The 14 most influential smartphones ever

Our look back at the highlights of the smartphone’s lightning-fast rise to prominence.

smartphones
A brief history of the smartphone

While the market didn’t really go completely crazy until 2007, the development and marketing of what we think of as smartphones goes back to the early 1990s. Here’s a look at some of the landmark devices that we’ve seen along the way.

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IBM Simon
Credit: Retrocom
IBM Simon

Frequently said to be the first true smartphone, Simon was a commercial flop that nonetheless hinted at the possibilities of the design.

Ericsson GS 88
Credit: PRServ.net
Ericsson GS 88

Ericsson’s concept device, also known as “Penelope,” may have been the first to use the name “smart phone,” in 1997.

Palm Pilots
Credit: Wikipedia
Palm Pilots

While they left out the “phone” part of the equation, modern smartphones are direct descendants of the PDAs, Palm Pilots, and other associated handhelds that saw use in the mid-to-late 1990s. Pictured here is the Pilot 5000, from 1996.

The BlackBerry
Credit: Wikipedia
The BlackBerry

The original BlackBerry 850, released in 1999 by Canadian company Research In Motion, didn’t look like much, but the thumbs of businesspeople around the world have never been the same.

Treo
Credit: Wikipedia
Treo

Sister publication PCWorld was very impressed by 2003’s Handspring Treo, which boasted most of the features of a modern smartphone, including a camera and integrated keyboard.

And BlackBerry again
Credit: Wikipedia
And BlackBerry again

Research In Motion, not to be outdone, continued to develop the BlackBerry line. The 7250 model, pictured here, was the first to offer CDMA connectivity and Bluetooth.

The iPhone
Credit: Wikipedia
The iPhone

And then, in 2007, it all changed – Apple built on its wildly successful iPod devices and came up with the iPhone, which was the first smartphone to get general consumers as excited about the idea as the business world was.

Android
Credit: Wikipedia
Android

The HTC Dream, which many know as the T-Mobile G1, was released more than a year after the iPhone, to far less fanfare. Nevertheless, the G1 laid the groundwork for today’s Google Android dominance.

iPhone 3GS
Credit: Wikipedia
iPhone 3GS

Combining the faster 3G connectivity of the basic “iPhone 3G” model with a raft of improvements to performance and battery life helped 2009’s iPhone 3GS push consumer enthusiasm to new heights.

Motorola Droid
Credit: TalkAndroid.com
Motorola Droid

The first hint that the Android platform might be breaking into the mainstream came with the Motorola Droid in 2009 – the device combined a physical keyboard with robust hardware, an impressive screen and free GPS navigation.

iPhone 4
Credit: Wikipedia
iPhone 4

Apple’s redesigned iPhone 4 once again pushed the limits of the technology available in 2010 – though a high-profile technical issue with call reception provided a rare blemish on the company’s glistening reputation.

Samsung Galaxy S III
Credit: Telegraph
Samsung Galaxy S III

The Galaxy S III, introduced this summer, is part of a long line of ostensible “iPhone killers” – but it’s the first to dethrone Apple’s powerhouse from its place atop the sales charts. (Albeit briefly.)

iPhone 5
Credit: ExtremeTech.com
iPhone 5

The sixth generation of the iPhone is every bit as impressive as we’ve come to expect from Apple, and early indications are that it’s already undercut some of Android’s recent market share gains.