Did you know what was the first smartphone ever?

Did you know what was the first smartphone ever?
Smartphones are on their way to becoming ubiquitous – everyone seems to have one already. What's more, there are no signs indicating that their popularity is to decline anytime soon. It wasn't always like this, of course. In fact, the term "smartphone" didn't even exist until the late '90s. That was a time when smartphones could only do a small fraction of the things that their modern counterparts are capable of. Still, as primitive (by today's standards) as they were, they paved the way for a number of influential, game-changing mobile devices to follow. Curious to learn more about the very first smartphones? Alright, then let's rewind back to a few decades ago and see how it all began.

The first "smartphone" concepts


Extending the humble phone's functionality beyond the scope of making calls is an age-old idea. Take for example this concept for a device that could serve as both a landline phone and a digital assistant. Designed with a touchscreen interface, it was very advanced for its time, and judging by the images, its uses included things like writing checks and storing contact information. This smartphone of sorts was conceptualized in 1983 by a German company called frog design. Its customer was Apple Computers, as you can surely tell by the old-school logo. Alas, this smartphone of sorts was never released commercially, but its existence, albeit at a conceptual level, goes show that even 30 years ago, people saw potential in a device combining phone and PDA functionalities. It would take another 9 years for a cellphone fitting this description to materialize. And it wasn't made by Apple.

The IBM Simon


This is the IBM Simon Personal Communicator, often referred to as the first smartphone ever. A prototype of it was introduced in 1992, but it wasn't until two years later when BellSouth Cellular released the handset in the U.S. for $899 on a 2-year contract or $1099 without commitment.

In a nutshell, the IBM Simon was a cellphone with PDA features – something that business users must have been very excited about. The Simon offered utilities such as a calendar, a world clock, and an appointment scheduler, it could send and receive emails, it could exchange faxes over its 9600-bps modem, and it was even technically capable of running third-party applications stored on a memory card or on its 1MB of internal memory. That relatively huge screen in its front is a monochrome, backlit touchscreen with a resolution of 160 by 293 pixels. Using the handheld's stylus, one could draw sketches and input hand-written text, although our guess is that the accuracy of the latter feature was underwhelming. 

Over 50,000 units were sold in the U.S. until February 1995, when the carrier discontinued the Simon.

The Ericsson R380


But while the IBM Simon was, technically, the first commercially available mobile device that could be called a smartphone, it wasn't referred to as such. The first smartphone ever marketed using the term "smartphone" was the Ericsson R380, which hit the market in 2000 at a price of about $700. It was also the first smartphone running the then-new Symbian operating system. 

Unlike other smartphones at the time, the Ericsson R380 was about the size and weight of a typical cellphone. It weighed only 164 grams, while the Nokia 9210 Communicator, in comparison, was a 244-gram brick. Its form factor also made it an interesting device. The R380 featured a standard numeric keypad that revealed a spacious resistive touchscreen when flipped open. 

Feature-wise, the Ericsson R380 came loaded with an arsenal of organizer functions, such as a calendar, a to-do list, a world clock, voice memos, and a contacts manager. It also featured an infra-red port for exchanging data and offered a built-in modem for accessing the internet via the phone's WAP browser. Exchanging emails back and forth was also in its feature set. However, as advanced as it was for its time, the R380 could not have additional apps installed on it. 

And these, guys, were the first smartphones that the world saw. We've come a long way since then, haven't we? Drop us a line in the comments below if you agree.

references: IBM Simon (Wikipedia), Fudder.de, cdecas.free.fr

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25 Comments

1. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2252; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

I miss those old clamshell smartphones like the Nokia Communicator. It was just so cool that it looked like a normal phone on the outside and then you flipped it open and it was like a mini laptop in your hands. With screen sizes around 6 inches in today's world, I think it would be really interesting if there was a revival of these clamshell phones. Here's a picture for those who don't know what I'm talking about:http://www.allaboutsymbian.com/images/features/misc/Nokia%209500%20qwerty.jpg And here's a pic of the last touchscreen phone that opened up in that sort of way, the LG Voyager:http://cnet4.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2014/02/12/f0bac871-510c-44b1-bcbd-2ddbeae56d63/thumbnail/770x433/eebb946fc00c4db8440128a6806fc1cd/lg-voyager-vx10000-verizon-wireless.gif

6. Slammer

Posts: 1515; Member since: Jun 03, 2010

Great throwback Dr. Phil. We can look back at these things as still being cool yet they get lost in today's barrage of technology. Sad but refreshing memories. John B.

11. akki20892

Posts: 3902; Member since: Feb 04, 2013

Yep that's why, Old is Gold. Today's phones are nothing compare to those phone. Unique, classic and stylish....just like 007

12. Arte-8800

Posts: 4562; Member since: Mar 13, 2014

The Ericsson device he uses on Bond film.

