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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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.

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.

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.

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 :-)

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.

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.)

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.)

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 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".

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?

Nice concept, I dont think they would have had the technology to achieve a reasonable size nor the economies of scale to produce them at a non ridiculous price point.

In any case whichever way you slice it, be in the Pocket PC or Windows Mobile, MS was still the first in the game and ahead of the times.

Just a shame they weren't paying attention when the technology in smartphones (touch based) became vastly more affordable around 2005/06...then theres a cpl years delay where OEMS try to make WinMo disappear with their UI shells and then we have WP7, 5 to 6 years later.

It looks like a PDA type thing to me, especially since it was called the "digital wallet". No mention of phone abilities.

<rabid Apple fanboi>
That design looks too much like an iPhone. Apple should sue!
</rabid Apple fanboi>

Joking aside, I wouldn't be surprised if Apple were petty enough to actually do that!

A lot of hate for such a visionary device, so what if it ran '98? I don't see how that would be a failure, in fact 98 was, like XP the most successful OS ever released at the time.

short battery life, heavy weight, low res screen IR comms? That was COMPLETELY normal and standard at the time, immagine how people in 20 years will treat out WiFi and 1080p screens? Who would use a screen? mind telepathy and augmented reality dude. Screens are sooooo 2015!!

You are right with SoC's outputting pretty nice graphics for what they are but better game graphics because they are high resolution? Thats nothing.They cant (yet) render anything like what is possible or other hardware. If an iPad can outperform any other SoC I will eat my shirt, hat, socks and underpants. Technology is amazing now, but not that great!

It would have been a terrible phone, and resembles a PDA more than a phone in original depiction. Cellphones were uncommon in the early 90s'. Granted this would have likely only released running Windows 98 (what a failure that would've been)

3hr battery life, weighing 1lb, resistive low res likely b&w screen, infrared wireless LOS comms? unsure how data entry works. PS/2 expansion port for a keyboard?

as for visionary I had the same vision back when I first seen a cell phone in the early 90s at an age of 12... "This is the future computer"

Some day it'll map my routes, download my music, watch satellite TV on (well, IPTV now) take photos and videos, and do instant messaging/email.

I never once imagined a capacitive touch screen though, didn't think it was possible or them completely eclipsing newspapers, books, and magazines to lead digital distribution.

Then again when HD came out and the 360 released in 2005 - I didn't think a whole computer system that could do 1080p video would ever be able to be an SoC with passive cooling. Now look at iPads putting out better game graphics (higher res) with low power consumption than nearly anything in that field... Next we will be wearing watches and glasses that sync to our "comms devices" and data entry will move from the keyboard to complete audio/visual.

I always think it's awesome that individuals come up with some pretty great ideas but the ability to implement them is often for the time difficult to unobtainable. The technology hasn't matured enough.
Although if you really want to get technical most of this stuff we saw on Star Trek. So...

stevember said,
Doesn't mention it is phone.

And Da Vinci didn't mention anything about apache gunships on his drawings of helicopters, so I guess he was a fraud.

well they did release windows CE or windows mobile a few years later and it didnt do that well. So i really doubt this would've either..

Technology is only absorbed by consumers after it has been through several lifecycles or evolution. It took the mobile phone market 15 odd years to explode the way it has today. So due to that reason, i really doubt this would've caught on.

Gotta give the guy credit though. Quite a visionary to see something such as this, which is now a reality!

I can make a detailed drawing of a spaceship, doesn't mean the technology is available to make it. I'm sure a lot of people wanted something smart phone like in 1991

XerXis said,
I can make a detailed drawing of a spaceship, doesn't mean the technology is available to make it. I'm sure a lot of people wanted something smart phone like in 1991

Something similar to that design definitely would have been possible. It would have been a resistive touch screen, required a stylus and maybe even been black and white but it was certainly possible.

XerXis said,
I can make a detailed drawing of a spaceship

But if you drew a picture of a spaceship before anyone else had and it accurately predicted what a spaceship would look like then that would be amazing.

