It’s often said that Japan was slow to smartphones, with tens of millions of flip phone users long unconvinced of the benefits of iPhone and Android. It’s less often pointed out that those flip phones were miraculous in their own way, seamlessly integrated into Japanese society with features that people in the West could only dream of. And it’s even less often mentioned that Japan has had slick, advanced pocket computers since the ‘90s.
If I’d been using an advanced flip phone and a Sharp Zaurus for a decade, I might have been less convinced by the iPhone’s charms too. Sharp was one of the preeminent makers of early PDAs, with its Zaurus range (pronounced “zow-rus” in Japanese, though still intended to connote the strength of a dinosaur) achieving a reasonable level of popularity around the globe. The models that made it to the US in the ‘90s, however, usually featured monochrome displays and keyboards — the MI series that you see an example of here remained Japan-exclusive.
This is the Zaurus MI-C1 Personal Mobile Tool. It was released in November 1999 and cost 92,400 yen (about $900 today); the slot-in digital camera card went for 25,200 yen ($240). (I paid 3,000 yen ($29) for the pair last week.) It runs Sharp’s own ZaurusOS, has a 32-bit RISC processor, 8MB of RAM and storage, and a large color TFT screen.