You might not know it but that is the sound of one of the most important, albeit underrated, phones in history. In this Decodr episode, my explainer series here on the channel, let me explain what I mean.
This is the Sidekick 3, the third generation of the iconic device and probably the apex of the Sidekick line (and the only one I could find on eBay that worked if I’m honest).
Now, when the original version launched back in 2002 under the brand name Sidekick, the top selling phone in the world that year was this, the Nokia 6100. Needless to say, the Sidekick kinda stood out.
Now, the Sidekick’s original brand name was the HipTop (and it was even still sold under that name in other regions) and it was the brainchild of ex-Apple engineers Andy Rubin, Matt Hershenson, and Joe Britt when they started the company Danger, Inc (named for the robot in Lost in Space’s famous line of “Danger, Will Robinson”).
The idea behind it though was that it was to be a computing device to help you use the internet anywhere, not just at home–a relatively ambitious concept back then. Now, since your desktop was on your desk, your laptop was on your lap, and thanks to the style back then of hip mounted phone holsters, it got the name hiptop from assuming you might carry it on your hip.
Within a few months after announcing the device, even Steve Wozniak, one of the original founders of Apple, joined the board of directors saying, “It reminds me of Apple’s early days and the focus on building products easy enough for anyone to use. I’m impressed with the way that Danger has filled a void in the market and created mobile technology that is smart, affordable and user-friendly.”
And not too long after release, HipTop/Sidekick ended up becoming one of the first phones to truly popularize and democratize thanks to it’s lower than normal price at the time, the idea of a phone being more than something to just make calls with.
Firstly, it had a full HTML web-browser instead of a WAP one that most devices had back then that was text only, based on SMS, and just trash, really. The Sidekick browser was super clever actually. The device had proxy servers in between it and the internet that would render webpages and then convert it for the Sidekick’s browser so you were able to get the full site complete with the ability to use forms, see images (gasp), interact with the page, etc just like you would on a computer.
Also, it used GPRS or General Packet Radio Service, which was new at the time (and was 2.5G if we’re talking in terms of G’s by the way). This allowed it to always be connected to the internet. No more pushing of buttons to sync on the user’s part, all of your data was just automatically synced all the time.
You could also send emails with attachments and you even had AIM/MSN/Yahoo Messenger built-in (all of which worked way better thanks to that GPRS technology). And AIM was basically the defacto communication method for kids back then. I used it a lot
Something else it even had that was revolutionary? An app store. Yeah, a good 10 years before Apple released the App Store, you could download apps directly over the network and it would even bill you automatically on your T-Mobile phone bill. If you deleted it within a 24 hour period, you just wouldn’t be charged. Simple.
As a teenager using the Sidekick II and 3, they both were, for the first time that I can remember, phones that felt like they made messaging in various forms on the go a viable, and dare I say, even enjoyable thing. And even the albeit slow internet was still handy to have access to in my pocket.I loved them.
And it seemed I wasn’t the only one.
Celebrities started using Sidekicks, some paid in campaigns which was clever in and of itself back then as a marketing strategy, but some not. Famously Jennifer Anniston went on TV and her phone rang. She took out the Sidekick and silenced it and put it away, but thanks to that very distinct look and the swiveling screen it was easy to know what phone it was.
The thing was that, this device ended up permeating the celebrity world and became the phone every young teenager wanted. It was one of the first phones that was actually cool. The Sidekick line even had a popular Dwanye Wade and Diane von Furstenberg editions for the 3 and Juicy Couture and Mr. Cartoon for the II. It kinda began the now very common blurring of technology, celebrity, and fashion.
The Sidekick also did something that back then was unheard of but is now very common and that’s store the user’s data in the cloud. At a tradeshow, a presenter took a quote from an audience member and wrote it in the notes apps of the Sidekick/HipTop. He then smashed it with a bowling ball, completely destroying it. He put the SIM card from it into a new sidekick, signed in and showed how all his contacts, messages and even that quote had all automatically came back. Remind you of anything? Yeah, iCloud does come to mind.
The next thing that the Sidekick ended up changing about the mobile world, even though I’m sure they wished they didn’t, was security of that cloud data service. Long story short, someone managed to convince T-Mobile reps to give up information needed to access Paris Hilton’s cloud data of her Sidekick, a celebrity at the time who famously used one. And they then leaked all sorts of nude photos of her that were from the device, along with the phone numbers of numerous other celebrities, other personal information, etc.
Paris and the Sidekick both managed to survive the ordeal but you can better believe carriers and OEMs started paying a lot more attention to user’s data security right about that time.
Lastly, the Sidekick, while it didn’t last terribly long, did manage to whet the appetite for people to want to do more on their phones than just call and text–and do so in a more user friendly and just better way than Windows Mobile or, say Blackberry, offered at the time.
The iPhone would come years later in 2007 after obviously seeing the Sidekick’s success and even Android, which Andy Rubin started while still working at Danger and which was then bought by Google, would launch a year after that.
Honestly, I think it might even be safe to say that even though the Sidekick was definitely not the first smartphone, it was the first one that got people and clearly other companies truly interested in having this always connected computer on you at all the times.
If you guys want to know more about the Sidekick and its history, my buddy Michael Fisher who you might know as MrMobile did a deep dive into that at this link here that is definitely worth checking out.
Thanks for watching and let me know what you guys think!