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Microsoft Passed On iPhone-Like Device In 1991 184

Posted by samzenpus
from the late-to-the-party dept.
theodp writes "Microsoft apparently could have been a contender in the smartphone market, instead of what WP7 is today. Former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold says he tried to convince Microsoft to make an iPhone-like device more than two decades ago. 'The cost will not be very high,' Myhrvold wrote in 1991. 'It is pretty easy to imagine a $400 to $1,000 retail price.' So is Myhrvold bitter that cost-conscious and risk averse Microsoft opted not to pursue his vision? Nope. 'Hey, it was better than predicting the wrong thing,' Myhrvold explains."
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Microsoft Passed On iPhone-Like Device In 1991

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:12AM (#39692843)

    Microsoft has done sooooo bad those last two decades too, they clearly would have been a successful company if they pursued iphones.

    • Microsoft has done sooooo bad those last two decades

      Right, everything Microsoft did before 1992 was wonderful...

    • Re:Ouch too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Myopic (18616) * on Sunday April 15, 2012 @01:18PM (#39694123)

      The underlying premise of this article is that Microsoft, given the opportunity, would have built a device like the iPhone. I think that is preposterous. I think it is obvious that Microsoft would have completely fucked up the implementation, leading to another laughable product.

  • by gatkinso (15975) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:14AM (#39692857)

    Idea was before its time. See the Apple Newton.

    • No kidding (Score:5, Informative)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:31AM (#39692959)

      In 1991 2G aka digital cell technology had just launched. So most cell service was still AMPS and anyone who tried data over that knew it was a painful, painful, experience, not to shit battery life of analogue phones. Plus computers were still very slow. The 486 was the king of the heap and man, even that was slow. It took forever to do normal tasks. I remember having my computer print something and wandering off to the kitchen to get a snack while I waited for it to deal with all the work of rasterizing and sending the document to the printer. Of course since mobile technology will always be less powerful you'd be luck to have 286 class hardware at that time. Finally the Internet, which is what makes people really like smartphones, was something that only people at research and government institutions knew about, it was not a big public thing.

      For smart phones to work we needed three things to happen:

      1) Data networks to get fast enough to make surfing reasonable. This pretty much means 3G. It was doable on 2G networks, I suppose, but pretty bad. It needed to be fast enough that a person's attention span wasn't exceeded by the load time.

      2) Computers to get fast enough that even a slow computer is reasonable. Since a mobile computer will be many times less powerful than a full sized one, that means full sized ones first had to outgrow the era of always being slow. Wasn't until pretty recently that happened. We just needed chips to get shrunk enough that a reasonable amount of power could go in a tiny package.

      3) Something to do with them, a network to get on. BBSes weren't going to cut it. We needed the Internet, and more we needed it to actually be useful.

      None of that really happened until early 2000s. A smartphone before then would have been a flop because nobody other than a few geeks would have found it anything other than an unwieldy, expensive, useless gadget.

      Technology has to progress to certain points before ideas are feasible. A good example of where it hasn't would be flying cars. Idea has been around forever, prototypes have been built, nothing has happened. Why? Because the technology isn't there. It isn't an idea problem, it is a tech problem. We'd need some major new propulsion/levitation tech before that sort of thing would be feasible.

      Really, smartphones happened when they were ready, and the iPhone is not notable for that in any way. It was simply the device that made it cool for regular people. Blackberries had been popular with professionals and the government (especially the US government, they love them some Blackberries) for a few years.

      Hell for that matter MS had smartphones, they just weren't very good.

      • by grumling (94709)

        And most online data was text. You can send pages of text in a few seconds, even over a 9600 Baud link. 128Kbps was considered very fast back then. Heck, even today mostly text based transfers like Twitter updates or WAP web pages are fairly quick on 2G.

        Even AOL cached icons and other graphics on the user's PC. Every few weeks they'd send down an update that had any new graphics.

      • by rthille (8526)

        That 486 being slow was probably more about system architecture and software. My NeXT machine at the time with a 68030 could rasterize and print Postscript as fast as the printer engine would spew pages.

      • They're just called helicopters. Helicopters do everything flying cars were supposed to do, they're just too expensive for the average person. Regardless of any new technology, the extra energy needed to overcome the force of gravity means that such craft will still be expensive relative to cars or trains.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          They're also much too difficult for the average person to fly, since they're fundamentally unstable.

