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The First Touch Phones: The Era Before the iPhone

The First Touch Phones: The Era Before the iPhone

The reality is that a generation of people have now grown up who think of the iPhone as the first touchphone. It really was the first in many ways and completely changed the mobile market. It was definitely the first user-friendly touchscreen smartphone. And it was perfectly adapted for finger-only operation. But there would have been no first iPhone 10 years ago if not for the development of technology, the first trial and error, the first “hits. Let’s take a look back at how touchphones evolved before the iPhone.


IBM Simon (1994)

Often called the forerunner of the iPhone. In fact, it’s just the very first touchphone in the world (and there were quite a few after it before the iPhone).

For the first time the prototype of “Simon” was shown in 1992, then it seemed something from the future. In 1994 the device went on sale and cost a fortune – $1090 (if you consider inflation, it would be even more expensive now).

Simon was one of the first “symbioses” of a Pocket PC and a phone, later called a smartphone. It could also be used as a pager and fax machine. It had an address book, notepad, task list, e-mail client, calendar, calculator and also contained several games.

The device was equipped with a 4.7-inch monochrome display with a resolution of 160×293 pixels. There were no physical keys – both dialing and texting were done with a virtual keyboard and stylus.

Simon had a slot for memory cards, 16 MHz processor, 1 MB of RAM. The phone was charged on a special docking station. The battery lasted only 8-12 hours of standby time and an hour of talking / transmitting. But for an extra fee you could buy a battery with higher capacity.

It is impossible not to say that the IBM Simon was a market failure. The high price deterred many people. The device was released in no more than 5 thousand copies and was quickly forgotten. But it became a landmark in the history of mobile technology.


Sharp Personal Mobile Communicator MC-G1 (1997)

Three years after the story with the Simon, Sharp decided that the market had “matured” and introduced its own version of the communicator with a touchscreen display. Alas, it barely attracted any attention. Now it is impossible to find its official photo in good resolution, as well as a full list of characteristics.

It is known that the device combined the organizer and phone, supported e-mail, fax and SMS, was equipped with an infrared port. You could make handwritten notes with the help of a stylus.
A transparent plastic cover was used to protect the screen.


Ericsson R380 (2000)

Finally, the time of touchphones came. The R380 was relatively popular and firmly took its place in the list of legendary handsets. It was also the first phone to be officially called a smartphone.

The model stood out for its hinged lid. When she closed, the R380 looked like a normal phone with buttons, flip the keyboard – gave access to a large touch screen (3.5 inches, monochrome, 120×360).

The device was based on the Symbian operating system, which was just beginning its steps in the mobile world at the time. In particular, installing third-party software was not yet supported.
The phone was equipped with an IR-port and supported WAP. A pre-installed e-mail client, browser, notepad, a few games.


Siemens SX45 (2001)

Siemens decided to enter the new smartphone race. And since there were no own developments yet, the company signed an agreement with Casio. They added a GSM module to the already existing Casio Cassiopea E125 handheld and slightly changed the design. The result was one of the first smartphones based on Microsoft Pocket PC 2000 (the predecessor of Windows Mobile). The only drawback of the Siemens approach was that the device had no microphone, and the speaker was located under the display, so a headset was required for conversations.

The device was equipped with a color 3.5-inch screen with a resolution of 240×320 pixels, 150 MHz processor and supported memory cards.


Palm Treo 180 (2002)

Nowadays, few people remember that at one time there was a Palm OS platform for communicators. In Russia, these devices have never been popular enough. Nevertheless, many have heard about the Palm Treo series. And at its origins was the model Treo 180. It was initially released under the brand name Handspring, but then the company merged with Palm.

Treo 180 loses in “advanced” to many PDAs based on the OS from Microsoft, because in 2002 it did not have a color display. Used the screen – 2 inches, 16 grayscale, 160×160. But it allowed to lower the price of the device, and for those who wanted to buy something better, a little later came out a similar model Treo 270 with a color screen.

The 180 stood out with a flip-top lid, under which you could see the screen and a QWERTY-keyboard. There was also a variant of the 180g, which had a panel for handwriting instead of the buttons.

