IBM unveiled the first smartphone in history, Simon, at the November 1993 Comdex Show in Las Vegas. It became readily available through baby Bell, Bell South, the following year. By 1995, it was discontinued. This was breathtakingly short lifespan for such a new and useful device.
The name “Simon” may have come from the Simon game. That Simon was a popular electronic game that was released in the 1970s. It featured a series of colored buttons that lit up in a random sequence. Players had to repeat the sequence by pressing the buttons in the correct order. The Simon game was a popular toy in the 1980s. It may have been well-known among the engineers who worked on the Simon project. After all, “Simon says…” was a game of communication.
Here are some of the key features of the Simon:
Touchscreen display: Simon featured a monochrome touchscreen display that could be operated using a stylus.
Fax modem: The device had a built-in fax modem. This allowed users to send and receive faxes from their mobile device.
Email client: It had a built-in email client. Users could send and receive emails from their mobile device.
Calendar and contacts: The device had a built-in calendar and contacts application. Customers could manage their schedule and contacts from their mobile device.
Notepad: The Simon had a notepad application that allowed users to take notes and create memos on their mobile device.
World clock: The device had a built-in world clock, which allowed users to view the time in different time zones.
Voice recorder: It had a built-in voice recorder, which allowed users to record and play back audio.
Reminders: The device had a reminders application, which allowed users to set alarms and reminders for important events.
Calculator: The Simon had a built-in calculator, which allowed users to perform basic calculations.
Mobile phone: Of course, it was a mobile phone, allowing users to make and receive calls from their mobile device.
Reasons for Failure
So, with all these new bells and whistles, why did it fail?
High price: Simon was a relatively expensive device, with an initial price tag of $899, which was beyond the reach of many consumers at the time.
Large size and weight: It was a large and heavy device, weighing in at nearly 1 pound and measuring 8 inches in length. This made it cumbersome to carry around and use.
Short battery life: The product had a short battery life, providing only around one hour of talk time and 8 hours of standby time, which was a major drawback for a mobile device.
Poor network coverage: At the time of its release, the Simon was only available through a limited number of cellular carriers, which limited its availability to consumers.
Limited software ecosystem: Its software ecosystem was limited, with few third-party developers creating applications for the device. This limited the device’s functionality and usefulness for consumers.
Lack of a standard platform: The product’s operating system was proprietary and not compatible with other devices, which limited its interoperability and made it difficult to integrate with other technologies.
Scant marketing: Simon was not marketed aggressively, and many consumers were not aware of its existence or its capabilities.
Competition from other devices: The Simon faced competition from other mobile devices, such as the Motorola StarTAC and the Nokia 1011, which were smaller, more affordable, and had better battery life. (The iPhone was introduced by Apple on June 29, 2007, more than 14 years after the introduction of the IBM Simon.)
- Year Started: 1993
- Year Ended: 1995
- Origin Of Name: Popular Game
- Location Sales: United States
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: IBM
- Owner While In Use: IBM
- Owner Successor: N/A
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: iPhone
- Naics Code: 334220
- Location Headquarters: Armonk, New York USA