          • by TheLink (130905)
            Actually even if you use helis that are more stable (coaxial + gyros+ fly by wire etc) they'd be too difficult for the average person to fly _safely_.

            Go look at the driving skills of the average driver. Many can't stay on their own lane or park properly!

            So who in their right mind expects hundreds of them to fly together safely through cities with skyscrapers, and land successfully? You'd need technology that makes flying cars about as safe as lifts. Otherwise your city will soon be like a war zone.

            You need
            • by Grishnakh (216268) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @02:13PM (#39694473)

              My wife's a helicopter pilot, so I know a little about this. Just handling the machine is hard enough. While the coaxial+fly-by-wire stuff is obviously much easier to fly, I've never seen that actually put into operation for human-size craft, only R/C toys. All the ones that humans fly are not fly-by-wire, to my knowledge; they require someone on the controls at all times to keep them from crashing; the pilot has to make constant corrections every time there's a gust of wind or thermal updraft or whatever.

              However, this is only one small part of the difficulty of being a pilot. The other is navigation. Navigating an aircraft (helicopter or fixed-wing) is not easy, especially if you can't see (which is why there's VFR and IFR flying: VFR for when you can see, IFR for when you can't and have to fly by instrument). You have to plot out a course beforehand, taking into account airspace, navigation hazards, etc. You have to make sure you're flying higher than the terrain (not a problem with commercial jets usually, but it is with smaller craft that fly much lower), and you have to make sure you're where you're supposed to be. You can't just fly through Class B airspace (over any major city) without following the correct rules and procedures and being at the right altitude, following tower instructions, etc. For IFR flying, you have to follow established routes. It's all quite complicated, and takes pilots a while to learn. It takes a reasonably-intelligent person at least a year or two to learn all this stuff (maybe less, depends on how much time they can dedicate to it); there's no way an average moron on the street could figure this stuff out and pass an FAA exam. Even after all this, licensed pilots (esp. the private ones) screw up all the time.

              Sure, if you made an aircraft fairly easy-to-fly with some heavy computer assistance (the way $100M military planes have computer assistance to make them stable in flight, like the B2), and took away ALL air traffic, an average moron might be able to pilot a plane around decently. But add in all the rules, and all the extra traffic, they'd be crashing into each other constantly. It's already fairly crowded up there, and that's with just commercial traffic and a very small number of private pilots (relative to population); imagine adding millions of regular people; it'd be a mess.

              • by mcrbids (148650)

                As one of those very small numbers of private pilots out there, this has occurred to me many times. Flying a plane is not like driving a car. They aren't even slightly related.

                If you have a problem in a car, you slow down or stop. Anybody can do this. But if you have a problem in your plane, and you slow down or stop, you stall and immediately go into free-fall. Generally, you can recover from a stall quite easily, but if done near the ground, you die.

                I'm convinced we'd have to get rid of the verbal radio s

        • by GigG (887839)
          Well they don't everything a "flying car" would do. Like ever being a car.
      • by the_B0fh (208483)

        Seriously? Not everything is all singing, all dancing. Look at how big bejeweled is on the iPhone vs on the palm pilot. Bejeweled worked fine on the old palm pilots as well as they do on the iphone.

        In the 1970s, a UNIX server supporting multiple servers were *SLOW* by 1990s standards. But it worked well. Even across a 56k line.

      • by jonnythan (79727)

        The original iPhone was not 3G. By the way.

      • by dbIII (701233)
        4) The Japanese had to have it for over a decade and find the pitfalls before a company in Europe would take it up, and then three to five years after that Apple gave it a try.
        That's not as damning as it sounds. Millions of train and bus commuters in Japan provided a market for emerging smartphones that would have trouble selling in large numbers in the USA.
      • by jez9999 (618189)

        The 486 was the king of the heap and man, even that was slow. It took forever to do normal tasks. I remember having my computer print something and wandering off to the kitchen to get a snack while I waited for it to deal with all the work of rasterizing and sending the document to the printer.