Martin5000 said,

But if you drew a picture of a spaceship before anyone else had and it accurately predicted what a spaceship would look like then that would be amazing.

both the Mayans and Indians (India) had already done that 10000 years ago

Deviate_X said,
I'm shocked that this kind of design has been around this long, especially the idea of GPS location and applications

I wonder if it had live tiles

BigCheese said,
Microsoft did have smartphones before anyone else. They were called pocket PCs.

ahh No those were was you stated Pocket Pcs that has no Phone functions the Phone stuff came later but those are not the same anyways as todays smartphones so no they did not. the first True smartphone tho much more was the iPhone to which caused every other manufacure to re--think how a device should work and feel

BigCheese said,
Microsoft did have smartphones before anyone else. They were called pocket PCs.

Indeed, also anyone else notice this isn't actually a concept for a phone? It's labelled as a "digital wallet", and it looks like a very simple design for a futuristic pocket PC.

Which, in all fairness to Microsoft, they built. Funnily enough with all the features shown along the bottom of that drawing, and little else.

This doesn't seem that amazing

notuptome2004 said,

the first True smartphone tho much more was the iPhone

The iPhone was defiantly NOT the first smartphone, RIM, MS, Symbian and others were way ahead of the game. Granted that after the iPhone the game changed!

notuptome2004 said,

ahh No those were was you stated Pocket Pcs that has no Phone functions the Phone stuff came later but those are not the same anyways as todays smartphones so no they did not. the first True smartphone tho much more was the iPhone to which caused every other manufacure to re--think how a device should work and feel

you made me LOL.

Back in 2007 I wrote up a mock dialog, which I posted on Neowin a while back, when the iPhone was introduced. {sadly none of the staff will acknowledge my claim to the username used at the time in spite of several attempts to reclaim it after losing the email address attached to the account, thus causing me to re-register as who am now... but I digress} when the "Smart" phones were PocketPC based.

http://www.neowin.net/forum/to...p__588351047#entry588351047

which is quoted below:

iPhone: "Hi, I'm an iPhone."
Smartphone: "Hi iPhone. I'm a Smartphone. Welcome to the club."
iPhone: "I can play music and do email."
Smartphone: "We've been waiting for you."
iPhone: "Thanks."
Smartphone: "We have been able to play music for quite a while now. Did you say you do email?"
iPhone: "Yes. I check for new email all the time."
Smartphone: "Our emails get pushed to us when they come in. So do our appointments and schedule."
iPhone: "What?"
Smartphone: "That way we don't waste bandwidth."
iPhone: "Oh, really? But I can work on GSM networks."
Smartphone: "That's impressive."
iPhone: "Thanks."
Smartphone: "No, really. That's nothing to be ashamed of. I am available for CDMA / EVDO, GSM and UMTS networks. I can also interface with inventory control applications, do spreadsheets and database interfacing."
iPhone: "Ummm...."
Smartphone: "Well, you have to start somewhere."
iPhone: "But I can make calls, listen to music and retrieve emails."
Smartphone: "You said that already. Did I mention my brother can do all I can do plus do GPS mapping?"
iPhone: "No..."
Smartphone: "Yes, it's true. He can do what I do and give you directions to your destination."
iPhone: "Really?"
Smartphone: "Absolutely. And my other brother can do all that and play music on your car stereo."
iPhone: "Oh."

notuptome2004 said,

ahh No those were was you stated Pocket Pcs that has no Phone functions the Phone stuff came later but those are not the same anyways as todays smartphones so no they did not. the first True smartphone tho much more was the iPhone to which caused every other manufacure to re--think how a device should work and feel

incorrect. I had a pocketpc which was a phone, it was on sprint and was one of the first of its kind. THe iphone is no where near the first smartphone, did it change the game? absolutely. but to call it the first is being naive and biased.

notuptome2004 said,

ahh No those were was you stated Pocket Pcs that has no Phone functions the Phone stuff came later but those are not the same anyways as todays smartphones so no they did not. the first True smartphone tho much more was the iPhone to which caused every other manufacure to re--think how a device should work and feel

The iPhone only came out 5 years ago. There was plenty of smartphones prior to that. Apple only brought it to regular consumers and not marketed towards the corporate enviroment like BlackBerry, Palm and Windows-based phones were.

Xcursion said,

The iPhone only came out 5 years ago. There was plenty of smartphones prior to that. Apple only brought it to regular consumers and not marketed towards the corporate enviroment like BlackBerry, Palm and Windows-based phones were.


