iPhones are awesome. You can do virtually anything on them. Whatever your mind can conceive of doing, there's an app to help. There's no denying that its prominence and influence has changed the lives of humans though there's some debate over the particulars. But what was the predecessor to such an innovation? The world's first smartphone is now 20 years old and though it wasn't pretty or very popular, its launch was a huge success for cellphone innovation.
"Angler"Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images
IBM premiered a prototype smartphone they called “Angler” on November 23, 1992, at the COMDEX computer and technology trade show. The product was the first smartphone of its kind, half phone, half PDA, able to intercept and send calls, emails and cellular pages. Conference attendees and techies were wowed.
Simon Personal Communication
Though Simon started its journey named “Angler,” it soon received its rightful title as Simon Personal Communicator before it was debuted to consumers at the Wireless World Conference a year later. The eight-inch by two and a half-inch brick format smartphone featured then novel applications including an address book, a calendar, a calculator, a clock (?!), an electronic note pad and predictive stylus input screen keyboards. Basically, anything today considered an absolute basic on a cellphone.
Tech TalkBuxton Collection
Though you’d think the 90s were the dark ages—what with the tiny, pocket sized telephones we type away at today—Simon actually had some advanced features for unfamiliar consumers. The phone had a touchscreen, which must have been a doozy for the 90s public (and a snore for the modern masses), and could host third party applications with the insertion of a card. Sexting was a no go—no camera.
Conference attendees who had drooled over the phone’s tech appeal in techie circles had to wait a full year before the product was on the market for commercial consumption. Though the plan was to hit shelves in May 1994, BelleSouth Cellular Corp. was forced to push back sales until August due to technological problems. If Apple worshippers were asked to wait three months after being promised products, riots would surely ensue.
CostCarl Court/AFP/Getty Images
If you think iPhones are expensive, try purchasing Simon phones in 1994 right as the inventory was hitting the shelves. In 15 states the phone could be offered for $899 with a two-year service contract to make users indebted to BellSouth Cellular, or for $1099 as a free agent. Later, when the product presumably wasn’t in as high of demand, the communication device could be fetched for a smooth $599 (with two year contract).
In CultureColumbia Pictures
Despite its short-lived stint, the Simon actually made it into a minute corner of pop culture, if you could deign to call 1995's "The Net" culture. In that film about a computer programmer who discovers a conspiracy, actor Jeremy Northam speaks to Sandra Bullock's character, Angela Bennett over his supercool Simon that in no way makes him look lame.
During its six-month life span, the Simon sold a disappointing 50,000 units. Compare that to the more than 10 millions iPhone 6s sold in the first three months since hitting shelves. Apparently America was just coming to terms with its tech boom—that or the sticker price kept most would-be smartphoners at a distance. The Simon was officially discontinued in February 1995. The term ‘smartphone’ wouldn’t be coined until 1997.
DemiseKoichi Kamoshida/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Why did Simon falter if it was such a cool and new item that obviously excited consumers? Apparently, its battery didn’t last long, which as all cellphone users know, is the death knell in a product’s coffin. It only lasted about an hour before it was kaput. At the same time, mobile flip phones were becoming all the rage and many people opted for sleeker, flipping clunkers rather than brick-like ones.
There's no way there's any one still lugging around a Simon hoping to receive what little bit of cell service the tech gods wish to bestow upon them. Instead Simons are bought and sold as novelty tech items—pieces of history even. In fact, the Smithsonian Institution has one. It only makes sense as the behemoth of a phone truly does belong to a different era.