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Classic Handsets: the Siemens S10 (the world’s first colour phone)

Siemens S10 1998

In today’s Classic Handset series article, we’re taking a short trip down memory lane to remember what is claimed to be the first mobile with a colour display: the Siemens S10.

Back in the mid to late-90’s and well before the advent of smartphones, mobiles were basic devices with the ability to make calls, send messages and perhaps even a selection of rudimentary ‘apps’ such as alarm clocks and rudimentary games. And supporting polyphonic ringtones was touted as a key feature back then. Phones at the time had monochrome displays that could only a few lines of text against a green-tinted low-resolution display. Colour was sorely missing from those early devices – that is, until the S10 came along…

Siemens S10

Siemens is one of the largest engineering companies in Europe, specialising in medical equipment, industrial hardware, home appliances and many other electrical equipment. But if you’re as familiar with the history of mobile as we are, you might remember when Siemens was a force to be reckoned with in mobile. The German company introduced more than 100 different models to the world, including several devices that showcase fairly advanced technology at the time.

The Siemens S10 was the world’s first phone with a colour display, and a later model, the S55, was one of the first phones with the ability to take photos (though it required a separate camera attachment).

Siemens launched the S10 in 1997 – a phone that could display just four colours: red, green, blue and white. The same year, an outdoor variant became available called the S10 Active, which was shock, dust and splash proof. Later in 1999, Siemens launched the first slider phone – the SL10. The company was obviously on a roll…

Siemens S10 Colour PhoneUnfortunately, most people won’t remember the S10 and it’s long been consigned to the trashcan of history. It didn’t exactly set the world on fire with its four colours and it wasn’t a particularly inspiring design either. It did however represent a watershed moment in the history of the mobile devices.

At the time, more handset companies were realising the potential of colour screens. And in July 2002, reflecting the state of the market and variety of colour-screen devices that were starting to appear, ZDNET provided this insightful commentary:

“The color screen is very new to the United States market,” said T-Mobile spokeswoman Kim Thompson, which was selling just one color-screen phone, the SonyEricsson T68. “It’ll be interesting to see where these handsets go”.

Interesting indeed! And just how far these handsets have gone…it’s surprising to realise that just 13 years ago mobile phones with colour screens were considered rather special. Today of course, manufacturers like Samsung, LG and many more have released devices with quad-HD screens and pixel densities over 500 pixels-per-inch. It probably won’t be too long before 2k and even 4k screens are considered standard fare, even if the benefit to the end user is somewhat questionable.

So thank you, Siemens, for making the world a more colourful place…

By Roland Banks

Roland Banks has been passionate about mobile technology for the past 20 years. He started his career at British Telecom's research division working on collaborative virtual reality environments, before becoming a video streaming specialist at 3 UK where he helped launch some of the world's first mobile video services. More recently he enjoys writing about his obsession, and developing software that helps mobile operators analyse their subscriber data.

Roland has lived in Asia for the past 5 years, and tries to indulge his other passion for riding motorcycles whenever possible.

One reply on “Classic Handsets: the Siemens S10 (the world’s first colour phone)”

I always thought that the S25, which I owned, was the first phone with colour screen. I went on to own the S35 and ME45, all great designs and tough as nails. And they all paired nicely with my Psion 5mx then, through infrared!

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