        That must be because you weren't using W-w-w-Windows [youtube.com], Windows, Windows 386, and your thoughts weren't coming together real quick.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        it would not have been a flop at the price point of 400. if it had been accompanied by earlier data networks rollouts then it would have been really, really sweet deal. however I got a suspicion that price point was overly optimistic(a psion with online capabilities that would have had feasible usage pricing would have been really, really, really popular, not just for geeks which would have provided a big market too).

        gsm networks had 9600 bps data links, while slow the speed wasn't the main problem, paying

    • and mid-1990s Microsoft Pen computing tablets. Capacitive touch screens made all the difference.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by iamhassi (659463)

      Idea was before its time. See the Apple Newton.

      The story is ridiculous. What network would the phone run on in 1991? 0.1G? There was no wifi, no Bluetooth, no 3G or even 2G. In 1991 the cellphones were giant bag phones that could only display a phone number. No text messaging, no email, no Internet.

      Microsoft had been making touchscreen phones for 5 years before the iPhone came out. Started as PDAs running Windows CE, then windows mobile 5.

      Microsoft had a good run but they just didn't keep up but dont feel bad, Palm was huge in 2005 and now t

      • by teg (97890)

        Idea was before its time. See the Apple Newton.

        The story is ridiculous. What network would the phone run on in 1991? 0.1G? There was no wifi, no Bluetooth, no 3G or even 2G. In 1991 the cellphones were giant bag phones that could only display a phone number. No text messaging, no email, no Internet.

        Indeed. At the time, smart phones were not adjacent possible [amazon.com]. They were not until a couple of years before the iPhone. Then Microsoft tried, along with onder vendors. Microsoft had Windows Mobile, Nokia had Symbian which had many of the same possibilities iPhone had. They just didn't work nearly as well, which was why the iPhone was such a milestone and influenced everything after. E.g. my Nokia N95 did all the iPhone did (except touch) and more, but it was painful to use and the features felt more like "c

      • > In 1991 the cellphones were giant bag phones that could only display a phone number.

        If you lived in Iowa, maybe. In places like New York, LA, and Miami, we had the Motorola MicroTAC ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorola_MicroTAC [wikipedia.org] ).

        > What network would the phone run on in 1991?

        Circuit-switched voice, with 300, 1200, or 2400 baud modem. Slow, but semi-adequate for a BBS, CompuServe, or GEnie.

    • I would agree. an iPhone like device would have sucked in 1991.
      Lack of multi-touch displays would really have limited to very basic gestures, it would probably just be click interface.
      Most people didn't have internet access in 1991. If they did there wasn't to many non-geeky thing to do on it.
      Apps would need to sync with a PC over slow serial connections.
      The apps would not be much more then a Calendar, a note book and an advanced clock.
      For its price you will have a hard time convincing a person to use it o

      • by Rob Y. (110975)

        In 1991, it wouldn't have been Internet based at all. Back then, Microsoft was chasing Compuserv, attempting to build their own proprietary Microsoft Network. They were still at it in 1995 when Netscape hit.

    • by flyingsquid (813711) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @11:11AM (#39693231)
      This is just a desperate, insecure attempt by Myrvold to convince us that he's some kind of technology innovator. But if he had the idea for an iPhone like product back in 1991, before Apple did, then why the hell didn't he build an iPhone once the technology to do so became available? Instead, what Myrvold did do once he got rich as CTO of Microsoft is to create Intellectual Ventures, a company that generates billions of dollars of revenue by buying up patents and then shaking down other companies. In other words, he's a patent troll. He's trying to say, 'oh yeah, I could have done that. I'm innovative'. No you couldn't, and no you're not. All you are is just a patent troll, a parasite on the real innovators, and a total douche for trying to pretend otherwise.
      • The worst part is that the elements described in the article aren't anything Apple 'invented'. The iPhone was neat when it launched, but it bad plenty of predecessors, some even by Microsoft. There is no reason the iPhone even needs to be in this article unless there's a mass delusion that it was the first smartphone.

        I think you're right.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      The idea was really very much before it's time, so much I'm almost ready to call bs on it.

      This proposed device from 1991 includes GPS location service. Sure GPS was under construction and worked somewhat, but it was not fully operational until 1994. A bit premature to think it can be put into a handheld consumer device before that.

      It proposes to use a slot for removable media: I don't remember any removable media other than floppy disks from that time. It may have existed in a lab, but not so much out of th

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        I think GPS existed for civilian use, although selective availability was in place, so its accuracy was very borderline for most purposes. Forget turn-by-turn navigation.

