The Cybiko, a Forgotten Gem
Few remember the Cybiko. In the year 2000, a Russian company unveiled a very strange looking device, adorned with a comically small keyboard and a retro antenna. They called it a handheld computer. They marketed it towards teens with some of the most insane advertising I’d personally ever seen.
The device was an interesting one, and to describe just how far ahead of its time it really was, it will be useful to draw comparisons against smartphones of today. Like a smartphone, it supported instant messaging, had a collection of downloadable apps that received updates, allowed those apps to communicate with one another, had a SDK to allow others to develop apps in what they called “CyBasic”, and even received operating system updates! Bearing in mind this is 2001, when the most popular phone was most likely the Nokia 3310. It even did some interesting stuff around mesh networking that never really worked.
Where this device differs from your average phone though, was its lack of GSM support. Hilariously though, if you purchased a wireless adaptor that would plug into your PC, your Cybiko then could browse the internet via WAP. I wonder how many devices that didn’t have GSM supported WAP?
The device was loaded with crazily forward thinking functionality. The device had an expansion slot. Into this expansion spot one could plug extra devices. One such device was an MP3 player, which took compact flash cards, and then allowed apps on the Cybiko to interact with it. There was also a camera addon I believe.
I think what was this things downfall was its extreme focus on gaming. It was competing against the Gameboy Color with its monochrome low resolution (and fairly terrible) display. It also had fairly terrible audio in comparison. Whereas the Gameboy was laser focussed on playing games, and as such had the controls to match, the Cybiko came with a stylus… The stylus was not for a touch screen however, it was for pressing the inhumanly small keys.
There was a follow up product called the Cybiko Xtreme, which featured a much improved OS, a better-yet-still-monochrome display, faster hardware, a much slimmer profile, and a significantly better keyboard, but it was too little too late. The Classic unit could be found in retailers for as little as £10, and the Xtreme for £30. A far cry from the original asking price for both.
I owned and loved both as a kid, and fondly remember them. Rest in peace, Cybiko!