What Was The First Ever Business Smartphone?

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In a business world where the smartphone is ubiquitous and specialist providers are on hand to ensure that any handset is tailored to meet the needs of your organisation, it can be difficult at times to truly convey what a seismic shift the smartphone was to businesses.

After the 9th January 2007 keynote speech where the late Steve Jobs introduced what would turn out to be the future of business as we know it, the world of business mobility and agile office environments would change forever, even if it took a while for some organisations to catch up.

However, whilst the iPhone is often credited for popularising the concept, it is far from the first-ever smartphone. 

The LG Prada was the first phone with the capacitive touchscreen that the iPhone popularised, models such as the T-Mobile Sidekick, the Nokia E-Series and most famously the Blackberry featured smartphone-like functionality.

Moreover, BlackBerry was the dominant market leader in the space even after the iPhone was released, until the disastrous release of the iPhone competitor BlackBerry Storm in 2008.

However, before the BlackBerry, before the Japanese i-mode-compatible mobile phones, before the hybrid personal digital assistants such as the Nokia 9000 Communicator, and before even the very word ‘smartphone’, IBM had quietly created the future years before it was truly appreciated.

Simon Says

Before smartphones, many of their functions were part of separate devices, with mobile phones and personal organisers evolving separately through the 1980s and early 1990s.

With mobile phones came the development of early mobile networks that could be used for more than just phone calls, and this got the attention of Frank Canova.

An engineer at IBM, Mr Canover had seen the rapid miniaturisation of wireless technologies and realised that a wireless system-on-a-chip could potentially fit in a handheld device, albeit a somewhat large one by 2020s standards.

This led to the creation of Sweetspot, a prototype transparent handheld device described as a “personal communicator”. The term “smartphone” would not be used for at least three years.

The codename would be changed to Angler after a successful showing at COMDEX 1992, before finally receiving the name “Simon” in 1993.

It was an astonishingly innovative device for the time, able to send and receive pages, emails and faxes, features that were not necessarily standard issue even on PDAs of the era, as well as featuring one of the first-ever touch-screen interfaces ever fitted to a handheld device.

IBM worked out a deal with BellSouth Cellular, formerly part of American Telephone & Telegraph until 1984  before being acquired again by AT&T in 2006, that would ensure the Simon was released in 1994.

Unfortunately, teething troubles with the interface delayed it from May until August initially sold for $899 on a two-year contract or $1099 without one.

Even taking into account that mobile phones were more expensive in the 1990s, it was far too expensive for businesses to even consider, and the Simon only sold 50,000 units before it was discontinued just six months later.

Not helping this was the rapid evolution of PDAs and mobile phones, which both started to get a lot smaller, as well as a battery life of just one hour.

However, it did show the future, and even just two years later the HP OmniGo and the Nokia 9000 showed that smartphones for business were a viable option.


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