        All that tech might have been possible, but it would be built into something the size of a briefcase (another popular item in that day). It would likely plug in to be used, like most cell phones of that era (maybe 12V in a car).

        Any maps would have to be read off of CD-ROM, likely in a caddy like most drives of that era. The maps would be

      • Well damn. I guess in 1991 I couldn't have used Trimble commercial GPS systems for high-resolution SONAR research, and I guess the Motorola phones simply wouldn't last a few days on battery when we were out bobbing in the water. And I guess my 486DX2/50 NEC laptops with touchpanel add-on didn't run for a few hours when out on the water, just on battery power... I guess all your points are spot on! /s
        • by wvmarle (1070040)

          Now look at the sizes of those parts (commercial GPS != available to the general public), and the weights and costs of it, and think how far away that was from shrinking to a hand-holdable size that retails for $400-1000. Your GPS was probably a multiple of that cost alone.

          I'm thinking handheld, you're thinking luggable. Big difference.

    • by Dogtanian (588974)

      Idea was before its time. See the Apple Newton.

      Honestly, given the level of detail in the article and the single, brief sketch shown, there's no indication that there was anything for MS to have "passed on" in the first place beyond a very basic concept. Nothing appears to have been implemented.

      This is basic, first-draft future-concept sketch stuff. Reasonably insightful for the time, but not much more.

      There's nothing here that would have been close to an iPhone if implemented with 1991-level technology (or even what they would have expected to ha

    • I was going to mention the Apple Newton, but you beat me to it. I actually owned one. For it's time it was great, even if it didn't do exactly what I wanted it to. It was a business device. More so than the Palm Pilot of the time. It was great, if all you wanted to do was keep up with contacts and write emails, but what I wanted at the time was more of a general purpose computer that I could hold in my hand. The current generation does that, but at the time none of these devices had a consumer focus. Flash
    • The Newton gets a lot of grief, but the last couple versions (2000, 2100) were pretty nice devices. The HW recognition had gotten pretty good, and the OS was really quite interesting.
  • by Lord Lode (1290856) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:16AM (#39692871)

    The drawing of the device shows a clock that looks like a penguin in the bottom left. Maybe it ran Linux? :D

  • Hindsight is 20/20 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by acidradio (659704) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:16AM (#39692873)

    OK so the idea may have existed in 1991 but was the technology to make it work "like" an iPhone as we know it there? NO! Without the wireless data (or really data at all!) it is useless. In fact nobody really even knew what the Internet was back in 1991. This is like having an idea for a helicopter but no motor to power it (a la Da Vinci). They may have had CDPD data back then but it was pretty slow. But without the Internet how could you really share with anyone? Was everyone supposed to use, oh, Compuserve?

    Some may argue "yeah, well they could have at least bought the idea and held onto it until it was feasible." That's like if I bought the idea for a warp drive or transporter and held onto it until it becomes feasible. So many other things have to be invented or perfected before anything like that could work. I don't think I'm going to be around long enough for that to happen. And maybe Microsoft felt the same way in 1991 when presented with that iPhone-like idea.

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      who says it would have needed the 3g mobile internet we take for granted today, way back then, you'd be looking at internal radio networks (mini LANs) and the devices would be used for email, simple text documents and some spreadsheet work.

      Mind you, back in 2001 we had mobile internet phones, they weren't brilliant but they did what was needed [salon.com] via WAP.

    • by Patch86 (1465427)

      I don't even really get it. Aside from the similarity in shape (a rectangle), what he's basically described is a smartphone. Not an iPhone specifically; it could be any smartphone.

      There were plenty of smartphones (and/or PDAs) before iPhone- not least Palms and BlackBerrys. What made the iPhone so popular was its "soft qualities": how shiny and user friendly it was, the touch screen and the clear picture, etc. There's no way Microsoft would have been managing that in the early 90's- so why would we assume i

  • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:20AM (#39692893) Homepage

    It doesn't seem that interesting to me that someone had the idea. Once you have computers and computerized contacts, calendars, media, etc., it's not *that* clever to say, "Oh, it would be cool if we could put all this into a handheld device.". Further, there were lots of working versions of this before the iPhone. You can see precursors in Windows phones, Blackberries, Palm devices, and even Apple' own Newton device.

