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The smartphone hits 25

August 13, 2021

The Nokia 9000 Communicator — "the office in your back pocket" — was a smartphone even before the word was invented. It has been 25 years since it revolutionized the market.

Nokia 9000 Communicator
The Nokia 9000 Communicator was a sought-after product when it hit the market two and a half decades agoImage: Arne Dedert/dpa/picture alliance

Nokia presented its 9000 Communicator at the CeBIT 1996 computer fair in Hanover, Germany, and launched on August 15 of that year. "The office in your back pocket" added to the IBM Simon from 1994 and the HP OmniGo 700LX from March 1996.

The 9000 Communicator was a smartphone even before the word had been invented. For a decade, the device was ​​what a smartphone was supposed to look like. After the Communicator, Blackberry perfected the idea — until Apple's iPhone with its multitouch screen in 2007 came along.

Opened like a minilaptop, with a keyboard and a black-and-white display with a diagonal of  just 11.5 centimeters (4.5 inches), the retrofuturistic-looking device was made famous by actor Val Kilmer in the remake of the film The Saint.

The 9000 Communicator was the first device to offer a combination of keyboard, quality screen, and business and internet software in one package. It had for the first time all of the features of a computer on a phone, putting email, web browsing, fax, word processing and spreadsheets into a single pocketable device.

The return of a Nokia classic

Ugly, but revolutionary

The phone had 8 MB of memory and a 33MHz processor. The screen was a black and white LCD, with a then-high resolution of 640x200 pixels. The long, thin screen meant it could offer a first: a graphical web browser on a mobile device. If you wanted to check your mail or open a web page, you had to literally wait about 30 seconds for the phone to go online before content — mostly text — would even start loading at a speed of 9.6 kbps. 

The 9000 Communicator was over 3.5 centimeters thick and weighed 397 grams (14 ounces). A contemporary phone like the Motorola StarTAC weighs abouit 75% less and is 1.5 cm thick. By comparison, IBM’s Simon weighed half a kilo, had only 1 MB of storage space and lasted about one hour without a power outlet..

The 9000 Communicator cost at least $800 (€700) in the United States. To be successful, the technology had to wait several years to get smaller, sleeker, cheaper and easier to use. Nokia failed to make the transition to the smartphone market in the early 2010s.

But, if you still have a Nokia Communicator 9000 in the drawer, hold on to it. The first smartphones are still in demand on eBay and other platforms and sell for over $600.

The article was updated on August 16,2021. The orginal text said the Communicator line was discontinued after thge 9210 model, which was wrong.

What's in a smartphone?

Head shot of a man (Jo Harper) with grey hair and brown eyes
Jo Harper Journalist and author specializing in Poland