IBM Simon

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Albert Flores

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. +more 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.

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History

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. +more IBM debuted a prototype device, code named "Sweetspot", on November 16, 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 digital services such as maps, stocks and news before they were widely available. 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. +more 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. +more 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.

Features

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.

Accessories

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. +more 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. +more 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. +more The DispatchIt application costs were US$2,999 for the host PC software and US$299 for each Simon software client.

Computer-related introductions in 1994

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