    The real issue is the implementation. You need the technology to be able to make the thing. You need fast enough processors, long-lasting batteries, nice LCD screens, and small storage devices that can hold a lot of data. In 1991, the technology to make an iPhone didn't exist yet. And then beyond that, once you have all the technology, you need someone to put it all together into a design that people find useful, and that was the only innovation of the iPhone. Apple didn't originate the idea and they weren't the first people to have access to the technology, they were just the most successful in creating a design that people liked.

    • by aussersterne (212916) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:35AM (#39692995) Homepage

      You need a critical mass of the public on a global network, and you need a suitable UI. The latter is really Apple's innovation with the iPhone/iTouch/iPad. By the mid-to-late '90 we had wireless devices with touchscreens that fit into pockets, but they were all heavily textual (even though they had icons and graphics) in the way that they operated and they were also all reliant on a desktop metaphor of some kind. Apple's Newton, if you look at the UI, was the closest thing we had to a truly mobile UI, and while it was way ahead of its time and even has some things I'd kill to have back on an iPhone today, it was also still all about office metaphors: sheets of paper, sliding drawers, envelopes and trash cans, and so on.

      Even those that want to make fun of Newton basically have to admit that in terms of practical usability when walking (i.e. in motion, outdoors) down the street, there's a world of difference in usability between a connected Palm or Windows PocketPC device from the pre-iPhone era and an iDevice. That's Apple's big contribution, what Microsoft did absolutely incorrectly. After all, the basically *had* an iPhone (so did Palm) by the early '00s. There's no technical reason that Windows phones couldn't have been made similar to iDevices in their usability, especially with high end models having faster processors and more memory capability; it's just about UI/UX design. Apple does it. Microsoft did it once a long time ago (partially) and has ignored it since, until Metro—which is much less about some radical improvement in Microsoft-running device hardware as it is about the first real UI/UX design Microsoft has attempted in years, directly in response to iPhone.

    • To solve a problem, you need to do three things: (1) come up with a solution, and (2) implement it. But we sometimes forget that there's another step there. This could be step (0), identifying which problem to solve in the first place.

      It's like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Getting the answer is actually fairly trivial, but figuring out the right question to be asking in the first place is really hard.

      Jobs and Apple became very, very good at solving the problems of product design and interface, an

      • I don't disagree. I was just lumping "identifying which problem to solve in the first place" with the other two steps. Part of it is having the right idea. The rest is in the implementation-- making sure that you're solving the right problem, and that you're solving it in the right way.

        My general point was that we tend to think that the idea is everything. "I've had a million dollar idea!" or "I had the idea for the iPhone years before the iPhone was released!" Ideas are important and all, but to some

  • by f97tosc (578893) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:21AM (#39692905)
    Sony-Ericsson actually DID release iPhone-like devices (e.g. P800,P900) before Apple. They did not sell very well, at least not compared to iPhone. They just weren't as slick. And Microsoft isn't exactly known for releasing very slick products either - so even if they had released it it is far from obvious that they had been successful.
    • about iPhone/Android (but especially iPhone). As a thought experiment, take an iPhone 4S and stick Linux+GNOME 3 on it. Could totally be done in theory. Would render the device crap. Who would want/use it that way? It would be pointless, just a hack-because-I-can device, even if it had a full working carrier-connected TCP/IP stack. Same thing with getting, say, Windows Phone 6 onto it, even though it would be blindingly fast and have tons of capacity.

      iOS is what makes the iPhone, more than anything else. Yo

      • As a thought experiment, take an iPhone 4S and stick Linux+GNOME 3 on it. Could totally be done in theory. Would render the device crap.

        Straw man much? You could say the exact same thing about replacing iOS with OS X. Ever tried to use a Mac with no mouse? It's nearly impossible... OTOH, replace iOS on an iPhone with cyanogenmod and what would you get? :D Okay, I'll admit it's a matter of personal preference, but your post reads like it was written by a giggling and squealing schoolgirl. Yeah, Jobs did a

        • Hardly, but your typical Apple hate has made you think that it is. I didn't mention Mac OS X. Obviously Mac OS X would be horrible on a mobile device—but nobody ever tried it. There *were* mobile devices, however, with Linux desktops running on them. I know, I had one—a Sharp Zaurus. There were mobile devices with Windows desktops running on them.

