The First Smartphone Was a Complete Failure

The IBM Simon

The IBM Simon

The IBM Simon is often referred to as the world’s first smartphone, being the first handset to incorporate PDA features and email along with being able to make and receive calls.


Going on sale in August, 1994, the Simon was certainly an ugly brute, and a commercial failure at the time. But it's now a collectors item, and has had a massive influence on the DNA of the modern smartphone as we know it. The Smithsonian Institute even has one on display.

ibm simon advertisement

This bad boy could both send and receive faxes and emails along with other nifty PDA features. However, the device had to be connected to a computer in order to do so, due to the lack of wireless internet connectivity in the early 90's! 

The device was never referred to as a smartphone at the time, and it’s definitely not a smartphone as we know them today. There's no apps and certainly no chance of getting a game of angry birds out of the thing, but at the time this was a cutting-edge unit.

"Here I was, talking to someone with access to my calendar, e-mail, and much more, with only a phone in my hand. That simple moment is when I realized the world was about to change."
- Frank Canova, IBM lead architect & Simon inventor.

Simon also lacked a browser, which isn’t really surprising, considering desktop computers were just beginning to start featuring them around this time.

The unit cost $1,100 at launch, which was pretty expensive in the mid-90’s. But when you consider the level of technology it featured, it wasn’t overly pricey - it even had a touchscreen!

Aesthetically the device left a lot to be desired, it was a bulky handset, weighing in at about 500 grams and resembling a brick in the truest sense of the word. Ultimately, this would be the phone's downfall, with flip-phones becoming the must-have mobile around the time of Simons launch.

IBM Simon next to iPhone 4

IBM Simon next to iPhone 4

The device was heavily hyped before its release. But unfortunately for poor Simon, the phone never really took off, and was taken off the market after a mere 6 months.

With a trend towards smaller, more pocketable devices with better battery lives, the Simon only sold approximately 50,000 units. In the end the device was ahead of its time, lacking the supporting technologies such as high-speed internet and long-lasting battery to make it a really useful tool. 

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