The IBM Simon Personal Communicator (simply known as IBM Simon) is a handheld, touchscreen PDA designed by International Business Machines (IBM), and manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric. Although the term "smartphone" was not coined until 1995, because of Simon's features and capabilities, it has been retrospectively referred to as the first true smartphone.
BellSouth Cellular Corp. distributed the IBM Simon in the United States between August 1994 and February 1995, selling 50,000 units. The Simon Personal Communicator was the first personal digital assistant or PDA to include telephony features (make phone calls). The battery lasted only an hour, and flip phones became increasingly slim which led to its demise.
With advances in MOSFET (metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor, or MOS transistor) technology enabling smaller integrated circuit chips and the proliferation of wireless mobile networks, IBM engineer Frank Canova realised that chip-and-wireless technology was becoming small enough to use in handheld devices. IBM debuted a prototype device, code named "Sweetspot", in November 1992, at the COMDEX computer and technology trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States. The Sweetspot prototype combined a mobile phone and PDA into one device, allowing a user to make and receive telephone calls, facsimiles, emails and cellular pages. Not only did the prototype have many PDA features including a calendar, address book and notepad, but also demonstrated other applications such as maps, stocks and news. COMDEX show attendees and the press showed interest in the device. The day after Sweetspot's debut, USA Today featured a photo on the front page of the Money section showing Frank Canova, IBM's lead architect and inventor of the smartphone, holding the Sweetspot prototype.
After a very successful prototype demonstration at COMDEX, IBM began work on the commercial product, code named "Angler". The IBM device was manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric, which integrated features from its own wireless personal digital assistant (PDA) and cellular radio technologies while building the IBM device. IBM initially approached Motorola to manufacture the product, but Motorola rejected the offer, concerned that IBM could become a potential rival mobile manufacturer. IBM then approached Mitsubishi to build the device.
BellSouth executives gave the finished product its final name, "Simon Personal Communicator", before its public debut at the Wireless World Conference in November 1993. BellSouth Cellular had planned to begin selling Simon in May 1994, but due to problems with the device's software, the Simon did not become available to consumers until August 16, 1994. BellSouth Cellular initially offered the Simon throughout its 15-state service area for US$899 with a two-year service contract or US$1099 without a contract. Later in the product's life, BellSouth Cellular reduced the price to US$599 with a two-year contract.
BellSouth Cellular sold approximately 50,000 units during the product's six months on the market.
In addition to its ability to make and receive cellular phone calls, Simon was also able to send and receive faxes, e-mails and cellular pages. Simon featured many applications, including an address book, calendar, appointment scheduler, calculator, world time clock, electronic notepad, handwritten annotations, and standard and predictive stylus input screen keyboards.
It features a liquid-crystal display (LCD) and has PC Card support. Its internal hardware includes the Vadem VG230 (CMOS) system-on-a-chip (SoC) from NEC, MOS random-access memory (RAM) chips from Sony and Hitachi, flash memory (floating-gate MOS) chips from Intel and Hitachi, and Cirrus Logic modem chips.
Each Simon was shipped with a charging base station, a nickel-cadmium battery, and a protective leather cover. Optional was a PCMCIA pager card designed by Motorola, an RS232 adapter cable for use with PC-Link to access files from a personal computer, and an RJ11 adapter cable to allow voice and data calls to be made over POTS land-lines. The RJ11 adapter helped users reduce expensive cellular phone bills or make calls where cellular coverage didn't exist in 1994.
Operating system and applications
The Simon used the file system from Datalight ROM-DOS along with file compression from Stacker. IBM created a unique touch-screen user interface for Simon; no DOS prompt existed. This user interface software layer for Simon was known as the Navigator.
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.
PDA Dimensions developed "DispatchIt", the only aftermarket, third-party application developed for Simon. It was an early predecessor to "Remote Desktop" software. The DispatchIt application costs were US$2,999 for the host PC software and US$299 for each Simon software client.
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Simon was the first smartphone. Twenty years ago, it envisioned our app-happy mobile lives, squeezing the features of a cell phone, pager, fax machine, and computer into an 18-ounce black brick.
- O'Malley, Chris (December 1994). "Simonizing the PDA". Byte. 19 (12): 145–148. ISSN 0360-5280. Archived from the original on February 21, 1999. Retrieved June 30, 2012.
The CPU is a 16-bit x86-compatible processor running at 16 MHz, a single-chip design manufactured by Vadem. Simon runs a version of DOS called ROM-DOS, from Datalight...
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The phone currently is based on an AMPS standard...
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Graphic display: 160 x 293
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...It is at this point that early usability test participants met impasse. The switch connected to our "smart phone" is expecting the typical "dumb end-point"... AT&T's PhoneWriter was demonstrated at the 1993 Comdex Computer Show...
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Technical issues, resulting from the integration of Simon's cellular faxing capability, were discovered early in the manufacturing and development cycle as IBM's quality assurance testing was being conducted. IBM will hold up shipments of the device until the bugs are worked out.
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BellSouth Cellular Corp. (BSCC) and PDA Dimensions...announced the commercial availability of DispatchIt, a work order field service application using Simon, BSCC's personal communicator.
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Simon is the first smartphone. It paved the way for the ones of today by introducing touch screens to phones.
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IBM / Bell South Simon Smartphone: First shown in 1993, this was the world’s first so-called 'smart phone'.
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Long before the smartphone revolution, IBM and BellSouth teamed up to build and sell the Simon Personal Communicator, a 1-pound, $899 mobile phone that ran apps and featured the first touch screen. It lasted just six months after being put on the market in the summer of 1994.