          There was never an iPhone with either Linux or Windows or Palm running on them. My point was to make the argument that it's not the iPhone hardware tha

          • Hardly, but your typical Apple hate has made you think that it is.

            FYI, I actually had an iPhone 3GS for about 3 months. Couldn't stand it. Yes, it looked great, but with the sole exception of surfing the web I found it quite inferior to my Blackberry. And web surfing on a handheld is not my idea of a good time anyway. Within a week I was back to my old Blackberry for all my mobile needs. Obviously, YYMMV. Those who are all about the browser, facebook, and so on probably prefer the iPhone. Not me. Why is

            • Not a fanboy and never made the claim that everyone wants the same things I do. But if you want to seriously dispute that the iPhone singlehandedly revolutionized the mobile device market, I don't think I need to say anything in response; the argument speaks for itself.

              • Not a fanboy and never made the claim that everyone wants the same things I do. But if you want to seriously dispute that the iPhone singlehandedly revolutionized the mobile device market, I don't think I need to say anything in response; the argument speaks for itself.

                Yes, the iPhone was the device that got all the tech semi-literates and illiterates to use web-enabled mobile devices. Thats the revolution of which you speak. However, many of us were already there well before the iPhone brought it to a le

  • Way back then cellphones were big, ugly analog devices, with poor coverage, and very expensive to use compared to today.
    Ifyou try to introduce some concept before the infrastructure is ready it fails.

    A home computer of that time probably had 2 megs of memory and a 40 meg hard drive (Amiga 600)

  • Microsoft wasn't even able to make a decent desktop OS at that point. I was using an Amiga back in 91 and laughing at all the IBM'ers. You should have seen them when they'd come over and see a multitasking operating system in action. MS was struggling trying to tear IBM's monopoly away from them and they had their hands full with that. It wasn't until win95 that they really started to dominate, before that only businesses loved them. As far as I can remember Multimedia only existed on the Amiga or some

    • Imagine a mobile intel 386 chip in a phone.

      As a sidenote and a bit of trivia, according to Wikipedia the 950 and 957 BlackBerries had a 386 chip. :)

  • by Fri13 (963421) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:28AM (#39692941)

    What was MS versions for iTunes, iPhoto, iMovies, OS X at that time?

    iPhone success isn't just it has big multi-touch display and just one physical button (- volume and power) what to use.

    It was that Apple had released iTunes, gathered, Music, Movies and others there and allow easy automatic syncing to 4-8GB flash memory what first iPhone had.
    It was full blown browser and email.

    Apple knew that to get successful phone, you need to have services ready for its users. Not way round like Microsoft usually does that product is "ready" but services lacks few years behind.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    no one wants a MS phone!

  • Not an 'iPhone'. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Junta (36770) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:35AM (#39692997)

    Basically, it was a smartphone. It might've been the first if they pursued it, but then again, the Simon being first didn't buy it much in the long run:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Simon [wikipedia.org]

    Having a smartphone on the market in the early 90s didn't really matter. Internet in early 90s didn't matter one bit to the mass market. The first browser wouldn't even exist for two more years. Until the relatively late 90s, most people didn't even bother with the internet. Without a large market demanding internet (and appropriate cellular resources to actually service that demand), there is no possibility of an 'iPhone'. This is no more an 'iPhone' than numerous smartphones that cropped up before the iPhone (and enjoyed moderate success too). What the iPhone specifically brought in its initial successful incarnation were two things. One, a web browser/interface that could reasonably render and navigate 'desktop' websites instead of being limited to crippled mobile sites that few sites bothered with at all or put something useless up. Two, the marketing momentum of their brand value from the iPod success.

  • Patent troll alert (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:36AM (#39693005)

    Nathan Myhrvold [wikipedia.org] is the most prominent of all patent trolls [thisamericanlife.org].

    Drawings like this where pretty common all through the 80s.

  • That's a nice drawing in the article, here [picturepush.com] is another take on a possible smart phone.

  • Hardware was not ready for such a product in 1991. However, Microsoft did have a similar chance in 2007. There were smartphones before the iPhone, the big novelty of Apple's product was the multitouch capacitive screen, which MS invented for Surface. They just didn't think about shrinking it down for use with a phone.

