Smartphone, an increasingly popular term, refers to:

  • a device that combines a cell phone with a hand-held computer, typically offering Internet access, data storage, email capability, etc.

According to the The History of the Smartphone:

  • Ericsson was the first brand to actually coin the phrase “smartphone”, with the release of its GS88 in 1997.
  • To simplify things, AT&T Co. has devised the SmartPhone. It looks like a phone, but it is really a miniature computer with a touch-sensitive 4-by-6.5-inch screen.


Being a relatively recent expression I wonder if it is possible to accurately trace who first used it and when.

Edit: some comments suggest it is 'hard' to trace its earliest usage/usages because its origin is from a common adjective (smart) which was very likely used referring to phones before the term became common as smartphone. Though I agree with this, "smartphone" is a neologism which came into being, as many others, at one point in time and most likely some tech/telecom company used it first as a single word.

  • Smart, being an adjective, can appear before just about any noun. Smart car, smart watch, smart tv, all appear as Google searches at the moment. It's certain that there was a first time when somebody used the term "smart phone", and spelled it without a space. Sometime after that first time, smartphone made it into print. But it may well have been referring to some 1980s walkie-talkie thing that was technoporn then. Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 21:23
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    When you want discover something like this, a good search term is history of x I just searched for history of smartphone and got this google.co.uk/?gws_rd=ssl#q=history+of+smartphone - It throws up the article you mentioned but there are plenty of others. Another place to look is under Google Scholar ---> scholar.google.co.uk/… Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 21:53
  • 1
    @chaslyfromUK - thanks but the links you are suggesting have already been used to make the question: (thenextweb.com/mobile/2011/12/06/the-history-of-the-smartphone), but I've not been able to detect its earliest usage, have you?
    – user66974
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 22:32
  • 2
    The problem you have is that likely several people independently "coined" the term "smartphone", and likely some of those coinages died quickly. It's hard to trace the earliest "live" coinage.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 23:44
  • There was a significant industry trade show that ran in the UK in the mid to late 00s that was called The Smartphone Show. The adoption by the industry & then media of the term Smartphone as a descriptor for devices that are capable of installing 3rd party apps over a 3G internet connection was popularised during this time. The leading Smartphone vendor of the era was Nokia and the Smartphone Show was the partner event for Nokia's Smartphone OS, Symbian.
    – Blondie
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 14:49

4 Answers 4


Tracing the Origin of the Term "Smartphone"

TL;DR: The OP was hoping to discover who was the brainchild behind the catchy name, smartphone; but as I hope to illustrate, smart phone with all its variants, had been around long before Ericsson's “Penelope” model in 1997. In fact the term smart has been often used in the world of advertising precisely because it encapsulates so many meanings in one short word: intelligence, style, elegance, class and modernity. Any possible contenders such as: PDA (Personal Digital Assistant); computer-phone; computer-functional phone, or multiuse-phone for this new generation of miniature computer phones were simply crushed by ‘smartphone’.

  • Feb 1980
    enter image description here
    Google only allows previews on this publication. The following excerpt is taken from a series of snippets I managed to piece together. I suspect that Burck's ‘smart phone’ was only used in the title as I couldn't find the term within the actual article, but it hints at a forthcoming revolution in design and functionality.

For more than half a century, the office telephone was a desktop fixture as immutably prosaic as an ashtray. There was no need to think much about it: it was the phone company's property, and its function was clearly defined, its costs predictable, its longevity assured. Today, however, the plain old business phone is taking its place among the vanishing familiar certainties whose loss makes life at once more worrisome and exhilarating. No longer simply a leased appliance, the office phone is part of today's upheaval in communications "The shrinking standard of living"
Bureau of Management Consulting, Supply and Services Canada., 1980

Protel,® Inc. of Lakeland, Florida began as a pay telephone manufacturer gaining a solid reputation for leadership when we invented line-powered, smart payphones. While it has been almost two decades since our first patent, we have continued to expand our expertise in Telemetry and Management Systems to a variety of industries…

The Smartphone III comes with an operator intercept interrupt module that detects non-connection. Data capability and rate tables are programmed in by the distributors. The rate table setting is flexible and IBM PC compatible.

Seven years later...

A refined version of the product was marketed to consumers in 1994 by BellSouth under the name Simon Personal Communicator. The Simon was the first cellular device that can be properly referred to as a "smartphone", although it was not called that in 1994 source Wikipedia, Smartphone: forerunner

In 1995 a TV show called Computer Chronicles reviewed the Simon Personal Communicator and said:

This is just one example of the really cool, new, mobile computer gadgets that are out there now. Today we'll show you the newest, and the neatest, portable computing devices on this edition of the Computer Chronicles.
Video clip

Interestingly the presenter never used the term smart but he did say neatest which is a very close synonym.

