Simple Simon: World’s first smartphone on display to mark 20th anniversary

At just 20 years of age it is undeniably a relic from another age, already long consigned to the past. But, clunky as it may be by modern standards, the IBM Simon has an important place in history - it was the world’s very first smartphone. Tomorrow marks the anniversary of when the Simon first went on sale, and in October it will get a new lease of life when it goes on display as part of a permanent exhibition on the history of communication and information technology at London’s Science Museum.

The marketing was that it was so simple that it could do anything you instructed it to. It was half a kilogram (1lb) - you wouldn’t want to carry it too far.

Charlotte Connelly, content developer at London’s Science Museum

The phone was developed by computer firm IBM and the American cellular company BelSelf. It was called Simon because it was simple and could do almost anything you wanted. Charlotte Connelly, the content developer for the exhibition, said it was initially marketed around the idea of the game “Simon says”. Compared to today’s smartphones it was incredibly basic, but in 1994 it was far ahead of its time. The Simon, with its green LCD screen, had a stylus with touch screen technology - and cost $899 when it first came out.

It has all the components of a smartphone, including a slot in the bottom to insert different applications, such as mapping ones, spreadsheets and games. So it was really a forerunner to the iPhone.

Charlotte Connelly