Could Nortel have been an Apple killer?

Opinion

Could Nortel have been an Apple killer?

Could Nortel have had a piece of Apple? Could it have killed the iPhone before it was a glint in Steve Jobs' eye?

Canadian tech website Cantech Letter has recently uncovered the fascinating history of Nortel's smartphone, a short-lived, barely-remembered and never-marketed device called the Orbitor.

The Orbitor was born in the 1990s at Nortel's Corporate Design Group, which included one Don Lindsay, now at Apple.

The Orbitor was nothing less than an early touchscreen smartphone with icons that users could press to access, for example, email services or a Yellow Pages-style business directory, services that sound suspiciously like, well, apps.

Nortel showed the phone off at the 1998 GSM World Congress event, where it briefly caught the attention of the tech press, and even went into discussions with a UK mobile network.

But it got no further. Ultimately, the fate of the Nortel smartphone rested with then CEO John Roth. In a decision that could have changed comms industry history, Roth decided that Nortel didn't have the cojones to  make a consumer product stick, and its story ends there.

The IT industry is littered with what-ifs and might-have-beens, but the Orbitor is one device this Android fan would have loved to get acquainted with.

This was first published in October 2011

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