Before the iPhone, There was the iPhone Infogear

The so-called Internet appliance was first dreamed up by three engineers at National Semiconductor who had created a crude but working prototype.

Origins of Telecom: iPhone Infogear

Bob Ackerman [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

The Apple iPhone is legendary and it’s hard to imagine any other product bearing its name. However, long before the Apple iPhone, there was another iPhone — InfoGear’s iPhone (later the Cidco iPhone). The iPhone InfoGear was released in 1998. It looked like a traditional office telephone, but with a large touchscreen display and a slide-out keyboard. The InfoGear iPhone was billed as an “Internet appliance” that combined a telephone with web browsing, email, a speakerphone, and a digital answering machine.

The so-called Internet appliance was first dreamed up by three engineers at National Semiconductor who had created a crude but working prototype. A consultant, Robert Ackerman, stumbled upon their project during a tour of the engineering department and became enamored with it. He realized that what others were starting to predict for the future was right in front of him and began negotiations with National Semiconductor. As a result, InfoGear was born as a standalone entity.

One of the tenets of the early iPhone was simplicity. It had to be as easy to use as an ATM machine, so easy that anyone could understand and use it. In fact, its black and white touchscreen display featured large graphical icons representing email and the web, functioning much like the touchscreens found in ATMs of that era.

The InfoGear iPhone debuted at the 1998 Consumer Electronics Show, winning the Innovations ’98 award. That same year at Fall Internet World ’98, the iPhone won the Best of Show award for Outstanding Desktop Hardware Product.

Among the InfoGear iPhone’s innovations were:

  • Transcribed voicemail — Messages appeared as text on the screen. A touchscreen button allowed you to tap to return the call.
  • Integrated content — Content from People, Sports Illustrated, Money, and Time was available as were movie listings from Hollywood Online.
  • Maps — A Maps application was included with maps data.
  • Early cloud computing — Most of the processing was done on a remote server, long before “cloud computing” became mainstream.

The InfoGear iPhone wasn’t cheap. It cost $499 in 1998 plus required a $19.95 per month fee for Internet access.

The InfoGear iPhone was briefly branded the Cidco iPhone after a partnership between InfoGear and Cidco. In total, only about 100,000 InfoGear iPhone units were sold.

In 2000, Cisco Systems acquired InfoGear along with the iPhone trademark for $300 million in stock. Cisco rebranded a line of its Linksys VoIP phones with the iPhone name. By 2007, Apple had announced its iPhone to which Cisco responded with a lawsuit. A settlement was reached, with both companies allowed to use the iPhone name.

Today, the Apple iPhone is a huge international success. Where the InfoGear iPhone sold roughly 100,000 units during its entire existence, the Apple iPhone sold more than 46 million units in the fourth quarter of 2018 alone.

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