Before the iPhone, Windows CE phones, T-Mobile Sidekick, etc., there was the IBM Simon, developed by IBM and cellular company BellSouth. According to Charlotte Connelly, it was initially marketed around the idea of the game ‘Simon says’ and ‘the marketing was that it was so simple, that it could do anything you instructed it to,’ she explained. There was built-in software that allowed users to write notes, draw, update their calendar and contacts, and send and receive faxes, as well as allowing calls. Plus, it even had a slot for cartridges that were early ‘apps’ of sorts. Continue reading for more.

5. Originally Called “The Angler”

IBM debuted a prototype device, code named “Angler,” on November 23, 1992 at the COMDEX computer and technology trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States. The Angler prototype combined a cell phone and PDA into one device, allowing a user to make and receive telephone calls, facsimiles, emails and cellular pages, among other functions. COMDEX show attendees and the press showed notable interest in the device. The day after Angler’s debut, USA Today featured a photo on the front page of the Money section showing Frank Canova, Angler’s architect, holding the prototype.

4. It was VERY Expensive

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.

3. Only Sold 50,000 Units

BellSouth Cellular sold approximately 50,000 units during the product’s six months on the market. Although the term “smartphone” was not coined until 1997, because of Simon’s features and capabilities, it can be referred to as the first smartphone.

2. Could Send and Receive Faxes

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 note pad, handwritten annotations and standard and predictive stylus input screen keyboards.

1. Ran the ROM-DOS File System

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. Atlanta, Georgia-based 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.



A technology, gadget and video game enthusiast that loves covering the latest industry news. Favorite trade show? Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

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