1991 design for smartphone by ex-Microsoft CTO revealed

Microsoft could have launched the smartphone before anyone else if it had taken the path offered by one of its now former team members. A new article on the Men's Journal website has that revelation as part of an extensive profile of Nathan Myhrvold, who worked at Microsoft as its chief technology officer for 13 years and helped to found the company's Microsoft Research division.

The profile reveals that way back in 1991, Myhrvold submitted a design for what he called a "digital wallet." As you can see in the image above, the design closely matches the casing, the features and the user interface that is now common in smartphones.

Myhrvold said at the time of his proposal that the cost of such a device " ... will not be very high. It is pretty easy to imagine a $400 to $1,000 retail price." That also mirrors what a modern smartphone costs without the typical two year wireless contract.

Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't jump on the chance to be ahead of everyone else due to cost concerns. Myhrvold seems to now take the rejection in stride, saying, "Hey, it was better than predicting the wrong thing. Sitting around being bitter all the time, that’s not fun. But Microsoft certainly could have done more about it."

Image via Nathan Myhrvold/Men's Journal

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NO ONE had phones in 1991, except that rare douchebag with a brick. Mid to late nineties you could finally have and carry one in your pocket that was around .35 to .50 a minute. Pocket PCs and "organizers" like the Zaurus were popular and on the table first, and were a good bridge to smartphones.

Still, really interesting were so close to right so long ago. There wasn't even much of an internet back then. BBS's were still more popular for geeks.

Hahaiah said,
NO ONE had phones in 1991, except that rare douchebag with a brick. Mid to late nineties you could finally have and carry one in your pocket that was around .35 to .50 a minute. Pocket PCs and "organizers" like the Zaurus were popular and on the table first, and were a good bridge to smartphones.

Still, really interesting were so close to right so long ago. There wasn't even much of an internet back then. BBS's were still more popular for geeks.

1992 Nokia 1011 first mass produced GSM - 495g. But i remember the bricks for cars around 10kg and 5000$ :-), oh, and my GVC 28800kbps external modem for 100$.

Hahaiah said,
NO ONE had phones in 1991, except that rare douchebag with a brick. Mid to late nineties you could finally have and carry one in your pocket that was around .35 to .50 a minute. Pocket PCs and "organizers" like the Zaurus were popular and on the table first, and were a good bridge to smartphones.

Still, really interesting were so close to right so long ago. There wasn't even much of an internet back then. BBS's were still more popular for geeks.

Hey now...

I had a handheld cellphone in 1991 or 1992, that was about the size of home wireless phone (much smaller than the brick phones of the 1980s).

It had crappy reception and an extendible antenna that was 1 meter long though, and I never used it.

I did have an 'installed' cell phone in my car in 1989 or 1990, but it wasn't as expensive as people thought, as the phone itself was around $300 and I installed it myself, and my monthly costs were like $60.

It was an 'oddity' as most people assumed they were more expensive than they really were. I wasn't wealthy then and even though I drove a sports car, I was making payments on it.

The 'unique' nature of this device is the 'platform' aspect, and it is very much like what the WindowsCE project became and was the basis of the 2002 PocketPC Smartphone that was 'new' in being an OS platform device that anyone could write Apps to run on their phone. Which was big in the corporate world where custom software was deployed on phones and PDAs instead of 'field' users having the need for a laptop.

What is funny reading the other 'aritcles' around the internet, they act like Microsoft missed out and could have had an 'iPhone' device back in 1991.

They seem to have missed the PocketPC/Windows Mobile devices from 2002 that were touch screen devices and had more functionality in 2002 than the original iPhone had.

Where Microsoft 'messed' up is in the hardware costs and the marketing of the devices, as they were directed at corporate and tech users and not the average non-tech phone buyer. (This is why even as much as like WP7, it is still a 'dumbed' down version of what Microsoft had in 2002, due to the security restrictions of the device.)


