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Smart Simon says...

Twenty years ago, IBM launched what is retrospectively regarded as the first smartphone, the IBM Simon.

It was bulky, heavy and only graced the US market for six months, during which time it sold 50,000 units. At a time when pagers were everywhere and PDAs (that's a Personal Digital Assistant - a palmtop computer - for the benefit of our younger readers!) were at the thrusting edge of computer technology, a phone that combined all such functions was a revolution.

Or at least, it was a revolution starter. Simon's battery life of an hour in talk mode and its 0.5kg bulk limited its usefulness and portability, but it holds its place in history as the first of the breed. What we would now recognise as apps could be loaded onto Simon via a PCMCIA card.

So prominent is its place comms history, despite its limited commercial success, that it was chosen to be a star exhibit in the soon to be opened Information Age gallery at the London Science Museum - the actual exhibit that will be in the glass case having been sourced via ebay. Having just checked, you could use the same source to claim one for yourself for a mere £900.

When the new gallery opens on October 25th, Simon will sit alongside exhibits from 200 years of innovation in comms and broadcasting, inevitably favouring British involvement in these developments. In fact, the principal gallery sponsor is ARM, whose IP is of course in the majority of Simon's more recent 'children'.

Given the progress on this front, along with so many others in the communications field, it will be interesting to see how a museum can keep up to date. How long will it be before the smartphone is commonly an accessory to be worn (or even implanted!). Will the iPhone soon sit next to Simon looking just as dated? Or worse, next to a pager looking just as obsolete?

Tim Fryer

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