Siliconcowboy's Blog

First SmartPhone Shown at Comdex 20 Years Ago Today

On this date in 1992, IBM introduced a prototype of the Simon Personal Communicator – arguably the first ‘smart phone’ – at the COMDEX exhibition in Las Vegas.

The Simon Personal Communicator was the first cell phone to include telephone and PDA features in one device. Although the term “smartphone” had not been coined at the time, because of its features and capabilities, the Simon can be referred to as the first smartphone.

The IBM Simon featured a handheld, touchscreen cell phone and PDA designed and engineered by International Business Machines Inc. (IBM) and assembled under contract by Mitsubishi Electric Corp. The phone was distributed by BellSouth Cellular Corp. in the United States between August, 1994 and February, 1995, selling 50,000 units.

The prototype device, code named “Angler,” allowed users to make and receive telephone calls, facsimiles, emails and cellular pages. Other applications included an address book, calendar, appointment scheduler, calculator, world time clock, electronic note pad, handwritten annotations and standard and predictive stylus input screen keyboards.

The device was a hit with COMDEX show attendees and the press. The newspaper USA Today featured a photo on the front page of the Money section showing Frank Canova, Angler’s architect, holding the prototype.

The finished product was given its final name, “Simon Personal Communicator” by BellSouth executives before its second public debut at the Wireless World Conference in November, 1993.

BellSouth Cellular had planned to begin selling Simon in May, 1994, but problems with the device’s software delayed commercial availability until mid-August. It was offered in BellSouth Cellular’s 15 state service area for $899 with a two-year service contract or $1099 without a contract. The company later reduced the price to $599 with a two-year contract.

Each Simon was shipped with a charging base station, two nickel-cadmium batteries and a protective leather cover.

The Simon’s software included a file system from Datalight ROM-DOS, file compression from Stacker, and a unique touch-screen user interface developed by IBM.

The Simon could be upgraded to run third party applications either by inserting a PCMCIA card or by downloading an application to the phone’s internal memory.

Atlanta-based PDA Dimensions developed “DispatchIt”, the only aftermarket, third-party application developed for Simon, at the hefty price of $2,999 for the host PC software and $299 for each Simon software client.