Microsoft didn't miss out on creating the 'smartphone' they did create the first OS platform smartphone, it was the idiots writing the articles on the internet that DO NOT realize they did create it and never even wanted one, until Apple told them it was 'cool' and they should buy one.

Almost EVERY Cell phone store and provider had a PocketPC/Windows Mobile device in their store during the 2002-iPhone timeframe, people just didn't want a complicated 'computer', they just wanted a phone.


I like your post, btw, as you are on track...

However, the buzz on the internet this 'revelation' is creating makes me want to smack my head into the desk and scream, REALLY?

I cannot believe how little people 'understand' or realize when it comes to seeing the world around them.

I swear Apple could invent iFire and people would think that fire never existed until that day. Take the freaking iPad, a product that has less features and less functionality because it uses 'cheaper' components and a low resolution digitizer screen to get the cost to about 3/4 of a TabletPC, and then the world forgets about the TabletPC and all of a sudden Apple invented the tablet. Even knowing that it does less and can't do handwriting or voice recognition or do painting with pressure sensitive levels or high resolution tracking they still think it was the first and still think it is 'better'... Gasp.

*smacking head* REALLLY?

I don't think they would have been very big at the time anyways, up until mid-late 90, computers and such were considered things for nerds and office workers. It was only when the joys of the internet became known, especially with the help of Napster (hey everyone, free music), that computers became mainstream and accepted by the masses as a "fun item".

Put your 1991 thinking caps on. They called it a "digital wallet" because "touchscreen smartphone" wasn't in the regular vocabulary back then. And that FAX and Paging Service is an application to send text by means of phone lines - what we would call text messaging today. This is a certified, primitive smartphone.

I used to have an i-mate pocket PC before even the first iphone came out (and yea it did have the functionality of a regular smartphone). Microsoft was actually the first company that came up with the idea of smartphones.

R-Metal said,
I used to have an i-mate pocket PC before even the first iphone came out (and yea it did have the functionality of a regular smartphone). Microsoft was actually the first company that came up with the idea of smartphones.

Well technically no, as there is a phone from 1991, the size of a brick that had contacts and other fucntionality.

Microsoft did create the first platform OS based smartphone technology, with features back in 2002 that the iPhone didn't get until just last year.

Being a 'platform' based device, like the WindowsCE PDAs, it was open to devices and functionality for specialized markets. (i.e barcode scanners, RFID, Radio devices, etc.)

Up until just last year, Windows Mobile/PocketPC devices were used by a several major companies, and consumers would have seen them like when the Comcast cable guy would show up and setup new devices, as they used Windows Mobile to interface and test the devices, and lines and also be on a call with the office to activate the devices. Something they have tried to use Android and/or iPhone for, and still can't find the same level of functionality of the phones they were using nearly 10 years ago. (Which is also a complaint of WP7 as Microsoft has yet to fully deliver the custom and business functionality of the device to fill the void that the end of Windows Mobile left that no other device fills.)

Funniest and most ironic part to me: the "slot for removable media" considering that Microsoft has chosen to basically NOT support such things in Windows Phone 7. Gotta love it when they get a great idea like that image hints at then they kneecap themselves for no good reason by dismissing the idea in the "best" they have to offer as part of the design spec.

Oh, Microsoft, you're turning into Sony awfully fast: great ideas (this concept phone device, the Courier, etc) and you're shooting yourself in the proverbial foot by not going with it.

Bleh.

br0adband said,
Funniest and most ironic part to me: the "slot for removable media" considering that Microsoft has chosen to basically NOT support such things in Windows Phone 7. Gotta love it when they get a great idea like that image hints at then they kneecap themselves for no good reason by dismissing the idea in the "best" they have to offer as part of the design spec.

Oh, Microsoft, you're turning into Sony awfully fast: great ideas (this concept phone device, the Courier, etc) and you're shooting yourself in the proverbial foot by not going with it.

Bleh.

Well, WP7 does have support for removable media, but due to the 'encryption' technologies, it kind of ruins the usability of the media. Security over functionality, something Google should look into.