Yes, heck, even the Nokia Nseries were doing smart phone-y stuff, the iPhone just popularized the whole buttonless touchscreen thing.

notuptome2004 said,
. the first True smartphone tho much more was the iPhone to which caused every other manufacure to re--think how a device should work and feel
Actually IMO that would have been the N95 from Nokia. iPhone did not become a true 'smartphone' untill the 3GS. Before that it was just a glorified iPod with calling abilities (And for some it still is..)

Regression_88 said,
Yeah. And where were you in 1991?

Probably at work geeking out over my HP 95lx Which, in all fairness, wasn't that far behind the design here.

This is more of a doodling of the natural progression of portable computing, than it is of some radical concept. It's just an idea for a pocket PC with a better screen and wireless connectivity.

notuptome2004 said,
Are you high? Or are you just acting. The first smartphone was NOT the iPhone by a very long shot. In fact the shot is so long as it was a decade to late. iPhone was the first bar-styled smartphone and that is it.

It wans't even the first device to run a Operating System either.
The other guy was sort of right. Many of those Pocket PC's could make phone calles, hoever they required VOIP to do so.

I would say, the first smartphone wa smade by IDM...look ait up. It was dated 1992.
Palm, Microsoft and RIM are your major smartphoen pioneers. You are aware Windows Mobile was runnign on phones well before 2007...right? In fact Windows Mobile predates iOS by more than 5 years.

You fans are really crazy, and just as we say, you never know what you are talking about.

ahh No those were was you stated Pocket Pcs that has no Phone functions the Phone stuff came later but those are not the same anyways as todays smartphones so no they did not. the first True smartphone tho much more was the iPhone to which caused every other manufacure to re--think how a device should work and feel

notuptome2004 said,

ahh No those were was you stated Pocket Pcs that has no Phone functions the Phone stuff came later but those are not the same anyways as todays smartphones so no they did not. the first True smartphone tho much more was the iPhone to which caused every other manufacure to re--think how a device should work and feel

Are you high? Or are you just acting. The first smartphone was NOT the iPhone by a very long shot. In fact the shot is so long as it was a decade to late. iPhone was the first bar-styled smartphone and that is it.

It wans't even the first device to run a Operating System either.
The other guy was sort of right. Many of those Pocket PC's could make phone calles, hoever they required VOIP to do so.

I would say, the first smartphone wa smade by IDM...look ait up. It was dated 1992.
Palm, Microsoft and RIM are your major smartphoen pioneers. You are aware Windows Mobile was runnign on phones well before 2007...right? In fact Windows Mobile predates iOS by more than 5 years.

You fans are really crazy, and just as we say, you never know what you are talking about.

mrpakiman said,
it would of been a failure, am i right in thinking back in 1991 people wouldn't pay $500 for a smartphone.

1991 REGULAR cell phones were $500 to $1000, so the price seems in line.

xendrome said,

1991 REGULAR cell phones were $500 to $1000, so the price seems in line.

...and airtime was like a dollar a minute.

mrpakiman said,
it would of been a failure, am i right in thinking back in 1991 people wouldn't pay $500 for a smartphone.

You're absolutely wrong. Motorola DynaTac's were retailing around $3000 when first introduced in the early/mid 80's. And when I got in to the cell construction biz in the mid 90's, the then desirable iDen phones were retailing for around 300-600, give or take.

$500 for a phone that would do email and such, on top of what was then the normal phone duties would've been at least in line with costs and more than likely would have been a bargain by any interpretation of the word.

mrpakiman said,
it would of been a failure, am i right in thinking back in 1991 people wouldn't pay $500 for a smartphone.
I think the problem has a lot less to do with the cost of the phone versus the actual use of the phone in 1991.

The data connection would have been unusable--I did not even have wired broadband until the late 90s or early 2000s. On-device performance would have been miserable as well, considering that a 486 was about the size of a phone, with performance not even akin to the original iPhone's. Finally, screen quality would not allow for any manner of quality that would have been useful in 1991.

Now, with that said, I wonder how quickly those technologies might have developed if such a thing did exist. After all, the iPhone inspired competition in the smartphone market even though the smartphone market already existed; imagine where we might be if the original iPhone released around the time of the original iPod (obviously not possible in its actual state, but it's an interesting thought).