Today in History: First Smartphone Sold to the Public

Today in History: First Smartphone Sold to the Public

By M. C. Millman

The IBM Simon Personal Communicator, known as IBM Simon for short, was first sold 28 years ago on August 16, 1994.

The futuristic IBM Simon was designed by IBM, manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric, and distributed by BellSouth Cellular. It has been retrospectively referred to as the first smartphone, even though the term "smartphone" wasn't officially coined until 1995.

IBM Simon was originally introduced as a personal digital assistant (PDA). It had features similar to smartphones we have now, including a calendar, calculator address book, notepad, and digital services such as maps, stocks, and news. The phone could send and receive faxes and emails.

The smartphone was sold at a whopping $1099 without a contract, equivalent to $2,136.53 in 2022 when factoring in inflation.

IBM Simon looked similar to a cordless landline device but had a touch screen with an LCD panel. The phone was a clunky 8 inches high, 2.5 inches wide, and 1.5 inches thick. It also weighed over one pound, much more than smartphones today, which weigh under half a pound on average.

Aside from the high price, its battery only lasted about one hour for voice calls and took 14-16 hours to charge. It also lacked an internet communicator and web browser.

It was hard to convince people to buy an expensive device that required constant charging. Despite that, 50,000 units of the IBM Simon were sold during the six months it was on the market. IBM discontinued the phone within a year, in February 1995.

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