The device was based on a 33 MHz processor, had 16 MB of memory (without any expansion cards, and that was enough!) and an IR port.


Sony Ericsson P900 (2003)

The first variation of the Symbian-based touchscreen communicator (UIQ platform). The device was equipped with 2.9-inch screen with a resolution of 208×320 pixels, 16 MB of memory, 156 MHz processor, Bluetooth, 0.3 MP camera. The main “chip” was a hinged lid, when folded, the phone could be used as a regular “phonetalker.
In 2004, came the successor model – P910. It had not only a numeric keypad, but also a QWERTY – all on the same hinged block.


Philips 550/755/759 (2004)

The first regular “caller” with a touch screen. There were three models in the series. The 755 and 759 differed from the 550 by the presence of cameras and IR ports. And between them they differed by design, 759 more brutal, 755 more stylish.

The touch screen was primarily offered for MMS – with a stylus you could draw pictures from scratch or edit photos. By and large – pampering, of course. There was also an on-screen QWERTY-keyboard – awfully small, of course, for such a display size. However, reviews at that time said that typing text with it was faster than with the conventional buttons.

In general, the handsets did not achieve a great success, because the interface was still not too well adapted for touch control, and worked slowly. And the phones were more expensive than similar models without touch screens. Although, of course, and much cheaper than communicators.


Neonode N1 (2004)

Have you heard something about this model? But at one time she made quite a stir. In 2001-2002, the tiny Swedish company Neonode was the first to talk about a phone concept with a user-friendly interface that could be operated only with the fingers. And this, mind you, at a time when even communicators with styluses were a gimmick.

In theory, the Neonode N1 could have taken the place of the iPhone a few years before Apple released its phone. But it didn’t. At first, Neonode constantly pushed back the release date of the device.

And when it did come out, it wasn’t very convenient. Although it was revolutionary. It is worth saying that the original system was used to implement touch controls. The device was equipped with 17 IR sensors along the edges of the screen. With their help, and the phone and tracked exactly where you have touched the screen. Of course, I couldn’t talk about high precision here. But at least it didn’t require a strong touch as in the case of the resistive screens.

A small size of the model, like a bank card, was a real gimmick. But because of this the display was tiny – 2.2 inches. However, at that time, no one criticized it. Smartphones in 2001-2002 were huge, because Microsoft’s OS with its small fonts and elements required a large screen and a stylus. Symbian didn’t support touchscreens at all at first.

Another peculiarity of the smartphone is the gesture control. For example, instead of pressing “ok”, it was enough to swipe from left to right and from right to left to cancel. In those years, there was nothing like that yet.

So why did the N1 still fail in sales? First of all, Neonode took too long to release it. The wow effect evaporated and nobody was interested anymore. Secondly, the company could not compete with the more established brands and the sales channels were tight. The phone was available for ordering only through the Internet and only in Europe. In the CIS, there were attempts to establish retail sales, but they were not successful either. The device worked on the basis of Windows Compact Edition (Win CE) – it was a cut version of the desktop operating system with a shell from Neonode. Installation of third-party software was not supported, the set of built-in was meager (no e-mail client, support for MMS, video recording, Bluetooth). For all that, the device was quite expensive.

The second quarter of 2005 saw an improved version of the Neonode N1m – it supported more ranges of GSM, received a vibrating call, a higher resolution camera and a new kernel of Windows CE. But the sales were also “nothing”.

The Swedes thought for a long time and in 2008 released the second generation of their phone – N2. Alas, it looked more like a toy and against the background of iPhone and other flagships did not look attractive.


Nokia 7710 (2004)

The first touchphone from Nokia was based on Symbian Series 90 and was oriented to use in landscape orientation. It was equipped with a 3.5 inch screen with a resolution of 640×320, 90 MB of internal memory and a slot for memory cards, 1 MP camera with video recording support. Alas, due to the rarity of the platform the choice of software for it was extremely poor, although the built-in set was still a joy – a full-fledged organizer, e-mail client, applications for viewing MS Office documents. The interface on the whole looked nice, but alas, it was very slow.


