BY Fast Company 2 MINUTE READ

In October 1994, I reviewed a new gizmo for InfoWorld, a prominent tech newsweekly. The device in question—the result of a collaboration between IBM and wireless carrier BellSouth—was a mobile phone known as Simon. Like all 1994 cellphones, it was a brick-like behemoth. But the reason InfoWorld cared about it was because it was also a handheld computer. Its tiny touchscreen interface let you access and send email, manage your calendar, take notes, and—whoop-de-doo!—send faxes.

I spent much of my story detailing Simon’s many shortcomings, from its unwieldy touchscreen QWERTY keyboard (which required you to rotate the phone 90 degrees to type) to its sluggish performance (which sometimes left you waiting 10 seconds for anything to happen). However, I was open-minded enough to declare the hybrid phone/personal digital assistant “unique” and concluded that “adventurous mobile workers” might find it worthwhile.

I just wish I’d been prescient enough to realize that it was the first product in a new category that would someday eclipse even the PC in epoch-shifting significance: the smartphone.

1994 was like that. On multiple fronts, personal technology was evolving very quickly. Sometimes the payoff was obvious and immediate; in other instances, it would take years or even decades to play out. And in still additional cases, developments that seemed historic didn’t lead much of anywhere.

Overall, 1994 was just plain interesting, in ways that were rewarding at the time and worth remembering today. So recently, when we were discussing possible themes for a package of history-minded Fast Company stories, we decided to look at some of the products, technologies, and machinations that defined the year.