IBM Simon (Frank J. Canova)

I’m as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.
Steve Jobs

Francis James Canova Jr.
Francis James Canova Jr.

The first smartphone in the world—IBM Simon Personal Communicator—was announced at the COMDEX computer and technology trade show in Las Vegas, on 16 November 1992. The device was code-named “Sweetspot”, and after the very successful prototype demonstration at COMDEX, IBM began work on the commercial product, code-named “Angler”. Although the term smartphone was not coined until 1997, Simon’s features and capabilities (see the Users Manual of IBM Simon) of a handheld, touchscreen cellular phone and PDA in one device can be referred to as a smartphone.

The originator of the idea for the IBM Simon was Frank Canova, IBM’s lead architect, and inventor (see the nearby image). With advances in MOSFET (metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor) technology enabling smaller integrated circuit chips and the proliferation of wireless mobile networks, Canova realized that chip-and-wireless technology was becoming small enough to use in handheld devices. The day after Sweetspot’s debut, USA Today featured a photo on the front page of the Money section showing Canova holding the Sweetspot prototype.

Francis James Canova Jr. was born on 23 December 1956 in Wilmington, Delaware. In 1978 he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the Florida Institute of Technology. After his successful career at IBM, Canova joined Palm Inc. in January 1997 where he was head of engineering for the PalmPilot, Palm III, V, and VII series of PDAs and successor devices. Later he held senior engineering positions at Amazon Web Services, Coherent, Inc., Plastic Logic, Neato Robotics, Livescribe, Reactrix Systems, Wheels of Zeus, and Cirrus Logic. Canova is the author of over 50 issued patents, has filed for dozens of others, and holds the title “Most Prolific Palm Inventor”.

IBM Simon Personal Communicator
IBM Simon Personal Communicator

The announced in 1992 device was patented on 16 July 1996 (see US pat. Nr. 5537608), with a priority date of 13 November 1992. It allowed a user to make telephone calls, as well as to work with facsimiles, emails, and cellular pages. It also demonstrated other digital services such as maps, stocks, and news before they were widely available, among other functions. IBM Simon featured 11 built-in programs, including a calendar, to-do list, calculator, address book, appointment scheduler, world time clock, electronic notepad/sketch pad, handwritten annotations, and standard and predictive stylus input screen keyboards.

Simon (dimensions: 200 mm, 64 mm, 38 mm; weight 510 g) featured a Vadem 16 MHz, 16-bit, x86-compatible CPU. The memory was 1 MB of ROM (read-only memory) and 1 MB of PSRAM (pseudo-static random-access memory). The connectivity was provided by a 2400-bps Hayes-compatible modem.

Simon used the operating system Datalight ROM-DOS. IBM created a unique touch-screen user interface for Simon’s 114×36 mm, 160x293px monochrome backlit LCD display. Optional was a PCMCIA pager card designed by Motorola, an RS-232 adapter cable for use with PC-Link to access files from a personal computer, and an RJ11 adapter cable to allow voice and data calls to be made over POTS land-lines.

Simon’s included NiCad battery lasted about eight hours in standby mode and about one hour under constant use.

Simon was assembled under contract by Mitsubishi Electric and was distributed by BellSouth Cellular between August 1994 and February 1995, as some 50000 units were sold. BellSouth initially offered Simon throughout its 15-state service area for US$899 with a two-year service contract or US$1099 without a contract.