T-Mobile iPhone Release Date: Take a Look at the First SmartPhone Ever


With the release of the iPhone 5 on T-Mobile's network less than a week away, perhaps now is the time to see just how far smartphones have come. Of course, nothing helps us see progress better than historical relativism so, for your benefit, here is the IBM Simon, the world’s first smartphone.

First made available to consumers in 1994, the Simon boasted a price tag of $899 (around $1500 in today’s economy) and served as a mobile phone, PDA, pager and fax machine (look them up, children). The machine also offered nearly a dozen applications — including email, maps, music, camera, calendar, and calculator — through expandable storage and an LCD touchscreen, all of which meant the Simon felt ahead of its time.

In a November 1993 press release celebrating the release of the phone, Bellsouth — which jointly developed the Simon with IBM — described the machine using the slogan, “Mobile Communications Made Simple.” Unfortunately, that simply wasn’t the case.

In its November 1993 review, USA Today praised the functions on display and referred to the product as a “giant step” but explicitly stated, “The main problem is that the screen is very small.” PC World later stated the phone “looked and felt like a brick.” Couple that with a battery life that normally lasted less than an hour and Simon simply wasn’t the product it should have been.

It also didn’t help that there was literally no concept of an app store at the time and, as Ira Sager of BusinessWeek notes, “Groundbreaking products require a rich ecosystem before the ‘big idea’ can become truly useful or widespread.” Just like the BlackBerry Rim and HP TouchPad have shown us, a tablet without a dedicated app system is bound to fail.

Of course, few products have been successful after a development as tumultuous as the Simon’s. Since this was a product jointly developed by IBM and Bellsouth (now owned by parent AT&T), who had only joined on after seeing a prototype at a COMDEX show in 1992, it was almost a guarantee that there would be some friction.

When the Simon’s release date was pushed back because the unique programs required new testing standards at IBM, a company already known for its “stringent” procedures, Bellsouth must have felt worried. Also worrisome for the company must have been the fact that IBM was also working on a project with Apple; hopefully that didn’t factor into the stringency of IBM’s testing.

Either way, all conspiracy theories aside, the Simon is an interesting piece of hardware. IBM had originally planned to offer a sequel, one that would have been closer in size to the iPhone, but the dismal sales for the Simon ultimately discouraged them from sinking further resources into the product.

Still, to all the folks planning on lining up for the latest iPhone next week, consider just how dated this product will feel in a few years. Smartphone technology may have taken a while to go from being the Simon to the Jobs, but it is now rising meteorically and spending so much on something so momentarily supreme seems unwise.

Consider how far we have come in the last two decades; wait two more and the iPhone 5 will be selling for exactly what it’s worth.