Also this was at a time in history when 9600 baud modems was at the 'top' end of consumer online access, with ISDN still expensive and not capable of realtime/online access to content.

As you notice, even now the need to transfer/store content to your phone is something users need less than even two years ago.

When you can stream all your music, movies, and even access your entire document/video/picture libraries over a 3G connection, there is less of a need for removable media.

(Also don't lump Microsoft in with Apple here, as Windows 8 tablets have a massive array of input and storage options that the iPad does not. Technically more capabilities than Android offers as well, with more USB devices and storage options that Android and Linux still have problems with.)

Wow. Some guy blue-skied a "future gadget" and made a drawing of it, with no plan of how to actually make it. Look through comic books, cartoons, and sci-fi movies from 1991 and you'll probably see a bunch of stuff exactly like that. I'm pretty sure I was daydreaming about similar things at the time, too.

lunarworks said,
Wow. Some guy blue-skied a "future gadget" and made a drawing of it, with no plan of how to actually make it. Look through comic books, cartoons, and sci-fi movies from 1991 and you'll probably see a bunch of stuff exactly like that. I'm pretty sure I was daydreaming about similar things at the time, too.

I'm pretty sure your "day dreams" also included various "action figures"
their "creators" were trying to promote as well as protect.

Regression_88 said,

I'm pretty sure your "day dreams" also included various "action figures"
their "creators" were trying to promote as well as protect.

I was learning to program and create multimedia programs in a hypertext environment in 1991. What were you doing?

lunarworks said,

I was learning to program and create multimedia programs in a hypertext environment in 1991. What were you doing?

Java and Javascript didn't come around until 1995. DHTML and ECMA Script didn't show until 1997. So, you were learning common gateway interface programming and server side includes when you were 13. Yeah, okay.

Quick what's going to be around in 2032?

How about Sunglasses that feature 3D screens, mind control navigation, internet Corp v3.0, Milky way phone with babelfish addon and optional sensory jacks and a six year battery all weighing less than an antique pencil...all with your New world order control ID #.

You saw it here first :-)

I don't understand why it says smartphone in the article title. That image doesn't even have a phone button. And there are no quotes of it being anything near a phone/cellular device. Looks like someone is stretching the truth here. This is what they thought mobile computing would have become in 1991.

Seriously? Has NO ONE else went back and watched the Microsoft presentations and 'conceptual' R&D work from the late 80s and 90s?

This product is showcased in like the 1991 or 1992 Comdex 'vision of the future' they presented and you can find it online.

In fact if you watch through all the videos through the years, you will see products, designs and concepts that are JUST NOW becoming popular, and were a part of the 'vision' and/or R&D at Microsoft a long time ago.

There are a lot of gems and insight from these videos, not only the 'world of technology' but in Windows product specifics.

This should not be 'news' but rather a heads up to go look at the Microsoft videos from CES/Comdex/Etc.

Microsoft even has some on their website in the 'history of Microsoft' series.

This surprises me that people find this interesting, especially when I remember seeing the video that had this concept product in it back in like 1991 or 1992 at Comdex.

Yeah but you don't post the story about Atari predicting the future of laptops etc 30 years ago through drawings, instead you decide to run a story about....Microsoft. In fact, pretty much everything you click on in Neowin these days has something to do with the entity known as Microsoft. Oh well, I guess it pays your bills huh.

Mike Frett said,
Yeah but you don't post the story about Atari predicting the future of laptops etc 30 years ago through drawings, instead you decide to run a story about....Microsoft. In fact, pretty much everything you click on in Neowin these days has something to do with the entity known as Microsoft. Oh well, I guess it pays your bills huh.

Did you get lost... Neo'Win'.... (A Microsoft enthusiast Site) - by their own definition

Just because they expanded content to include Apple and Mobile and other categories of news, does not mean the original idea of the site has disappeared, although they were almost anti-Microsoft for a while.

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