This pioneering phone from Motorola was known as the MAP phone which stood for “Multiple Application Phone”. This is a prototype unit, the device never shipped.
It was conceived during Motorola’s internal product planning meetings in 1992 and based on the concept of combining an Apple Newton and a mobile phone. It was originally known as the Personal Organiser Phone (POP) however this was changed to MAP in 1994.
It was quietly developed behind the scenes in a manner that is often referred to as a “skunk works
” project. Initially there were two prototype versions. One was based on ETACS mobile network technology (which was used in first-generation European networks) and the other was based on AMPS (a US standard).
The original design was based on a Motorola MicroTAC. It used MicroTAC batteries and had a full flip with the 12 traditional keys passing through the flip pressing onto a resistive touchscreen that was revealed when you opened the flip (a similar design was used on the Ericsson R380
). It had a rich set of features including a phone, contacts, calendar, email, and agenda, and could receive a fax with its built-in Fax modem. The approach was quickly endorsed by the arrival of the IBM Simon
, however it was not until much later that it evolved into a more fully-fledged device.
In 1996, the device was elevated from being a “skunk works” project to a funded product program after the surprise announcement of the Nokia 9000 Communicator
at CeBIT 1996. Motorola felt it needed to respond to this growing trend of smarter devices.
This product program resulted in the device pictured, which came to fruition in 1997. What it delivered, was essentially a very early smartphone.
It had many ground-breaking features in a “phone-first” form factor including downloadable Java apps, push email, a micro browser, a monochrome relatively hi-res touchscreen and a stylus with single-character handwriting recognition from Lexicus and Ronjon Nag.
It also supported an early version of “visual voicemail” where you could have a menu of all your voicemail messages and choose which one to listen to. This approach was rejected by the mobile operators, who in those days were able to dictate terms to mobile phone makers. They ruled the idea out and refused to re-architect their voicemail systems to support it. Many years later, Apple, which was never prepared to yield to network operators, introduced visual voicemail to much acclaim.
To power the device, a new Java graphics toolkit was developed from scratch. The work done to optimize the variant of Personal Java to run on a 7 MIP ARM processor became intellectual property licensed back to Sun and used in J2ME for many years.
One challenge that had to be overcome was how to deliver a screen that was robust enough to comply with Motorola’s exacting quality assurance standards. Motorola’s mobile devices business had grown up in the shadow of ruggedized devices for first responders with an incredibly high bar for quality because lives were on the line. There are famous Motorola radio products used by firefighters in real fires that had half melted but were still working.
In that context, the Motorola quality standards were way over-engineered for smartphones and were a constant source of tension. Delivering a resistive touch screen that had to sustain a ball-bearing drop from 6 feet directly on the screen was a near-impossible challenge to overcome. The engineers couldn't just design a “bulletproof layer” on top of the screen because the screen had to be soft enough to detect resistive stylus input. After numerous attempts to find a solution, and lots of broken screens, a solution was found but it turned out to be outrageously expensive, something which in the end contributed to the product failing to become a commercially viable offering.
The stylus is another interesting element of this device. The attention paid to this element of the phone was reflected in the fact that one engineer spent over a year working on just the stylus. His dedication to his job was reflected by a couple of hundred stylus samples poking from the walls of his Styrofoam-covered cubicle.
The stylus was spring-loaded and collapsible to minimize internal phone volume when inserted in the device but felt big enough in the hand when using it. When the phone was dropped from 4 feet (a standard part of Motorola’s rigorous quality assurance testing procedure), the spring-loaded stylus would shoot out of the phone like a dart.
An estimated $85 million was spent on the product program but in the end, it never delivered a viable commercial product because it was too expensive and it took too long to optimize the technology it was built on.