  • I was at a start-up doing a wireless data platform for the Newton and Windows-based computers, circa 1994. Things were not ready for data even then; data was expensive, the modems were very bulky, and everything was extremely slow.

    We got /some/ mileage out of a very space efficient data protocol layered on TCP (which actually doesn't need much tweaking to be a pretty reasonable protocol for wireless networks). But I'd say we were about five years too early, which is a killer for a startup with limited fundi

  • Full screen apps (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hey (83763) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:57AM (#39693139) Journal

    Notice that the apps are not full screen. Too desktop-ish.

  • The technology just wasn't there to create an very usable iPhone like device in 1991. The first Palme (the Palm 1000) was released in 1996 (at $299 each). The data-enabled Palm VII didn't come out until 1999 (at a cost of $599 + $15/month and data was super slow)

    The Newton was released in 1993 and it while it was innovative for the time, was large and clunky and few would say that it was "iPhone like".

    And none of these devices had a phone built-in which would have made them bigger and more expensive. In 199

    • by Locutus (9039)
      And can you imagine who _small_ it would have been having to run DOS/Windows? Even back then, they knew the "hammer" they had and that everything would be pounded into looking like a nail or be eliminated from the market. "Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure" by Jerry Kaplan tells the story of his company GO Inc and their fateful trip with Microsoft at the time of this supposed Microsoft iPhone like device.

      LoB
  • Microsoft blew it. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Karmashock (2415832) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @11:11AM (#39693229)

    Windows mobile was really pretty great for when it came out. It had decent integration with office, a more extensive library of programs then any competing system, and a similar structure to windows in many respects. It even had a registry.

    But MS blew it. They didn't take the platform seriously and they left it to rot on the vine.

    That said, lets not forget that what is really making apple so strong here is itunes. And that isn't MS's mistake so much as it is the content providers. Apple is eating the publishing industry and nibbling on MS, motorola, and a few other companies. But indifferent to apple's successes, MS screwed up on windows mobile.

  • Way before 1991 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fiziko (97143) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @11:20AM (#39693289) Homepage

    Look at the tablet and portable phone technology from any incarnation of Star Trek or other popular sci-fi. The concept has been around for decades. The technological infrastructure to support a device that appeals to the general public didn't exist until very recently. Look at the wireless data speeds and network demands of today's smart phones: there's no practical way to have gotten them on the market sooner.

  • by shoppa (464619) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @11:24AM (#39693305)
    In fact there were many companies making battery powered, wireless connected, handheld PC-clones in the 90's.

    Where I saw them, they most commonly were used on local wireless networks in industrial/warehouse/trucking settings but I also know they were being used in some retail and manufacturing settings. The wireless local area networks back in the early 90's were in reality not much more than radio channels with analog modems.

    They had small text displays and ran MS-DOS applications that were hardcoded to the proprietary wireless network. Certainly nothing like a real network stack.

    Part of the difficulty is that AFAIK they were never usable as phones and barely usable as data network devices in the wide-area sense. The "data network" concept with cellphone networks in the early 90's was exquisitely awkward in the US, with the most common access method being to have an analog modem hooked up to the cellphone network (which was all analog in the early 90's and just beginning to move to digital in the late 90's) and you called your ISP's phone number. That was really super sucky.

    Certainly Windows CE had some concepts that were more high-minded than the custom-built MS-DOS applications, but in most ways it was even more sucky to the end user (who just wanted to run the same application over and over again, scanning barcodes, taking inventory, etc.) I think it's not even ironic that even Apple is having a hard time making inroads into these single-purpose applications with their multi-purpose iPhone/iPad platforms; the specialized platforms being used in this area for the past 20 years are not sold on computing buzzwords or brand cachet but on pure utility.
  • Roll back to 1992. How fast were data connnections for mobile devices at the time? How many people had cell phones? 7M according to: http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2002/BogusiaGrzywac.shtml [hypertextbook.com] versus 327M now. The market wasn't that big, the data would suck, lets be realistic touch screens would not be very good back then as would the resolution (heck computers were probably running 1024X768 so what would a cell phone sized screen be?).