The Simon Personal Communicator was the first cellular phone to include telephone and PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) features in one device but it was not until 1997, when Ericsson called its GS 88 “Penelope” a “Smart Phone” that the term was used to describe a phone with functions and features similar to a computer.

enter image description here


Smart is a fairly common term in computing, to refer to a system with processing power. reference.com, definition 17 says: "(of a machine, system, etc.) equipped with electronic control mechanisms and capable of automated and seemingly intelligent operation" givin examples smart copiers and smart weapons. The term smart bombs for laser-guided air-dropped munitions has been around for some decades, for example.

Similarly smart terminal is a phrase with a long history in computing, generally denoting some data-handling ability beyond the dumb terminal which could be just a screen and keyboard on the end of a wire to a mainframe.

The smartphone as we know it now started with the iPhone, i.e. a phone made by a computer company. Even the previous generation (which might be called feature phones these days) existed within an environment (telecoms firms, manufacturers) that had a history of smart products in contrast to those with fewer features.

Thus smartphone is just an example of smart x where x is a piece of hardware; it just happens to be the best-known example (not the only, smart car was mentioned in the comments). As phone is a single syllable and we already have telephone and (in the US at least) cellphone, smartphone is logically a single word rather than a phrase.

A common tool for word history is google ngrams, but here it's of little help, because (i) its corpus stops in 2008, and (ii) it only indexes books.

ngram: smartphone variants

A few points are of interest though:

  • Apart from a blip in 1995, the term "smartphone" took off around 1999-2002, i.e. a few years before the iPhone (and around the time of the Palm/Handspring Treo and the first Blackberry phone). In fact around the time the iPhone launched in 2007, the use of "smartphone" dipped.
  • The capitalised "Smartphone" is quite common.
  • The "smart phone" form with a space has never been as common as the unspaced variant.
  • 1
    The fact that phones happened to be "the best-known" example is probably at the origin of the neologism. Smart car is still 2 distinct separate terms.
    – user66974
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 19:01
  • 2
    I'd argue that the smartphone "as we know it" came earlier; it was used with Blackberries and Treos, for example. Of course, none of these were must-have consumer items the way the iPhone was (perhaps the DoCoMo phones, but only in Japan), but that's beside the point. We don't say the term supersonic started with the X-1; it had existed long before, even though it did not enter general usage until after word of Yeager's flight was released.
    – choster
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 19:24
  • @choster, I'd forgotten the Treo was a phone. I had a (PalmOS) Sony PDA as well as a couple of Palm devices so I should have known. Maybe I'm prejudiced but I'd say that's closer to the modern smartphone than the blackberry of 10-15 years ago which couldn't do much more than my first 3g slide phone (no touchscreen on even some recent blackberries)
    – Chris H
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 19:38
  • @josh61 I'm generally wary of reading too much into things like spaces and hyphens (especially as "smart car" is a brand) but in this case I think you may be right.
    – Chris H
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 19:39
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    Ngram also searches magazines books.google.com/…
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 6:20

The OED traces back to 1980 but the word smart is in single quotes. I couldn't find an earlier usage in Google Books.

IDN..provide special services like broadcast, direct dialling,‘smart’ phones, etc

Telecommunications Policy 4 229/2

The word smart for this sense is from 1948 according to the OED:

The earlier ENIAC was pretty smart but the UNIVAC is even smarter.

Sci. News Let. 21 Aug. 123/2

  • Good finding , but what do ENIAC and UNIVAC refer to?
    – user66974
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 18:53
  • 2
    @Josh61 they are very early computers. ENIAC weighed 27tonnes and used at about $10 of electricity per hour.
    – Dan
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 18:57

"Space wars - the first six hours of WWIII" is a book detailing a scenario where the United States satellites are targeted by unknown actors as the opening to a wider conflict. It is a tech heavy book and throughout it the characters use devices described as mobile phones with internet connected computers in them. It is interesting to note that at no point are they called "smart phones".

It is quite jarring and a little clunky to read them being called 'communicators' or the now archaic 'PDA'.

I think what this illustrates is that there is a big difference between when a phrase or word is coined and when it becomes common in use.

The word smartphone may have dipped in use when the iphone was launched in June 2007 but it certainly wasn't in common use before then as the author seems to have been at a loss as to what to call these things that were just starting to make their presence felt in our lives.

The book was published in April 2007.

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