August 16 2014: The smartphone is 20 years old today. It was called the Simon Personal Communicator and it was designed by IBM, made by Mitsubishi and launched on August 16 1994 -- a 23 cm long contraption that weighed half a kilogram and cost $899..
The Simon was a combo of phone and personal digital assistant -- one could make and receive voice calls as well as fax messages and let users take notes, draw pictures and maintain a calendar. And it was a flop -- too heavy, too pricey and selling around 50,000 units in the six months it was alive. There was no Internet so it was too costly to operate and IBM was in bad shape in 1994 to sustain the product till it could take off. It was a product ahead of its time, people did not even recognize that this was a 'smart' phone: The word ‘smartphone’ was not used till 2000, when Ericsson launched the R380 – the first phone to use a Symbian mobile operating system.
The Simon had a brief window of fame: it featured in the 1995 film, The Net, starring Sandra Bullock. The villain played by Jeremy Northam uses a Simon phone to send messages and track her.
Footnote: The first mobile phone had come much earlier on April 3 1973 when Motorola executive Martin Cooper made the firts cellular call from a hand geld device weighing 1 kg.