HTC Magician / Qtek S100 (2005)

Let’s remember those beautiful times when HTC had not yet embarked on an independent voyage (which, as we know, led to a not very successful conclusion) and produced communicators for telecom operators and licensing under other brands.

In Russia, this popular model was better known as the Qtek S100, in other countries – as the O2 Xda mini, T-Mobile MDA compact, i-mate JAM, Vodafone VPA Compact, Dopod 818, Krome Spy, Orange SPV M500.

The smartphone was relatively inexpensive, comfortable and compact, and ran on Windows Mobile 2003. HTC Magician was equipped with 64 MB built-in and 64 MB RAM, 1.3 MP camera, 2.8-inch display with a resolution of 240×320 pixels.


ASUS P525 (2006)

Since 2005-2006 began booming WM-communicators. Windows Mobile became the most popular operating system (as now Android), there were a lot of devices for all tastes and wallets. I would like to single out ASUS P525, he looked more interesting than others. Large screen (2.8 inches, 240×320), the body with metal inserts, QWERTY-keyboard, joystick, Wi-Fi, 2 MP camera with autofocus, 416 MHz Intel XScale processor, 64 MB RAM.

One problem – at first the device was terribly glitchy. I lost the signal, reset calls, turned off the sound and screen backlight, “hung up” the charge indicator. New firmware was regularly released to fix the problems and over time the P525 became more or less “usable”.


Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX T810 (2006)

Maybe someone else remembers, but in the mid-2000’s they made some pretty good business-level WM-based communicators. LOOX T810 supported 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS, was equipped with a 2-MP main camera and front for video calls, QWERTY keyboard, 2.4-inch display (240×400). Powered by 416 MHz processor, had 128 MB built-in memory and 64 MB RAM. In general, “full stuffing”, as they say!


Sony Ericsson M600 (2006)

A model that many people probably remember. A beautiful phone with a 2.6-inch display (240×320) based on Symbian UIQ. Powered by a 208MHz Philips processor, it had 64MB of memory and a memory card slot (remember the days when Sony was stubbornly promoting its format Memory Stick Micro?) It stood out for its handwriting recognition (in Chinese and English) and its unusual compact QWERTY keyboard – each button was pressed in two directions and contained two characters.

The M600 did not have a camera. And not for reasons of economy, but because the tube was oriented to the business segment. And in many enterprises at that time, the use of camera phones was forbidden.

The musical version of the M600 was the SE W950i – another legendary model, the first touchscreen Walkman. But instead of a QWERTY keyboard, it had conventional number keys.


Toshiba Portege G900 (2007)

At the beginning of 2007, an advanced business communicator from Toshiba saw the light of day. G900 was based on Windows Mobile 6 Professional, supported 3G, had 128 MB RAM and a 3-inch screen with a very high for that time resolution 480×800. And yet the device was equipped with a sliding QWERTY-keyboard and two cameras (the main – 2 megapixels with flash).

And the best part – Toshiba Portege G900 was equipped with a fingerprint scanner! Long before it became mainstream.


LG Prada (2007)

The peak of popularity of WM-smartphones was short-lived. The market was waiting for something new, and Microsoft’s OS was essentially a mini-copy of the desktop OS. Small fonts, tiny controls, awkward logic… Yes, many manufacturers started to offer their own shells, but it didn’t change much. The need for styluses, resistive screens that required tangible pressure on the screen…

A month before the iPhone was announced, the world’s first cell phone with a capacitive screen, the LG Prada, was shown. Slim body, large screen (3 inches, 240×400), a slot for memory cards, 2 MP camera, Bluetooth, handy interface for finger control (by the way, the tube was not a smartphone).

The model did not achieve great success, although sold 1 million copies. The first generation iPhone sold more than 6 times more! By the way, LG tried to claim that Apple had stolen their idea.

Well, that was the “dawn” of touchscreen phones. Now they are commonplace for us, and push-button dialers are rare, because you can buy an Android smartphone for 1500-2000 rubles. It used to be more interesting, didn’t it? So many ideas and so many formats. I wonder if in 10-20 years someone will still remember Android).