The forgotten story of the iphone released in 1998

by Brian McCullough – internethistorypodcast.com – June 21,2015

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Remember this?

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So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone— are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device, and we are calling it iPhone. Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.

– Steve Jobs, January 9, 2007

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It turns out that almost exactly 9 years before Steve Jobs spoke those words and introduced the world to the iPhone, there was another 3-in-1 device that was introduced to the world, and it just so happened that that device was also known as an iPhone. But the company that brought the “first” iPhone to market, all the way back in 1998, was called InfoGear, not Apple.

Here’s the story…

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The iPhone that came before Apple’s iPhone

In the late 1990s, there was a fad for devices called “Internet appliances.” The idea was to have smaller, purpose-designed devices that would allow users to jump on the web and do web things without having to whip out a laptop or a PC. Remember, this was back in the day when laptops could still be 10 pound affairs.

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So, the industry envisioned smaller devices that you could put on your desk, in your kitchen, maybe on your wall, that would allow you to check your email, browse the web, as a quick and easy, in-and-out affair.

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A skunkworks project for just such an “appliance” was started in 1995, inside, of all places, National Semiconductor. Three engineers, Chaim Bendelac, Yuval Shahar and Reuven Marko were given company funds to explore the possibilities for a product that would be part internet, part telephone. They called their brainstorm “Project Mercury.”

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At around the same time, a venture capitalist by the name of Robert Ackerman, was consulting with National Semiconductor. Toward the end of a routine meeting, Ackerman’s hosts offered to show him around the engineering lab. It was there that Ackerman would first see …

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