    I love how whenever someone comes out with something that pushes the edge o

  • by drobety (2429764) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @11:33AM (#39693379)
  • 'It is pretty easy to imagine a $400 to $1,000 retail price.' says the quote. Why do I find that absurd? He could simply have said "I have no clue how much it might have cost". That would have been a bit more honest, I think. Lets think about it for a second. Not only is this bracket very large, it also enclose most of the iPhone configuration sold on the market today. Looking back at the price of other similar devices at that time, I think 400$ is a laughable underestimation. Moreover if you had hopped to

  • by neurocutie (677249) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @12:01PM (#39693571)
    In 1991, HP introduced the HP95 palmtop PC, a small pocketable computer running DOS. Within a few years they would also release the HP100 and HP200lx. These units were quite popular and did much of what smartphones do today, except of course the phone part. They could do email, spreadsheets, WP, etc, and wince they ran DOS, could do just about anything available, include running Windows 2/3, Word, even web browsers, Usenet clients, Telnet, FTP, etc. They were an important forerunner to the PDAs, Psions (Symbian), Palms, etc which in turn gave rise to the first real smartphones. They also themselves mutated from DOS palmtops to run MS WinCE, which were the forerunners of Windows Mobile PDAs and smartphones.
  • by Locutus (9039) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @12:11PM (#39693653)
    Read the book "Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure" by Jerry Kaplan and tell me that Microsoft had any real interest in developing hand held devices and was not in the game to crush the those creating the market? Pen for Windows or whatever they called it was mocked up and presold and marketed to destroy GO Inc. After they succeeded there it floundered. Just as Windows CE was created to keep Palm from growing into a desktop threat and then floundered, like how MS IE was created to destroy Netscape Navigator and then floundered.

    So it is no surprise they would not attempt to create anything like Myhrvold might have envisioned because it wasn't needed to crush GO Inc. They were not concerned with Apple and its Newton(another GO Inc product spin-off) when it came about shortly after the GO Inc and Microsoft partnership.

    I also don't believe Microsoft would have been willing to create the required OS platform for such a device to be successful. Again, read the book as it explains how even back then, it was all about Windows and pushing EVERYTHING and EVERYONE to that OS/env platform.

    LoB
  • by multi io (640409) <olaf.klischat@googlemail.com> on Sunday April 15, 2012 @12:14PM (#39693667)
    Wait, so Myhrvold conceived an "iPhone-like device" by imagining some kind of gadget that had a clock, contacts, calendar and email? By that standard, Palm Inc. not only conceived, but actually designed and built an "iPhone-like device", called it "Palm Pilot" and sold it by the millions. Hooray.
  • ...have a billion dollar fortune 50 company be in existence for 30+ years.

    Step 2: Dig up any one of the hundreds of thousands of people who worked there who had an idea once that someone in the company shot down, bonus points if its a CxO level character and full bonus if its someone that lots of people have heard of.

    Step 3: Profit? Does anyone think that a smartphone like product in the days before cell networks were fleshed out, could carry data at more than an actual snails pace and a nascent internet w

  • I'm sorry, but the technology was very different back in 1990. I remember a world with gray-scale gameboys and $2000 386 machines with 40MB hard drives boasting a screen resolution of 640x480. Phones were mounted to cars or carried around in bags.

    Imagine a hand-held touch-screen device using technology from 1990. It would be bulky and heavy. It would run very hot. It would have terrible graphics capabilities and you wouldn't have a popular market place for developers to share their work.

    It would h
  • they could have bought a vuege idea and a picture, the reality of it though is in 1991, that thing in the sketch is about as big as JUST the battery of my celphone, chips were thich enough to measure with a ruler, and LCD's were still garbage and still expensive. So what they passed on vaporware, its not like having a phone like that helped the ones who actually developed something similar (IBM)

  • by nedlohs (1335013) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @05:16PM (#39695591)

    1991. Well OK not "no one" but certainly not a large market. At that time there was no mp3, there was no WWW, heck most people didn't have email.

    And of course the device shown in the drawing is almost the opposite of an iphone. Overlapping windows. No touch. It's not an iphone it's a PDA - which already existed at that time. The Psion Series 3 was being sold in 1991 - not just having vague drawings of a rectangular box being drawn. Apple was already working on the Newton.

  • by pbjones (315127) on Monday April 16, 2012 @03:19AM (#39698247)

    Did I miss something? it doesn't mention phone as a feature in the diagram, so it's just a PDA or handheld Computer, an idea that wasn't really unique at the time.

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