The annual ritual of spring cleaning tends to uncover many long-forgotten treasures in our drawers and cupboards and behind sofa cushions. In some cases, we might find a digital camera, one of a pair of Bluetooth earphones we were pretty sure we’d lost forever, and an old phone charger left behind by technology.
Some of the old gadgets I’m still able to uncover make me nostalgic and make me think about how these gadgets helped shape our technological present.
Sony’s portable gaming console Vita entered our lives in early 2012 and threatened to dethrone the Nintendo 3DS from its interactive, time-consuming throne. Sony believed that while Nintendo was asking a little too much of its customers’ attention spans by having them focus on two screens while playing, it would win back gamers’ hearts by giving them a more cohesive, simplified and focused experience with only one screen .
At least that was the theory.
And it might have worked if only they hadn’t forgotten something else – titles. The Vita, even many months after its release, hardly had any captivating games to speak of.
It wasn’t a matter of hardware. The Vita was by all accounts a well-built machine with plenty of built-in processing power for portable gaming needs, but without big games to tap into, the raw power was underutilized.
While its predecessor, the PSP, sold around 80 million units, the Vita had to make do with less than 20 million before being scrapped.
Still, many stick with their Vita, in part because of its ability to run PS4 games. Although the Vita will be remembered as a huge flop, it provided some of the inspiration for the Nintendo Wii, a true success story.
We tend to think of 2007 as the year the iPhone burst into our lives, and for good reason. It was the cellular shot heard around the world.
But we also forget that in 2007 there was a phone that sold four times as many units – and that was the Nokia N95. With built-in GPS (a novelty at the time), a 2.6-inch color screen and a 5-megapixel camera, it delivered a message: When Nokia says something, you better listen.
Remember, the first iPhone had no app store, but Nokia did. Also, the iPhone wasn’t equipped to handle 3G while the Nokia had 3.5G, so there’s a lot Nokia did right with the N95. The inclusion of GPS caught on, as did the built-in media player and camera as intended.
There was only one problem – no touch screen. At the time, Nokia didn’t understand how important it is for people who aren’t necessarily technologically inclined to just be able to touch what they want.
A decade ago, the Windows Phone OS was booming. In the third quarter of 2013, it accounted for 3.6% of all phones sold. Little did consumers know at the time that it would never get better than that.
The 520 was a fun unit. Sure, it had no selfie camera, but it ran the Windows Phone OS well and was pretty affordable.
Microsoft gave it their (almost) best shot, but iOS and Android were already established as the two warring factions of the cellular duopoly, and there was no room for one more. In 2016, Microsoft waved the white flag and let the phone world suffer.
Eleven years ago, crowdfunding was in its infancy, but that didn’t stop a company called Pebble from raising over $10 million for its new smartwatch. While it ended up selling just a paltry 200,000 units, it was enough to serve as inspiration for its successor, the Pebble Steel.
I still think it was one of the most elegantly designed smartwatches ever. It was a geeky fashion accessory first and a smartwatch second, which gave it a certain charm.
Like the original Nintendo Gameboy, it had no color screen, which, contrary to conventional thinking, actually helped it maintain its rugged staying power. It lasted almost a week between accusations.
It had Hebrew interface support and I still sometimes feel like using it for a while instead of the shiny Apple Watch. Simplicity often retains a certain appeal, doesn’t it?
There was a point there, about 8-9 years ago, where it looked like VR goggles were about to take over the world and become the primary method we use to consume entertainment or just operate our computers.
HTC came out with the Vive and Sony had the PS VR. Samsung decided to try a slight variation of this approach. Instead of a built-in screen, why not physically connect your phone to the headset?
That made the Gear VR one of the most affordable ways to get into the VR game, and the one way that required the least amount of processing power to function optimally. Everyone I showed it to, both young and old, bought into its conceptual drive immediately.
Since then, while the VR world had indeed moved closer to the mainstream, it still hasn’t been fully accepted.
Beyond the temporarily entertaining 360-degree presentations, however, the Gear VR wasn’t able to offer much, and now with Metaverse having its moment, the Samsung gadget seems to have run its course.
Going through my drawers I came across an old Samsung external hard drive. It was surprising, but also made me realize that it has a good reason to be on this list.
Ever since Apple’s first Macbook Air, the tech world has largely abandoned the idea of an optical disc drive. Technology has simply moved past that. With video streaming catering to our video needs and Spotify giving us all the music we need, disc drives have become about as necessary as a shipment of ice cubes to the North Pole.
For years I’ve wanted to use my Steam Link again, but I could never find the time. After all, it does something pretty cool: It streams computer games to our TV using our home internet connection.
Steam Link came out in 2015 as Valve’s attempt to infiltrate our gaming lives alongside the console-like Steam Machine. The gamble failed completely, and the company sold its last remaining pieces for $5 apiece.
So why is it still interesting? Because of the vision it was trying to fulfill – streaming games from an external computer to our TV. The balance to be found between processing power and bandwidth is still difficult to maintain.
Several devices since, like the short-lived Stadia, have failed the same mission.
Based on the ancient webOS, HP launched its touchpad back in the summer of 2011. The war between iOS and Android was still beginning to form, so Palm, which invented webOS, thought it might still have a chance to form a viable alternative.
The touchpad had an innovative and frankly very beautiful interface as well as a notification panel, a unified search engine and the ability to run multiple tabs at once.
Just 48 days after launch, HP announced it was out of the phone and tablet business.
So why did I buy it? It was 2011 and the price for a quality tablet was incredibly low. Today it is mostly a museum piece; but at the time it really seemed like it was a stone’s throw away from taking on the giants.
The first time I ever paid for something by tapping my phone next to an object was in 2015, and it didn’t involve NFC or a credit card. That gadget was developed by a company called LoopPay, and it simulated a credit card’s magnetic stripe to trigger the payment.
But then NFC came along and made everyone else obsolete. Although LoopPay didn’t last, it spawned another incarnation that became the basis for Samsung Pay.