Before the iPhone, Anyone who was anyone rocked a sidekick
by Klint Finley
The modern mobile era began in 2007 with the release of the first iPhone. But Apple didn’t invent the smartphone, the mobile web, or even the app store. It wasn’t even the first to sell a smartphone to the everyday consumer.
In 2002, T-Mobile launched the Sidekick, a smartphone that featured a full keyboard, an email client, a custom mobile web browser, and an AOL Instant Messenger Client. It sold for about $200 when paired with a wireless contract, with monthly plans starting at around $40 a month.
T-Mobile tried hard to position the phone not as a toy for geeks and business people, but as a cool lifestyle gadget. The company shelled out for an extensive advertising campaign and the phone appeared in many TV shows, probably through product placement deals (see video above). The hype culminated in a commercial that featured a ensemble cast of celebrities, including Snoop Dogg, Paris Hilton, Burt Reynolds, and Jason Acuña.
It’s always hard to know whether celebrities actually use the products they advertise. But Paris Hilton did. Her account was hacked in 2005, exposing her contacts and private photos.
The Sidekick was created by a company called Danger, which was founded by a team of former Apple employees. Its original product idea was a tiny gadget that you’d carry around on your keychain and that would display your task list or grab weather reports via FM radio waves. The company quickly pivoted towards smartphones, but unlike Palm or Blackberry (then called Research in Motion), Danger stuck with the idea of bringing the mobile web to the unwashed masses.
That became a fiasco in 2009 when, the year after Danger was acquired by Microsoft, a database error wiped out all of users’ contacts and other info. Microsoft killed off the Sidekick soon after, in favor of the short lived Microsoft Kin brand.
But that’s not the end of the story. Danger co-founder Andy Rubin left the company in 2003 and started a company called Android. Android was then acquired by Google and went on to develop the most popular smart phone operating system in the world.
In 2011, T-Mobile briefly offered a new phone called the Sidekick 4G, based on Android, bringing the whole thing full circle. The 4G was discontinued in 2012 and a new Sidekick has yet to follow. But given the buzz around the Blackberry Classic—and the way that no tech brand ever seems to stay dead—don’t be surprised to see a retro Sidekick revival one day soon.