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What was the First Smartphone?

What was the First Smartphone

If you ask the average person on the street which was the first smartphone, you’re likely to get “iPhone” as the answer. And by many measures they might be right. The iPhone really was the first smartphone marketed primarily to the consumer. And it revolutionised the mobile market when it was released in 2007.

But smartphones have been around for over 20 years. Surprised? I was too at first. But before I get too far, let’s take a look at what defines a smartphone. Generally we define smartphones as having both a keyboard, calendar, and email at a minimum. Mostly they also incorporate a camera, a means of playing music and can run many of the applications that used to reside solely on laptops and PCs.

I remember sitting in meetings in the early 2000’s where the senior management would be silently texting away and checking email on their Blackberrys or mobile phones.  The company I worked for at the time issued the devices to employees they thought needed them – usually project leaders that travelled frequently. And in the early days of the smartphone that was generally the case. Businesses adopted the smartphone long before the general consumer market.

So getting back to the question…what was the first smartphone? Who made it? And when?

Way back in 1992, IBM debuted the Simon. Amazingly it had a touchscreen, but required a stylus to use. You could check email, take notes, and use the calendar. As a bonus you could even send and receive fax messages. Yes, it had a fax capability. That’s something we don’t even consider for smartphones today (unless you’re using an online fax service via email). Though the Simon fits the definition of a smartphone, the device never caught on. So was it the first? That’s debatable as although it did exist it never really entered service. Maybe we should think of it more as a prototype.

It wasn’t until 1997 when Ericsson promoted their GS88 as a “smart phone” that the term  “smartphone” took off. Purists will argue Nokia actually released the first modern smartphone a year earlier. According to TheNextWeb.com,the Nokia 9000 Communicator is “what many consider to be the quintessential smartphone”. But thanks to Ericsson’s marketing, smartphone is now the catchall term for phones with added capability.

And based on sales in 2013, Gartner reports that smartphone sales accounted for 53.6% of global mobile phone sales. It was the first year consumers bought more smartphones than basic phones. And surely that trend has accelerated in the meantime.

Android based phones accounted for about 78% of the sales worldwide, trouncing Apple’s iOS at just 15.6%.

I doubt there are too many people faxing from their phones these days. But smartphones do just about everything else. And that range will only increase as voice commands become ever more powerful, eliminating keypad use. Besides calling or texting, what’s your favorite smartphone activity? What new features do you think will emerge? Share your thoughts in a comment.

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