Now I Feel Old -- And So Will You


I don’t often link to click-thru posts, because I don’t believe in or like to support that kind of click-baiting. And anyway, clicking on this link — a 22-year history of mobile phone operating systems — is purely optional. But you will at least want this reminder of just how primitive things in mobile were in 1993:

The IBM Simon was the first production phone that people considered to be “smart.” Underneath the hood of the brick-sized device was a proprietary GUI overlay simply called “Navigator.” The underlying OS that powered Simon was none other than DOS. To be more specific, it was a MS-DOS emulator called ROM-DOS that was designed specifically for embedded systems like Simon. For the most part, the phone was not much more than an expensive toy geared toward jetsetters who required on-the-go voice, email and fax services. Yes, faxes.

Most cellular phones of the time didn’t even have that much.

And yet the desktop operating systems of the time, with DOS losing ground to Mac OS and Windows, are completely recognizable and workable to today’s users. The graphics are nicer, the OSes do more, and of course the computers are much faster — but sit any ten-year-old kid down in front of a Intel 486-class PC running Windows, and they won’t even have to figure anything out, really. Nothing essential has changed in 22 years.

Mobile has undergone at least two essential changes in those same years, with another essential change coming as smartwatches begin allowing us to leave our phones in our pockets most of the time.

It becomes even more astounding when you think that Xerox PARC came up with the now familiar WIMP/desktop metaphor two decades prior in 1973. It took until the early ’90s for that metaphor to become widely adopted outside the Mac community, but every time we sit down in front of a desktop or laptop computer, we’re still following someone’s vision from over 40 years ago.

And yet mobile has undergone two, three, maybe four revolutions in half the time.


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