14. meanestgenius

Posts: 21349; Member since: May 28, 2014

I still have my Nokia e90 communicator. Such a great device...wish someone would bring back this form factor...I think BlackBerry or Motorola could make a sweet device using this form factor.

16. Arte-8800

Posts: 4562; Member since: Mar 13, 2014

Nokia E90 I still have. Great looking phone.

18. JC557

Posts: 1917; Member since: Dec 07, 2011

I still have my old Sony Ericsson P900 that bought using money from my first job during high school. It was also the second phone I had after I signed up with T-Mobile. Too bad data speeds kinda sucked on that...

15. engineer-1701d unregistered

I remember the IBM Simon phone my mom had it I loved playing with it

25. frmrVZguy

Posts: 42; Member since: Mar 10, 2012

@DrPhil Agreed w/ Communicator and Vger/Env devices from LG. I still keep an LG ENV active on one line. And as far as durability and signal reception, they were the best VZW offered up to the ENV2. The VX9800 was amazing. Smartphone = sync to pc capability for contacts, calendar, email and later on came documents. email was initially off-line only as I recall. Then when even a so-called basic 3G Env could do all that, the definition migrated to touchscreens and big screens - PALM, WinCE, Android etc. There were tons of apps and games on the BREW platform. Video programming too. Kids don't even know what the old phones could do and they don't care since the screens and fonts were so small. VZW had the best vision for mobile content ... leadership doesn't always pay off as expected. Platforms changed, developers get lost in the shuffle.

2. Slammer

Posts: 1515; Member since: Jun 03, 2010

I actually owned a Simon in 94. Paid almost $1000 dollars. Equivalent to about 1600- 1700 today. And yes people, it was plastic, but never had any problems with it. It still worked when I sold it at a garage sale. Sold two bag phones and a brick phone as well. All plastic as well. All worked great. Would've still had them today if I knew the value they would've had. Sorry about the jab on plastic. But, phone geeks are complaining that phones they pay 200 dollars on contract for should be metal. just pointing out that even though we paid tol buck for the phones, no one complained about the material. Back to smartphones, We can't forget about Palm and its WinMo operating system. John B.

4. npaladin2000

Posts: 165; Member since: Nov 06, 2011

Wow no mention of the Handspring VisorPhone?

7. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2252; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

Wasn't that just an attachment to make a PDA have phone capabilities? I think that would be considered a grey area in considering that the first smartphone.

5. GreekGeek

Posts: 1276; Member since: Mar 22, 2014

The first ''modern'' smartphone was the NOKIA 7650

8. hemedans

Posts: 746; Member since: Jun 01, 2013

you cant write an article about first smartphone without mentioning nokia communicator 9000, which was released 1996. these are features which make it as first smartphone. 1.full qwerty keyboard with navigational keys 2. web browser(ibm simon lack it) 3.abilty to send emails 4. word processing and spreadsheet 5.ability to send fax

20. Augustine

Posts: 1043; Member since: Sep 28, 2013

There was no web to browse with a Simon or anything else in 1992.

9. fatTony

Posts: 113; Member since: Dec 20, 2012

I got my first smartphone during my freshman year in college. It was the T-Mobile MDA (SGH T-619 and T-809 before it).

10. gigaraga

Posts: 1454; Member since: Mar 29, 2013

It was first a patent, then IBM Simon and then Nokia 9000. Everyone should know this as basic knowledge of smartphones.

13. mas11

Posts: 1034; Member since: Mar 30, 2012

But I thought Apple invented the first smartphone, I mean they seem to act like they did.

17. Arte-8800

Posts: 4562; Member since: Mar 13, 2014

They target the average joes and newbies along with with their cult users who believe in apple.

19. JC557

Posts: 1917; Member since: Dec 07, 2011

And then I show those people the Palm Treo 650 my brother bought back in the day... wow we're getting old... ugh and speaking of Palm, I bought a Palm monochrome PDA because I thought Splinter Cell (the first one) was so awesome...

21. AfterShock

Posts: 4146; Member since: Nov 02, 2012

First, was the brick, on month to month, $1.50 minute.. Then I paid big time for my Motorola Ultra Classic II,. $1000. Cool phone in the day. Before that, brothers Aurora, in car phone, rental by company.(Big oil) Before that CB. Before that, Notes in school.

22. techloverNYC

Posts: 601; Member since: Nov 20, 2012

Good old days, never even have consider too much about the screen resolution, color,size, battery life, memory,etc. Choosing a phone was definitely a more easy choice back then

23. Scorpion

Posts: 103; Member since: Apr 28, 2012

Miss the eighteies and nineties, when tech was a new thing in our homes and everything felt so freaking cool.

24. sachouba

Posts: 261; Member since: Jun 08, 2014

What ? It is not the iPhone ? I thought it was, as every single Apple fanboy says that all the time. :)

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