IBM is celebrating 20 years since the launch of its Simon smartphone with a public display at the Science Museum.
The device was launched on 16 August 1994 and, although it is outdated by modern standards, it paved the way for the smartphone-dominated mobile market that now exists.
The device was the first to provide features beyond calls with its built-in software allowing for apps, such as a calendar, and the ability to read emails, and send and receive faxes.
However, the capabilities were ahead of their time and the device’s time on the market was short-lived as it was withdrawn from sale after six months. The price would have been an issue too as the Simon cost $899 at launch. It also weighed a hefty 0.5kg and operated only within a 15-state network in the US.
Despite this brief foray into the mobile world, the Simon can be seen as the first ever smartphone and its impact has slowly filtered through to many of the devices millions of us now use to run our digital lives.
Science Museum curator Charlotte Connelly said that because of this, despite not being a commercial success, IBM’s Simon remains an important part of the technology industry’s history.
“Simon was released in 1994. In the early 1990s personal digital systems (PDAs) were all the rage. They were little devices you carried around that connected to your computer and did things like help you manage contacts and store a few documents – basically [they did] a load of things business people wanted. Then completely separately you may have had a mobile phone,” she said.
“This was the first device that put both of these in the same box and, even though it wasn’t a commercial success by any means, it was still the first of its kind. That’s why it is so important as a part of technology’s history.”
The Science Museum has taken delivery of an original IBM Simon as part of its Information Age exhibition that will open on 25 October.