, although in truth, pretty much anyone who knows me will be able to tell you how utterly hopeless I am at missing birthdays. It’s something genetic, I think; I’m just completely chuffing rubbish at it (just ask the mother; I had her birthday wrong in my phone for ages, till she clocked it and shouted at me).
Anyway, the point of this ramble is that this week was the 20th birthday of the smartphone, and that every smartphone currently in the world, whether it’s an HTC 8X or whatever, owes it existence to that beast in the pic…
That, right there, is the IBM Simon, and twenty years ago, it was unveiled to a public who had never seen anything like it. What you’re looking at, there, is the world’s first commercially available touchscreen smartphone, a phone that you interacted with solely through the screen, and that even had apps. Sure, they were just things like a calculator and a calendar, but imagine a world, right now, where those features weren’t even in feature phones.
Oh, and you could add apps to the phone, although unlike yer iPhone 5, or yer Samsung Galaxy S3, you didn’t download software to the phone. No sirree, you did it the old fashioned way, by plugging an extra bit of stuff into the phone, like a GPS receiver, or a camera module.
As for why it failed (and it did; it was only on sale for six months, after it finally got released in 1994), well, that’s simple. Basically, it was too far ahead of its time; without a mobile network set up to handle data, and with the mobile web browser being a mere pipe dream, the Simon was an overpriced brick, that couldn’t do half the things it promised to do. It’s such a shame, too, because none of that was the Simon’s fault; a high-powered device like that is precisely smurf all use without the necessary infrastructure there, to support it, and at the time, that simply didn’t exist.
Of course, the world would eventually catch up, and lead to the smartphone ecosystem we have today, but by that point, the Simon was little more than a memory, fondly remembered by those who got to play with one.
But yeah, anyway, happy birthday, Simon!
(IBM Simon life story courtesy of Bloomberg BusinessWeek)
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